Empirical Theory and Political Inquiry:
First and foremost, read Graham Allison's classic book, The Essence of Decision, which uses multiple lenses to explain the Cuban Missile Crisis. Then to explore specific aspects of empirical theory:
Start by reading The Art of Political Manipulation by William Riker and Retrospective Voting in American National Elections by Morris Fiorina. These books will give you a grasp of how to use social choice analysis to study individual and group behavior in the foreground of politics. You can follow them up by looking at Michael Laver’s book, Private Desires, Political Action, and Riker’s classic, Liberalism vs Populism. In addition, to grasp some of the limits of rational choice, and the contributions of bounded rationality, see the work by Simon, March and Olsen, and Jon Bendor in the “Empirical Theories” syllabus.
To grasp how important background context can be, read the “Introduction” to V. O. Key’s classic study, Southern Politics, which argues that demographic patterns of slavery in the 19th century dramatically shaped American politics in mid-20th century (and having read the first chapter, see whether you can resist reading the entire book). Then read Polyarchy by Robert Dahl to get a broader sense of how context shapes democratic development. I also strongly suggest that you read C. Wright Mills’, The Sociological Imagination.
To grasp the importance of social networks and social learning, read Robert Putnam’s Making Democracy Work (about Italy) or Bowling Alone (about the United States), both of which look at how civic associations and the ‘social capital’ they generate influence social and political development. I also strongly recommend the extraordinary study of the rise of the Medici in 14th century Italy, “Robust Action and the Rise of the Medici, 1400-1434, “ by John Padgett and Christopher Ansell in the American Journal of Sociology, 98 (May, 1993): 1259-1319. And if you really want to pursue an understanding of the role of ideas and learning in social and political development, read Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism and Hugh Heclo’s Social Policy in Britain and Sweden.
To get some ‘cutting edge’ perspectives on how evolutionary processes shape and reshape society and politics, read Issue Evolution by Edward Carmines and James Stimson and then (if you are really brave) look at The Evolution of the Social Contract by Skymes. A very useful background book, but one that you have to ‘work at’ in order to see its relevance, is Karl Weick, The Social Psychology of Organizing, particularly Chapters 5 through 9. I also strongly recommend his book, Sensemaking. Finally, the article on the rise of the Medici, listed above under social networks and social learning, also provides profound insight into issues of sociopolitical evolution.