Social Atom: Why the Rich Get Richer, Cheaters Get Caught, and Your Neighbor Usually Looks like You

Overview

The idiosyncrasies of human decision-making have confounded economists and social theorists for years. If each person makes choices for personal (and often irrational) reasons, how can people's choices be predicted by a single theory? How can any economic, social, or political theory be valid? The truth is, none of them really are.

Mark Buchanan makes the fascinating argument that the science of physics is beginning to provide a new picture of the human or "social atom," and ...

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The Social Atom: Why the Rich Get Richer, Cheaters Get Caught, and Your Neighbor Usually Looks Like You

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Overview

The idiosyncrasies of human decision-making have confounded economists and social theorists for years. If each person makes choices for personal (and often irrational) reasons, how can people's choices be predicted by a single theory? How can any economic, social, or political theory be valid? The truth is, none of them really are.

Mark Buchanan makes the fascinating argument that the science of physics is beginning to provide a new picture of the human or "social atom," and help us understand the surprising, and often predictable, patterns that emerge when they get together. Look at patterns, not people, Buchanan argues, and rules emerge that can explain how movements form, how interest groups operate, and even why ethnic hatred persists. Using similar observations, social physicists can predict whether neighborhoods will integrate, whether stock markets will crash, and whether crime waves will continue or abate.

Brimming with mind games and provocative experiments, The Social Atom is an incisive, accessible, and comprehensive argument for a whole new way to look at human social behavior.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Be forewarned: Mark Buchanan's book will surprise, irritate, and confound you. Like Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point and Steven Levitt's Freakonomics, The Social Atom proposes that even serious readers aren't models of autonomous, rational decision making. Buchanan, a theoretical physicist, argues that even momentous life crossroads like deciding to have children or making job changes are products of social forces almost identical to those that control our clapping at a music concert. He notes that for 99 percent of human history, our ancestors lived in small-group environments in which reciprocal altruism was the norm. According to Buchanan, who edits a journal on biocomplexity, this deeply engrained heritage gives us both a bias for cooperation and a distrust of other groups.
From the Publisher
"...offer fascinating ways to approach worldly problems." — USA Today

"beguiling behavorial study...he's on to something big."-Bloomberg News

“Likely the Blink or Freakonomics of 2007, theoretical physicist Buchanan’s new book explains how we replicate the behavior of people we admire, and stick close to people with shared fundamental bonds such as ethnic heritage.”Time Out Chicago

“Everything we think about why we do what we do is wrong because we can't help but think and act like individuals, understanding the world around us with anecdote and simple stories. But as Mark Buchanan brilliantly demonstrates with examples from the world all around us, there's a bigger force at work that explains the world far better. Surprisingly, that force looks a lot like the semi-random statistical model that explained the mysteries of quantum physics a century ago. This is a fascinating glimpse into a new way of understanding human behavior.”—Chris Anderson, Editor-in-Chief, Wired Magazine, and author of The Long Tail: Why The Future of Business Is Selling Less of More

"Seldom has a book so infuriated me yet kept me tightly gripped to each page. This is a first-class attack on the smugness of the Humanities by a brilliant provocateur: a disturbing challenge to all of us who think we understand something about the logic of social action and the patterns of history." - Mike Davis, author of Planet of Slums and Buda's Wagon

"This lucid and friendly introduction to social theory requires no mathematical or other prerequisites, is full of surprises, and introduces some new ways of thinking about the way human beings interact with each other." - Thomas C. Schelling, Professor emeritus, Harvard University and University of Maryland, and co-recipient of the 2005 Nobel Prize in Economics

“I devoured this book as if it contained the secret answer to the human condition–as indeed it might. To those who have watched the social world unravel in recent decades and wondered why we couldn’t do better, Mark Buchanan offers a disarmingly simple solution: emulate the methods of explanation that have already proven themselves effective in the study of nature. The Social Atom is briskly written, informative, and deals with problems of the highest order. Read it and get a glimpse of the coming revolution in the social sciences.”—Lee McIntyre, author of Dark Ages: The Case for a Science of Human Behavior

Publishers Weekly

Buchanan (Ubiquity: The Science of History) reaches out to the audience for pop social science like The Tipping Pointand Freakonomicswith the concept of "social physics," a scientific model for the patterns that emerge from the interactions among large groups of people. Though his observations that people excel at imitating the successful behavior of others and will often form collective bonds over such fundamental pretenses as shared ethnic heritage aren't startling, Buchanan leans on his background in theoretical physics and treats these ideas as "a quantum revolution in the social sciences." His presentation is muted by a tendency to talk around the subject, recapping prior discussions and promising future developments instead of establishing a clear, compelling thread. Though the real-life scenarios he uses to illustrate his theories—such as the unexpected revival of Times Square or the outbreak of ethnic violence in the former Yugoslavia—are engaging, some sections draw upon computer simulations of arbitrary behavior that illustrate his thesis but don't command equal interest. This is a great idea for a magazine article, but awkward at book length. (June)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781596910133
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 5/28/2007
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 1,036,793
  • Product dimensions: 5.54 (w) x 8.75 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Buchanan is a theoretical physicist and an associate editor at Complexus, a journal on biocomplexity. He has been an editor at Nature and New Scientist, and is the author of numerous magazine and newspaper articles in the U.S. and U.K. Buchanan is also the author of two prize-nominated books, Ubiquity: The Science of History and Nexus: Small Worlds and the Groundbreaking Science of Networks. He lives in Cambridgeshire, England.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 2, 2011

    Good Read

    This book was used in conjunction with a micro economics class, it was used to relate items of micro economics to this book. I found many interesting details and I would recommend this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 10, 2007

    Fantastic Book

    I've always been intrested in Sociology and The Social Atom helped answer my questions as well as ignite more curioisly about the field of Sociology. It describes the science in-depth and at the same time keeps it simple enough so that any reader could grasp those ideas. I would definently reecommend this book.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 15, 2007

    A reviewer

    As a recent high school graduate just beginning to explore the social sciences, I found the subject matter interesting and thought Buchanan presented it in an easy-to-understand way. If you're interested in how the laws of nature may relate to socioeconomic principles, I highly recommend this book.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews

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