These four titles are the latest in a series of 13 A5-size books designed to cater for the new specifications in AS and A2 sociology. They are less daunting to students than the huge central textbooks reviewed above and offer more up-to-date content and statistical data.
In addition, many students feel a real sense of achievement after reading a whole sociology book, even if it is a short one. (Though some of my students still have problems with reading for homework: "What? Read the whole chapter?") All these books are extremely useful and well-written. There are doubts about the complexity of some sections and AS students may not find the material very accessible. For A2-level work, though, the authors have got it right. So students in their first year will need some guidance, but in Year 2, students should be able to use the books effectively, perhaps reviewing them for the whole class, or using the most recent quantitative data in them to update notes taken from the central textbooks.
Each book has a useful opening section on study skills, and thoughtful study points and activities appear frequently to consolidate learning. Chapters end with suggestions for group activities, practice questions and suggestions for coursework.
Shelley Day Sclater's Families covers the new specifications very effectively. A really readable introductory section stands out, as do a valuabl chapter on the historical perspective and a thought-provoking chapter on intimacy, co-habitation, marriage and divorce. A further bonus is the chapter on parents and children, which looks at fathers and parenting and new reproductive technologies.
Work, Leisure and Economic Life offers excellent coverage of the main issues in this substantive area, including really good sections on early sociological theories about industrialisation and the changing context of work (with a very topical section on McDonaldisation). I especially liked the chapter on inequality in the workplace, which covers mainstream aspects of segregation and discrimination but also deals with age and disability as sources of prejudice too.
Education, Training and Policy presents the reader with a lively and topical treatment of issues facing social scientists and policy-makers in this field. Paul Selfe deals with traditional debates (often within a perspectives framework, but he also introduces newer approaches, such as post-modernism) and offers an excellent chapter on ethnicity and education, in which he pulls together a range of writers that will illuminate this area.
Theories and Methods is clearly the most difficult one of the four. The topic is an A2 one and the authors have produced a book which deals in a mature style with difficult issues. The text deals with theory more than methods and teachers will need to guide students. Thinking sociologically, positivism, phenomenology and critical social research are covered in a detailed and imaginative way, and the final chapter contains valuable ideas about matters such as ethics and social research.