Amazon has a new feature: Statistically Improbable Phrases:’s Statistically Improbable Phrases, or “SIPs”, show you the interesting, distinctive, or unlikely phrases that occur in the text of books in Search Inside the Book. Our computers scan the text of all books in the Search Inside program. If they find a phrase that occurs a large number of times in a particular book relative to how many times it occurs across all Search Inside books, that phrase is a SIP in that book.

Experimenting with this, I find that SIPs effectively convey the essence of an author’s ideas, provided that the author is a phrase-maker. Very useful for cocktail parties. Here, by way of example, is the condensed essence of a number of sociological theorists.

Capital, Vol 1 by Karl Marx: average social labour, appetite for surplus labour, direct exchangeability, social labour process, abstract human labour, labour fund, labour objectified, specifically capitalist mode, surplus value, necessary labour.

Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville: dogmatical belief, amongst democratic nations, all democratic nations, aristocratic ages, aristocratic people, democratic times, democratic armies, aristocratic communities, democratic ages, aristocratic countries, democratic people.

The Division of Labor and The Elementary Forms of Religious Life by Emile Durkheim: restitutory law, criminological types, segmentary type, segmentary organisation, penal rules, lower societies, social volume, organised type, collective type, negative solidarity, droit criminel, penal character, contractual law, common consciousness, moral density, regulatory organs, social similarities, collective sentiments, domestic sentiments, become specialised.

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber, and From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology edited by Hans Gerth and C. Wright Mills: dueling corps, virtuoso religiosity, magical asceticism, expert officialdom, old civilized countries, civic strata, active asceticism, emissary prophecy, office prebends, certitudo salutis, ascetic conduct, capitalistic development.

Social Theory and Social Structure and On Theoretical Sociology by Robert K. Merton: empirical uniformities, middle range theory, manifest and latent functions, functional unity, sensate system, reference group behavior, environing social structure, cosmopolitan influentials, serendipity pattern, reference group contexts.

The Social Construction of Reality by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann: socializing personnel, deviant conceptions, legitimating apparatus, discrepant worlds, institutionalized conduct, socially objectivated, subjective biography, reciprocal typification, reality maintenance, legitimating theories, social stock, universal experts, finite provinces, conceptual machinery, ultimate legitimation, institutionalized actions, paramount reality, plausibility structure, institutional meanings, symbolic universe, relevance structures.

Natural Symbols and Purity and Danger by Mary Douglas: bodily dissociation, strong grid, main morality, positional family, elaborated speech, high classification, restricted code, condensed symbols, big spirits, elaborated code, symbolic behaviour, witch beliefs, purity rule, religious behaviour, millennial movements, magical efficacy, excremental magic, pangolin cult, sex pollution, sorcery beliefs, primitive world view, pollution rules, pollution ideas, pollution beliefs, female pollution, parts the hoof, sexual pollution, healthy mindedness, primitive ritual.

The Field of Cultural Production by Pierre Bourdieu: art competence, cultural consecration, symbolically dominant, symbolic revolution, symbolic goods, dominated fractions, aesthetic disposition, scholarly culture, dominant fractions, artistic field, positions and dispositions, bourgeois artists, autonomous field, dominated position.

Identity and Control by Harrison White: embedding ratios, commit interfaces, servile elite, compound actors, council species, select arena, molecular disciplines, discipline species, valuation orderings, differentiation ratio, social molecules, acquaintance dance, fresh control, hieratic style, arena disciplines, multiplex tie, network populations, getting action, interface species, dual hierarchy.

You’re invited to browse authors in the field of your choice. Some fields are a bit thin on SIP-able texts. The Wealth of Nations wasn’t that good for phrases, but Keynes’ Essays in Persuasion yielded “intensifying unemployment, inside opinion, internal price level” while Volume II of Hayek’s Law, Legislation and Liberty came up with the very nice “catallactic possibilities”.