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A Crowd of One: The Future of Individual Identity Hardcover – April 9, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Why do drivers warn people they'll never meet of police traps by flashing their lights? How did eBay's community of trust make it victorious over the competition? Why do terrorists tend to come from richer, better educated families? These are some of the questions posed by Clippinger, a senior fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. Calling on philosophers, scientists and economists for support, Clippinger looks to human evolution for answers, and expounds on how human phenomena like language and social customs evolved not for individual advancement, but for the benefit of the group. Along the way, the author finds evolutionary forces at work in Renaissance Florence and Enlightenment-era Edinburgh, the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes in the presidency of George W. Bush and the genius of the human immune system in the case of identity fraud Mark Spengler. Despite the data-heavy material, Clippinger has a breezy pace, an impressive breadth of knowledge and a knack for clear explanation that recalls Malcolm Gladwell. The volume's prime weakness is its overbroad range; Clippinger leaves no doubt he's willing to ask interesting questions, but without a central thesis it's hard to hook a reader-much less a crowd.
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"...a heady mix of theory and prescriptive advice." -- Library Journal, May 1, 2007

"fascinating, worthwhile reading... [Clippinger makes] us think about the systems and methods that bind individuals into something bigger than themselves." -- New York Post, May 13, 2007

"fascinating... a glorious overview of what evolutionary biology and neuroscience are telling us...a thoughtful, provocative read." -- OntheCommons.org, April 11, 2007

"stimulating and essentially positive. For that alone, [Clippinger's] contribution to the debate on our common futures is considerable." -- New Scientist, May 5, 2007

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; First Edition edition (April 9, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586483676
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586483678
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,528,461 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a long-time admirer of Kuhn's concepts on paradigms and how they shift ("The Structure of Scientific Revolution" I really appreciate any thought leader that puts us on the cusp of such a shift. John Henry Clippinger is there.

I will begin with his conclusion: we are in the process of a "Big Bang" in human identity that shifts us away from organizations and nationalities and races and religions, and toward the realization that we are all "one" in terms of fractional variations of the same DNA, and hence, the world is going to start to revolve around the human end-users, not the organizations that turned them into slaves, amoral components of the industrial system, or mindless fundamentalists party to intolerant religions. For a sense of how the industrial era introduced evil by killing the role of kinship in trust, see Lionel Tiger's "The Manufacture of Evil."

In my view, this is one of three really great books on the coming revolution in human organization. The other two are Max Manwaring's "The Search for Security" and Philip Alott's "The Health of Nations." As Alott says, we took a wrong turn at the Treaty of Westphalia, and the world is long over-due for a return to localized kinship and global responsibility.

Those who favor the transpartisan transformational model of earnest and honest elections and engaged citizenry must read this book. The author opens with a long discussion of why it is relationships that matter, not transactions. Indeed, I am reminded of Margaret Wheatley and Esther Dyson--make the connections, don't worry about critical mass.

I learn the term "social physics" for the first time, and read again about reciprocity (Tom Atlee taught me about reciprocal altruism).
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Remo Steinmetz on April 27, 2007
Format: Hardcover
John Clippinger's book "A Crowd of One" is a great contribution to bridge the gap between the natural and the human/social sciences on the example on social behavior. He tells us how science helps to understand the principles of individual decisions, identity, networks and social behavior, and how they drive trust, altruism, collaboration and leadership. He illustrates this on actual topics like the war in Iraq and virtual worlds as Second Life. The book is easy to read and to understand.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Herbert L Calhoun on June 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As jumbled as it is, this is a devilishly good and interesting book. Because of the rather haphazard organization, one has to read it twice, first from front to back and then in reverse to get the full impact of the substance and the author's main points, which are that:

There are systemic forces controlling man's social universe, his "social (and emotional) physics" as he has coined it here. These forces, like Adam Smith's "invisible hand," more often than not, lie hidden in the subtext of society, in the background and to a larger extent than either scientists or lay people are willing to admit, have evolutionary, value, connections and consequences.

"Dawkins and his fellow Soicobiology compatriots" were wrong in suggesting that evolution is only about "individual selfishness," as in Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene." New convincing scientific evidence from the Evolutionary Scientists (Biologists and Social Psychologists) and Neurobiologists proves that some of man's most basic emotional behaviors have evolved precisely because they too have survival value, and have been "selected for" in the same way as many of our physical components have been. [And Here for the first time I had confirmed in print my own long held suspicion that social and cultural evolutionary changes occur light years ahead of any biological ones.]

Clippinger's main thesis is that these emotional changes too have been honed and shaped by over 200,000 years of evolutionary specialization, and that if we take heed of them and new findings involving them, as well as their consequences, we can revolutionize our closed, hierarchical, theocratic and still violently traditional societies into open, dynamic, self-directed, and self-sustaining societies.
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7 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Willow Wolf on November 27, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is (just barely) a worthwhile book, because there is some good information and a few good insights in it.
However, I found myself disagreeing rather strongly with some of his premises (to the point that I was scribbling rebuttals furiously in the margins). And that was only the first part.
After about the middle of the book, he pretty much loses focus, and it becomes just an assortment of random thoughts. I was very disappointed at that.
There are factual errors, misspelled names, and just plain typos scattered throughout the book and some of them are repeated over and over. That's inexcusable, and while it may be the fault of the editor rather than the author, it's terribly distracting.
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