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

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Item Number 379714  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   242
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 0.75" Width: 5.75" Height: 8.5"
Weight:   0.9 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   May 29, 2007
Publisher   Bloomsbury USA
ISBN  1596910135  
EAN  9781596910133  

Availability  4 units.
Availability accurate as of Oct 25, 2016 08:36.
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Item Description...
A theoretical physicist offers a scientist's view of the social world that reveals the frequently predictable patterns of human behavior, revealing how physics can explain how movements form, how interest groups operate, why ethnic hatred persists, and more.

Publishers Description
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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More About Mark Buchanan

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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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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Finally, a path from Social alchemy to Social Science!   Aug 22, 2008
As an avid reader of the late, great Isaac Asimov's fabulous "Foundation" novels in my miss-spent youth, I was thrilled to read this book. I see it as the first faint glimmering of the possibility of developing the kind of social science which Asimov described in his novels. Buchanan does a great job at exposing the failings of current economic orthodoxy and points to an entirely compelling way forward toward a future of evidence based social policy making -- the current lack of which seems to be pushing us rather strongly in the direction of a new Dark Ages.
Disappointing  Jun 29, 2008
I bought this largely on the strength of the jacket blurb by Mike Davis, which began "Seldom has a book so infuriated me yet kept me tightly gripped to each page." As it turned out, I shared his fury at the author's arrogance, overwriting, meandering, and frequent self-indulgent screeds. As it also turned out, I was not gripped by the book; on the contrary. Though there are certainly nuggets of insight, the book is poorly written and poorly argued. Other reviewers have commented on the free use of straw man arguments and gratuitous digs and on the incoherence of style; I won't repeat their criticisms, though I certainly mean to second them. I barely recognized familiar economic views through the filter of the author's scorn, and found his jejeune comments about post-modernism appalling: no, one does not have to BE a sympathizer with it, but one DOES need to offer a nuanced and sympathetic view of the theoretical perspective one intends to diss. And it is one thing to claim to have found problems with 'rational man' presumptions, and thus to want to emphasize other factors bearing on decisions--as Kahneman so brilliantly does--and quite another to claim that one has identified the SOURCE of these other things...and still another to claim (without argument) that the source is to be found in evolution, as it is understood by the evolutionary psychologists. The wholesale embrace of evolutionary psychology was not defended, nor does the author seem to have any awareness that there are powerful criticisms of both the methodology and substance of evolutionary psychology notably those that claim that it alternates between offering utterly empty hypotheses and utterly ungrounded ones. The weakness of the writing, the weakness of the argument, and the arrogance of the author overshadowed the few, small, good things in the book. As several other reviewers have pointed out, one can find those good things in other places, with clearer presentations and more cogent argumentation.
The Physics of Human Behavior  Jun 3, 2008
In this book Buchanan makes the astute observation that humans are much like the atoms that physicists study. His assumptions are accurate when put in terms that atoms, like people, are complex and yet simple structures that when left on their own behave in certain, predictable ways. The author points out that if you join two or more atoms together something completely different can emerge, yet there are still patterns in their behavior that can be predicted. He suggests that if our goal is to be able to predict human behavior; then it is these observable and researched "social atom" patterns that we need to study (p.10).
Buchanan proposes that the social sciences have failed to enlighten us on the subject of human behavior by erroneously looking too closely at the individual instead of looking at the patterns of behavior, given a societies rules and values (p.17). He also suggests that the economists perspective of "self interest" is even more outdated; using theories and rules of behavior that do not exist in reality, but only in economists minds and classrooms (p.17-18). His thought is that we can uncover the patterns that influence human behavior and find a balance for predictability that has as of yet, alluded us.
Buchanan sums all of his theories and evidence together to basically prove two points;
1. That human behavior can be studied from a scientific, empirically researched, position. 2. That we can indeed predict human behavior; and therefore the economy.
Overall The Social Atom is an intelligent and witty book, written by an intelligent and witty man. Buchanan takes a fairly dry and boring subject and makes it more fun to look at. He does not write in the scholarly tone of a physicist; he uses everyday language that can be understood by anyone willing to venture into the topic of predicting human behavior.
The research he uses to support his hypothesis is current and entertaining to read, though a bit redundant by the end of the book. I do not find that his ideas for predicting human behavior as a hard science are new, though his reflections seem to put it into a well thought out plan of action. He is not the first person to use the term "social atom," nor do social scientists study one person and pass those conclusions onto the rest of humanity. In their defense, social scientists have been studying patterns in behavior for years.
The book can be read by the multitudes and perhaps give them humorous insight into the field of economics and social science and how these "experts" on behaviorism and prediction think. His feeling that human behavioral patterns can be studied as a hard science, as much as patterns in physics can be, is enlightening... but then I never thought it couldn't be.

A Basic Exposition  May 6, 2008
"The Social Atom" presents some basic ideas from the field of agent-based behavioral modeling, with examples and applications like stock market pricing, residential segregation, and inequality of personal income. The approach has been around for a while (it got started in the 70s), but now that more work is being done it is a good time for a popular book on the subject.

The strong points of this book are: 1) clear writing for non-scientists, and 2) interesting examples like those mentioned above. However, the book is very simplified, non-quantitative, and lacking in details. Science writing for the popular market is always a trade-off between "too hard" and "too easy," but many readers will want and expect more information than this book provides.

That said, for readers without a science background, this book would be an interesting and understandable introduction to the agent-based way of thinking.
A New Way to Look at Reality  Apr 7, 2008
It seems like yesterday that I picked up a book that would shape the way that I would look at the social world forever. That book was the "Sociological Imagination" by C. Wright Mills. In that particular book, Mills attacked the status quo of social theorists who created "grand theories" without understanding the way that social interactions actually occurred. From the moment that I finished his book as I worked on my masters degree I had scrutinized every attempt that another theorist has made at explaining the world, carefully watching those who would try and imprint their own values into wayward theories which sound good to some people, but fail miserably to contain the truth.

Then along comes Mark Buchanan who writes this amazing book "The Social Atom." He presents a rather intriguing argument that we could understand the world far better if we examine patterns more closely. Initially I was skeptical that a physicist could apply his education into social theory, but Buchanan's comments about feedback were enough to open my eyes to the genius of his book.

I firmly believe that anyone who is involved in the social sciences should give this book a thorough reading. I think it has the potential to help us understand our world and maybe help us make it a better place.

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