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Explaining Social Behavior: More Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences Paperback – April 30, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-0521777445 ISBN-10: 0521777445 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 484 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (April 30, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521777445
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521777445
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.9 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #136,092 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"...contains many interesting puzzles and examples, and excellent elementary discussions of the major concepts of the social sciences...a treasure trove of suitable and interesting case-studies and examples..." --Dean Rickles, University of Sydney: Philosophy in Review

Book Description

This book is an expanded and revised edition of the author's critically acclaimed volume Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences. In twenty-six succinct chapters, Jon Elster provides an account of the nature of explanation in the social sciences. He offers an overview of key explanatory mechanisms in the social sciences with hundreds of examples.

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Customer Reviews

It is well written throughout; very clear in the ideas and the examples used to illustrate them.
Science Reader
For anyone who cares about social science, Elster has done an amazing service in clearly describing the toolbox's contents and defending its importance.
Aaron Swartz
Then I started reading it again, as the book tends to locate itself by my bedside and sneaks itself in my suitcase when I go on a trip.
N N Taleb

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

52 of 53 people found the following review helpful By N N Taleb on November 23, 2007
Format: Paperback
I read this book twice. The first time, I thought that it was excellent, the best compendium of ideas of social science by arguably the best thinker in the field. I took copious notes, etc. I agreed with its patchwork-style approach to rational decision making. I knew that it had huge insights applicable to my refusal of general theories [they don't work], rather limit ourselves to nuts and bolts [they work].
Then I started reading it again, as the book tends to locate itself by my bedside and sneaks itself in my suitcase when I go on a trip. It is as if the book wanted me to read it. It is what literature does to you when it is at its best. So I realized why: it had another layer of depth --and the author distilled ideas from the works of Proust, La Rochefoucault, Tocqueville, Montaigne, people with the kind of insights that extend beyond the ideas, and that makes you feel that a reductionist academic treatment of the subject will necessary distort it [& somehow Elster managed to combine Montaigne and Kahneman-Tversky]. So as an anti-Platonist I finally found a rigorous treatment of human nature that is not Platonistic --not academic (in the bad sense of the word).
Nassim Nicholas Taleb
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52 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Aaron Swartz on December 21, 2007
Format: Paperback
For the past forty years, Jon Elster has attempted to explain things ranging from the emotions to technological change. The result is dozens of books (and even more papers) in three languages across four universities. And throughout, his work has not just been exemplary social science, but has always struggled with the question of what social science _should be_ -- what kinds of explanations are legitimate, which techniques should be used, and so on.

As he reaches his late sixties, it is understandable if he begins to think of his legacy. That certainly would help explain his latest book, _Explaining Social Behavior: More Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences_ (Cambridge University Press, 2007), a 500-page masterpiece that I expect will be seen as the summation of a brilliant career.

It's a book unlike any other and, as a result, unless read from start to finish can seem bizarre, if only because one has little sense of what the book is trying to do. It is not a guidebook, or a textbook, or a piece of social science in itself. In short, it is nothing less than an attempt to summarize an idealized vision of the whole of social science in simple language.

The book's foundational assumption (as implied by its title) is that the goal of social science is to discover explanations for social phenomena. It begins by describing what explanations are and discussing their different forms. But the bulk of the book consists of tools that can be used in explanations: emotions, norms, time discounting, weakness of will, magical thinking, cognitive dissonance, heuristics and biases, rationality, irrationality, neuroscience, evolution, externalities, game theory, pluralistic ignorance, informational cascades, collective action, cyclical preferences, institutions, etc.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By The Dilettante on April 29, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
With no footnotes, no jargon, no namedropping and (almost) no mathmatics, this book clears all the conceptual underbrush away from the foundations of the social and behavioral sciences. Reading it was like watching an intellectual kung fu master in a rapid-fire series of celebrity deathmatches. As soon as Elster has dispatched Milton Friedman (Whup-POW!), he moves on to Steven Jay Gould. He chops ideas up into neat 10-page sections, says what he has to say, then cracks his knuckles and moves on. He does this so effortlessly that I found myself scratching my head ("how did I not see this before?") at the end of each section. It's not exactly fun - the reading can be dense - but it can be thrilling to simply feel the dust and cobwebs shoot out of your ears. I learned more in 500 pages than in 6 years of undergraduate survey courses. Highly, highly recommended.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Herbert Gintis on February 28, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Jon Elster's strength is his deep understanding of behavioral science as well as the classical writers on human nature and human society. In the past several years, his goal has been to join the two, throwing in the natural sciences, to explain more fully the nature of society. He says (p. 246) "In a common view, the scientific enterprise has three distincti parts or branches: the humanities, the social sciences, and the natural sciences...but...a rigid distinction may prefent cross-fertilization...the social sciences can benefit from the biological study of human beings and other animals...interpretation of works of art and explanation are closely related enterprises." I think he is largely successful, and that this is a very useful approach for humanists and social scientists (although not for natural scientists). The number of insights per page in this book is prodigious, and it should be widely read.

I have several criticisms of Elster's exposition. In part, our differences may have narrowed or disappeared, as this book was published in 2007 and doubtless written a few years before that.

Elster's treatment of altruism is very Kantian. An act is altruistic if it benefits another at a cost to oneself, and one was motivated to undertake the act in order to benefit the other person. This, I believe, is absurd. If I really care about another person's welfare, then it pleases me to help this person. It is in my self-interest to behave altruistically. Very often I use the term self-regarding rather that self-interested, precisely because a truly moral person has a self-interest in being other-regarding. Part of my satisfaction in performing the altruistic act is that so doing is morally right, and I get satisfaction from behaving in a morally correct manner. But it may not.
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