The Social Atom: Why the Rich Get Richer, Cheaters Get Caught, and Your Neighbor Usually Looks Like Youby Mark Buchanan
Mark Buchanan makes the
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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.
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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Meet the Author
Mark Buchanan is an American physicist and author. He was formerly an editor with the international journal of science Nature (journal), and the popular science magazine New Scientist. He has been a guest columnist for the New York Times, and currently writes a monthly column for the journal Nature Physics. Buchanan's books and articles typically explore ideas of modern physics, especially in quantum theory or condensed matter physics, with an emphasis on efforts to use novel concepts from physics to understand patterns and dynamics elsewhere, especially in biology or in the human social sciences. Key themes include, but are not limited to the (often overlooked) importance of spontaneous order or self-organization in collective, complex systems.
Physicist Mark Buchanan is a former editor at Nature and New Scientist, and is the author of numerous magazine and newspaper articles internationally. He currently writes monthly columns for the financial media outlet Bloomberg View, as well as for Nature Physics. He has written two prize-nominated non-fiction books, Ubiquity: The Science of History and Nexus: Small Worlds and the Groundbreaking Science of Networks, and, most recently, The Social Atom. He lives in Dorset, England.
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