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Riesman, David (1909–2002)

Craig D. Lair

Subject Sociology » Social Psychology, Sociological and Social Theory

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


David Riesman was not a formally trained sociologist. Nevertheless, his 1950 book The Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character , written in collaboration with Nathan Glazer and Reuel Denney, has earned a unique distinction in American sociology: excluding textbooks and “classical” works, it is the only book by an American sociologist to sell over a million copies ( Gans 1997 ). This means that the all-time bestselling work in American sociology was written by someone who never earned a degree in this discipline. Riesman was born in Philadelphia and studied biochemistry at Harvard as an undergraduate. Later, he attended Harvard Law School, where he received his law degree in 1934. After graduating from law school Riesman both taught and practiced law. For a time, he served as a clerk to Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. During World War II Riesman took an executive position in the private sector, working at the Sperry Gyroscope Company. It was not until 1946 that Riesman took an academic post in the social sciences, first as a visiting lecturer, then, three years later, as a full professor, at the University of Chicago. In 1958 he would to return to Harvard as a faculty member, where he would stay until the end of his career. However, it was during his early years at Chicago, and in collaboration with Glazer and Denney, that he wrote what was to become his most ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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