That is the subtitle of Peter Berger's fascinating memoir, Adventures of an Accidental Sociologist. And for anyone who has read Peter Berger, listened to him give a lecture, or had the opportunity to visit and converse with him, the one obvious fact is that he is never boring and certainly never a bore. He is simply one of the more fascinating people you will ever encounter. Charming and self-effacing, Berger is a great story teller and loves to use jokes to illustrate profound points. He does not rely on academic jargon to make his points, but instead writes intelligently in plain language --- this is as true for The Social Construction of Reality as for Invitation to Sociology. He simply invites his readers to join him in an intellectual journey to understand mankind in all walks of life and in all his endeavors --- even those that most of us would like to keep behind closed doors and hidden from public examination. He is simply curious about the way we live, work, play, love, pray, etc.
Adventures is an amazing read from his time at the New School to his studies of religion and modernity, from his work on The Social Construction of Reality to its unintended (and unwelcomed) influence among the post-modernist nihilists, from his explorations of capitalism and development to his frustrating interactions with economists. What an intellectual tour, and what a professional life well-spent pursuing one's intellectual curiosity about mankind!
I was fortunate enough to have been a fellow at Berger's Institute for the Study of Economic Culture in 1992 (along with David Prychitko) and then to have been invited back to be a lecturer in a similar program at the revamped Institute for Culture, Religion and World Affairs and to also be part of a study team on spiritual capital and economic development. Among my biggest professional disappointments in my career was that I was blocked in 1997 by the economics department at BU from joining Berger's Institute as a faculty member. But that is a story for a different day. My point is simply that I have learned much from Peter Berger over the years and continue to learn. I have heard versions of many of the stories told in these pages, but they always appear fresh to me and to always have a point behind them that is essential for our broader understanding of man.
As part of my work with the Fund for the Study of Spontaneous Order, we awarded Berger the Lifetime Achievement Award and sponsored a conference on his work a few years ago. The papers from that conference were subsequently published in the journal, Society, 47 (3) May 2010. An open access version of my paper can be found here.
Berger's memoir is based on a public lecture he gave at the Central European University, which can be seen here:
BTW, watch around the 25 minute mark for those of you fascinated by the history of the Austrian School because this is where he will discuss the influence of Alfred Schutz. For an appreciation of Schutz see the special issue of the RAE edited by Roger Koppl and myself -- 14 (2-3) 2001.
HT: Tyler Cowen for alerting me to this book.