Not by Chance Alone: My Life as a Social Psychologist

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Overview

How does a boy from a financially and intellectually impoverished background grow up to become a Harvard researcher, win international acclaim for his groundbreaking work, and catch fire as a pioneering psychologist? As the only person in the history of the American Psychological Association to have won all three of its highest honors—for distinguished research, teaching, and writing— Elliot Aronson is living proof that humans are capable of capturing the power of the situation and conquering the prison of personality.

A personal and compelling look into Aronson’s profound contributions to the field of social psychology, Not by Chance Alone is a lifelong story of human potential and the power of social change.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The intricacies of the human psyche--and one man's inquisitive mind--are illuminated in this shrewd, warm-hearted memoir. Aronson (The Social Animal) is a leading theorist of the "cognitive dissonance" that prompts people to change their perceptions of reality to resolve contradictions between experiences and beliefs. It's a rich concept, and the author explains its quirky corollaries--e.g., people like groups more and discount negative elements if they had to endure an ordeal to join--through delightful accounts of the theatrical experiments that lend them scientific rigor. Surrounding these expository gems is a chronicle of a prominent, occasionally adventuresome academic career in which, as a young professor in the '50s, Aronson weathered faculty "pomposity" at Harvard, political correctness witch-hunts at U.C.-Santa Cruz for supporting Arthur Jensen's right to speak on innate racial differences in IQ, and racist death threats after an experiment prompted a fair housing law in Texas. These sections are somewhat staid, but his searing memories of Depression-era poverty and family discord brim with psychological insight. Aronson's message--"People who do crazy things are not necessarily crazy"--comes through with both analytic clarity and emotional resonance. Photos. (Sept. 1)
From the Publisher

Kirkus Reviews
“[Aronson’s] descriptions of experimental design and theory are thorough yet accessible to the average reader, but it is his profound insights, observations and compassion that make this a fascinating read…An illuminating account of how a great thinker with insatiable curiosity overcame a difficult childhood through his love of social science.”

Daniel Gilbert, Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, author of Stumbling on Happiness 
“An engaging and beautifully written account by one of the great social psychologists of our time. From the rags his father sold to the intellectual riches he would someday discover, Aronson’s story is a quintessentially American inspiration.”

Phoebe C. Ellsworth, Frank Murphy Distinguished University Professor of Law and Psychology, University of Michigan
“Elliot Aronson is a great social psychologist and a great man. In the beginning his life was poor and cramped, and this book is the story of how he used every new experience to make it richer and more fulfilling. We see his mind ever expanding to embrace the joy and responsibility of love, scientific rigor, the brilliant synthesis of precision and imagination in his psychological experiments, the application of psychology to pressing social problems, and finally, the loss of his eyesight – but never of his vision. And, as always, he writes beautifully, with honesty, humor, and insight.”

Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of The Language Instinct and How the Mind Works
“This is an autobiography with a difference. Not only is it a warm and graceful memoir of a gifted man who helped to shape the science of social life, but it is informed by insights from that very field. Elliot Aronson, more than any living person, knows that the stories we tell about ourselves are apt to be dubious and self-serving, and so his reflections on his own life are layered with reflections on how we reflect on our lives. The result is an immensely enjoyable and informative memoir.”

Phil Zimbardo, Ph.D., author of The Lucifer Effect 
“Elliot Aronson is our modern day Horatio Alger as revealed in this charmingly inviting memoir of a childhood in rags to intellectual riches as one of psychology’s premier contributors. This master storyteller weaves his personal narrative in and around the events and people that marked his life path that was destined for greatness, without help from the vicissitudes of chance.”

Ludy T. Benjamin, Jr., Ph.D., Presidential Professor of Teaching Excellence, Professor of Psychology, Texas A&M University
“Arguably Elliot Aronson is first and foremost a very gifted teacher. The clarity he brings to that enterprise is evident in his success as a distinguished researcher and as a writer (witness the enormous popularity of his engaging treatise on social psychology, The Social Animal). And it is well manifested in this fascinating life story of a professor's quest to improve the human condition by understanding the social forces that so powerfully influence our lives. For those interested in an inside look at the joys and frustrations of an intellectual life, this book is a wonderful read.”

Gordon H. Bower, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Stanford University 
Not by Chance Alone describes the inspiring odyssey of one of the most eminent social psychologists of our times. Readers will admire the honest, witty, wise, and beautiful memoir of Aronson’s rich life that is filled with brilliant scientific insights, powerful teaching, and humane compassion.”

Elizabeth Loftus, Distinguished Professor, University of California-Irvine, Past President of the Association for Psychological Science 
“Absolutely wonderful. Elliot Aronson has long shown that he can write engagingly for a wide audience, and in Not by Chance Alone he has outdone himself. Not only was I captivated by Aronson’s truly inspirational life story, but I also learned so much about the people, theories, and experiments that helped define the field of social psychology.”

Gardner Lindzey, Editor of The Handbook of Social Psychology from 1954-2010
“If they ever get around to awarding a Nobel Prize in social psychology, I believe Elliot Aronson will be its first recipient. His ideas are creative, his experiments are elegant and his findings are of great importance.”

Thomas F. Pettigrew, Research Professor of Social Psychology, University of California-Santa Cruz
“Aronson’s candid autobiography is an instructive and enjoyable read. In addition, the volume offers an informed perspective on the sweeping development of social psychology as a discipline over the past six decades.”

Robert B. Cialdini, Author of Influence: Science and Practice
“Elliot Aronson’s done it again—revealed deep human insights from a deeply human story.”

Publishers Weekly

“The intricacies of the human psyche—and one man’s inquisitive mind—are illuminated in this shrewd, warm-hearted memoir”
“Aronson’s message—‘People who do crazy things are not necessarily crazy’—comes through with both analytic clarity and emotional resonance.”
 
Douglas Kenrick, PsychologyToday.com
“Fascinating memoir from a stellar social psychologist…Aronson is a gifted writer, and he tells a great story not only about his own life, but also about the history of social psychology, the influence of the civil rights movement on psychology, the ominous forces of political correctness on college campuses, and more.”

Jewish Journal
“A courageous effort to answer some of the most fundamental questions of human destiny.”

Nature
“Aronson offers a revealing portrait both of himself and of social psychology in the past half-century.”

The Bookwatch
“Aronson’s autobiography documents his life and era in an inspirational, moving account recommended for general to college-level libraries.”

PsychCentral.com
“What makes Not by Chance Alone unique is Aronson’s talent as a storyteller…He crafts dozens of stories that are as rich in imagery as they are in substance.”

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465018338
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 8/24/2010
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 9.76 (w) x 11.04 (h) x 1.11 (d)

Meet the Author


Elliot Aronson was chosen by his peers as one of the 100 most eminent psychologists of the twentieth century. He has written or edited twenty-two books, including The Handbook of Social Psychology and The Social Animal, now in its 11th edition. He lives in Santa Cruz, California.
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