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Alexis de Tocqueville, the First Social Scientist Paperback – April 27, 2009

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Editorial Reviews


"Elster's jeweler's eye has seen into the hidden intricacies and profundities of Tocqueville the political psychologist and comparative social historian. A sumptuous, stringent and path-breaking book."
-Stephen Holmes, New York University School of Law

"The long battle over the thought of one of the nineteenth century's most enigmatic figures continues here with the publication of Jon Elster's Alexis de Tocqueville, the First Social Scientist. With characteristic care and incisiveness, Elster explores insights embedded in Tocqueville great works, Democracy in America and The Ancien Régime and the Revolution, with a view to the question: does social science begin here? This book lays the groundwork for what ought to be an ongoing conversation among social scientists intent on exploring the origins of their field. No serious readers of Tocqueville will return to his writings without Elster's question in the back of their minds."
-Joshua Mitchell, Georgetown University

"Apart for his own contributions to social theorizing, Elster is famous for his skills of 'making sense' of the work of classical writers in social thought. In this book, he mines the plentiful repository of de Tocqueville's Democracy in America and Ancien Regime. The author finds, apart from limited instances of 'elusive', 'muddled', and 'extravagant' rhetoric, an amazing number of original and fine-grained causal mechanisms that Tocqueville pioneered to employ in his effort to explain social phenomena and change. Elster's method of 'extracting', 'reconstructing', and 'decoding' through sophisticated interrogation the French democratic aristocrat's writings brings to light a number of 'exportable' causal mechanisms. They can enrich the toolbox of today's social scientists. In the process, the book's provocative title becomes ever more plausible."
-Claus Offe, Hertie School of Governance, Berlin

"In this remarkable book, Jon Elster makes Tocqueville's conceptual system a critical part of a large intellectual project. Dubbing Tocqueville the 'first' social scientist, Elster focuses on how he thought rather than on what he found. He brilliantly explains Tocqueville's seemingly contradictory formulations and ambiguities of language as iterations in search of causal linkages. We can profitably use Elster's Tocqueville for making sense of our own social state."
-Olivier Zunz, University of Virginia

Book Description

The book proposes a new interpretation of Alexis de Tocqueville that views him first and foremost as a social scientist rather than a political theorist. Consistently going beyond exegetical commentary, Elster argues that Tocqueville is eminently worth reading today for his substantive and methodological insights.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 212 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (April 27, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 052174007X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521740074
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,780,952 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on November 9, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Tocqueville is occasionally overlooked in the field of sociology. This book does a great job of outlining Tocequeville's theories and contributions to the social sciences. Easy to read, and broken down into relevant sections discussing common themes in sociology, this book would be a great addition to any aspiring sociologist's personal library of study.
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Alexis de Tocqueville, the First Social Scientist
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