Top 10 books of everyday social anthropology

Gillian Tett, anthropologist and chair of the US editorial board of the Financial Times, has published – in the Guardian – her list of 10 books offering insights into how we structure our lives.

De fining what anthropology really is sometimes feels like chasing soap in the bath. We all know we are shaped by cultural patterns we inherit from our surroundings. But we rarely know what determines that “culture” or how to discuss cultural difference – least of all in a world where diversity issues now generate so much political heat. Just to add to the challenge, the branch of social science that studies human cultures, called social anthropology, has a contradictory past: although it champions diversity today, it has a racist, imperial past that modern anthropologists disown.

But while culture is hard to define, nobody can ignore it – certainly not in a world that is so globalised and dangerously polarised that we clearly need to gain empathy for others. And there is another urgent reason to think about culture today: Covid-19 has tossed us all into a new form of culture shock, since lockdown pushed us into cyberspace at extraordinary speed – and a return to physical, “real” life is forcing us to rethink how we structure our lives all over again. My own book, Anthro-Vision, discusses why it pays to think about culture – and culture shock – in a digital age, drawing on my training as an anthropologist and work as a financial and business journalist. But here are 10 other books that help explain why culture – and anthropology – matter so much today.