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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The intricacies of the human psyche--and one man's inquisitive mind--are illuminated in this shrewd, warm-hearted memoir. Aronson (The Social Animal) is a leading theorist of the "cognitive dissonance" that prompts people to change their perceptions of reality to resolve contradictions between experiences and beliefs. It's a rich concept, and the author explains its quirky corollaries--e.g., people like groups more and discount negative elements if they had to endure an ordeal to join--through delightful accounts of the theatrical experiments that lend them scientific rigor. Surrounding these expository gems is a chronicle of a prominent, occasionally adventuresome academic career in which, as a young professor in the '50s, Aronson weathered faculty "pomposity" at Harvard, political correctness witch-hunts at U.C.–Santa Cruz for supporting Arthur Jensen's right to speak on innate racial differences in IQ, and racist death threats after an experiment prompted a fair housing law in Texas. These sections are somewhat staid, but his searing memories of Depression-era poverty and family discord brim with psychological insight. Aronson's message--"People who do crazy things are not necessarily crazy"--comes through with both analytic clarity and emotional resonance. Photos.
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Kirkus Reviews
“[Aronson’s] descriptions of experimental design and theory are thorough yet accessible to the average reader, but it is his profound insights, observations and compassion that make this a fascinating read…An illuminating account of how a great thinker with insatiable curiosity overcame a difficult childhood through his love of social science.”

Daniel Gilbert, Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, author of Stumbling on Happiness 
“An engaging and beautifully written account by one of the great social psychologists of our time. From the rags his father sold to the intellectual riches he would someday discover, Aronson’s story is a quintessentially American inspiration.”

Phoebe C. Ellsworth, Frank Murphy Distinguished University Professor of Law and Psychology, University of Michigan
“Elliot Aronson is a great social psychologist and a great man. In the beginning his life was poor and cramped, and this book is the story of how he used every new experience to make it richer and more fulfilling. We see his mind ever expanding to embrace the joy and responsibility of love, scientific rigor, the brilliant synthesis of precision and imagination in his psychological experiments, the application of psychology to pressing social problems, and finally, the loss of his eyesight – but never of his vision. And, as always, he writes beautifully, with honesty, humor, and insight.”

Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of The Language Instinct and How the Mind Works
“This is an autobiography with a difference. Not only is it a warm and graceful memoir of a gifted man who helped to shape the science of social life, but it is informed by insights from that very field. Elliot Aronson, more than any living person, knows that the stories we tell about ourselves are apt to be dubious and self-serving, and so his reflections on his own life are layered with reflections on how we reflect on our lives. The result is an immensely enjoyable and informative memoir.”

Phil Zimbardo, Ph.D., author of The Lucifer Effect 
“Elliot Aronson is our modern day Horatio Alger as revealed in this charmingly inviting memoir of a childhood in rags to intellectual riches as one of psychology’s premier contributors. This master storyteller weaves his personal narrative in and around the events and people that marked his life path that was destined for greatness, without help from the vicissitudes of chance.”

Ludy T. Benjamin, Jr., Ph.D., Presidential Professor of Teaching Excellence, Professor of Psychology, Texas A&M University
“Arguably Elliot Aronson is first and foremost a very gifted teacher. The clarity he brings to that enterprise is evident in his success as a distinguished researcher and as a writer (witness the enormous popularity of his engaging treatise on social psychology, The Social Animal). And it is well manifested in this fascinating life story of a professor's quest to improve the human condition by understanding the social forces that so powerfully influence our lives. For those interested in an inside look at the joys and frustrations of an intellectual life, this book is a wonderful read.”

Gordon H. Bower, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Stanford University 
Not by Chance Alone describes the inspiring odyssey of one of the most eminent social psychologists of our times. Readers will admire the honest, witty, wise, and beautiful memoir of Aronson’s rich life that is filled with brilliant scientific insights, powerful teaching, and humane compassion.”

Elizabeth Loftus, Distinguished Professor, University of California-Irvine, Past President of the Association for Psychological Science 
“Absolutely wonderful. Elliot Aronson has long shown that he can write engagingly for a wide audience, and in Not by Chance Alone he has outdone himself. Not only was I captivated by Aronson’s truly inspirational life story, but I also learned so much about the people, theories, and experiments that helped define the field of social psychology.”

Gardner Lindzey, Editor of The Handbook of Social Psychology from 1954-2010
“If they ever get around to awarding a Nobel Prize in social psychology, I believe Elliot Aronson will be its first recipient. His ideas are creative, his experiments are elegant and his findings are of great importance.”

Thomas F. Pettigrew, Research Professor of Social Psychology, University of California-Santa Cruz
“Aronson’s candid autobiography is an instructive and enjoyable read. In addition, the volume offers an informed perspective on the sweeping development of social psychology as a discipline over the past six decades.”

Robert B. Cialdini, Author of Influence: Science and Practice
“Elliot Aronson’s done it again—revealed deep human insights from a deeply human story.”

Publishers Weekly

“The intricacies of the human psyche—and one man’s inquisitive mind—are illuminated in this shrewd, warm-hearted memoir”
“Aronson’s message—‘People who do crazy things are not necessarily crazy’—comes through with both analytic clarity and emotional resonance.”
Douglas Kenrick,
“Fascinating memoir from a stellar social psychologist…Aronson is a gifted writer, and he tells a great story not only about his own life, but also about the history of social psychology, the influence of the civil rights movement on psychology, the ominous forces of political correctness on college campuses, and more.”

Jewish Journal
“A courageous effort to answer some of the most fundamental questions of human destiny.”

“Aronson offers a revealing portrait both of himself and of social psychology in the past half-century.”

The Bookwatch
“Aronson’s autobiography documents his life and era in an inspirational, moving account recommended for general to college-level libraries.”
“What makes Not by Chance Alone unique is Aronson’s talent as a storyteller…He crafts dozens of stories that are as rich in imagery as they are in substance.”



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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (August 24, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465018335
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465018338
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,211,522 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Elliot Aronson is a social psychologist and Professor Emeritus at the University of California at Santa Cruz and Distinguished Visiting Professor at Stanford University. He has previously taught at Harvard, the University of Texas and the University of Minnesota. As a researcher, he is best known for his groundbreaking research on social influence and persuasion as well as for the invention of the jigsaw classroom (a strategy for reducing prejudice in public schools).

He has written 22 books including The Social Animal, Age of Propaganda (with Anthony Pratkanis), Nobody Left to Hate, The Adventures of Ruthie and a Little Boy Named Grandpa (with his 7-year-oldgranddaughter, Ruth Aronson, and Mistakes Were Made But Not By Me (with Carol Tavris).

Aronson is the only person in the 120-year history of the American Psychological Association to have received all three of its highest awards: For Distinguished Research, Distinguished Teaching, and Distinguished Writing. In 1981, he was named Professor of the Year by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education.

Among his other awards are the Gordon Allport prize for his contributions to inter-racial harmony and the William James Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association for Psychological Science (2007). Recently, his peers named him as one of the 100 most influential psychologists of the 20th Century.

He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and
has served as President of the Society of Personality and Social Psychology as well as President of the Western Psychological Association

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Douglas T. Kenrick on September 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I wouldn't have guessed I had much in common with Elliot Aronson. From a distance, he doesn't seem like a regular guy, even if that regular guy is also a social psychologist. Aronson's always been the kind of guy that makes for annoyingly unfavorable social comparisons: His first job was at Harvard, and his last job was at Stanford. When he was a student, his advisors were: Abraham Maslow, David McClelland, and Leon Festinger. Each of those three not only made a list of the top 100 figures in 20th century psychology, they were all in the top fifteen. His book the Social Animal has likely sold millions of copies over the years, and is still in print - in its 10th edition. Look up that book at Amazon, and you'll discover that Aronson is "the only person in the 110 year history of the American Psychological Association to have won all three of its major awards: Distinguished Research (1999), Distinguished Teaching (1980), and Distinguished Writing (1975)." Oh, not to mention the Gordon Allport Prize and the Donald Campbell Award. According to Google Scholar, a single paper of his -- on the "Jigsaw Classroom" -- has been cited 1650 times. Aronson has several classic research findings, including a study with Judson Mills that demonstrated that people become more committed to a group when they have to suffer to get in. Another paper with Darwyn Linder found that we like other people less if they are nice to us from the beginning than if they start out disliking us, then come around to our side. Both of these papers challenged the simple reinforcement view of behavior that was dominant in psychology when Aronson entered the field. Aronson's chapter on research methods in social psychology is also a classic.Read more ›
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By DS on August 26, 2010
Format: Hardcover
NOT BY CHANCE ALONE is in many ways like another autobiography I admire: Ben Franklin's. The title of Aronson's book invites the comparison. Like Franklin, Aronson's life is full of very good luck--who he meets and when. But luck would do him little good if he didn't, like Franklin, have the opportunistically elegant temperament to take advantage of being in the right place at the right time. Aronson is positive, empathic, curious and engaged. He is a terrific candidate for mentoring; and, in turn, becomes a terrific mentor. In this book we learn a lot about social psychology, the discipline Aronson celebrates by using it to address major social issues. We learn, also, that Aronson's "life as a social scientist" is a life lived well, garlanded by intellectual and ethical commitment.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Todd B. Kashdan VINE VOICE on September 10, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I was fortunate that a copy of this book randomly landed in my mailbox from the publisher. I have never met Aronson but he is one of the scientists that inspired me to become a scientist. However, knowing nothing about the man himself, I read this book with some trepidation. I quickly learned that this is not a self-serving, self-promotion autobiography. Rather, this is an insider's guide for how an eminent social scientist came to be. Aronson is a fantastic narrator who describes his difficult upbringing and the challenges in his life with exquisite details. This includes a fantastic array of characters that influenced him (Maslow, McClelland, Festinger) and befriended him (Ram Dass, Maurice Sendak).

If you are a scientist or aspiring scientist, this is a treatise on someone who can describe their passion for teaching and research like no other.

If you are looking for inspiration, this is a story of how poverty, shyness, and family difficulties are not manifest destiny. There is plenty of psychological space to shape our personality and our environment.

I was pleasantly surprised at the emotional poignancy of this book and refused to go to sleep until finishing it the day it arrived. My admiration for Aronson has only intensified and I suspect nearly every reader will feel the same.

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Alan E. Gross on December 28, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is the capstone of Elliot Aronson's magnificent lifework that combines theory and practice. He has in a single lifetime woven together several successful careers without sacrificing thoughtfulness or quality.

He is a creative scientist of human behavior continuing and improving on the experimental tradition of one of his mentors, Leon Festinger. And he has designed studies and applied findings to critical problems that non-scientists and societies struggle with every day, e.g. his innovative development of the jigsaw classroom. And he has packaged all of his immense and valuable productivity for his social psychological colleagues, several generations of college students, and the general public with his palatable and accessible writing.

And it is with that same beautiful pen that he puts his life's work together with the fascinating story of his own life -- the lows of an impoverished childhood, including sleeping in the back of parked cars at college, to the heights of academic honors, widely acclaimed books, and possibly most importantly, his cherished marriage and four productive children.

If I may be permitted a personal note, I can offer first hand testimony that what Aronson has accomplished was definitely "not by chance alone." Although we are not friends, our paths intersected at many points over the years. We were both social psychology graduate students at Stanford a few years apart, and we worked with many of the same colleagues. Aronson even offered me an opportunity to join him on the U. Texas faculty in the 60's. We both performed laboratory studies, but wanted our data to impact a broader audience than scientific journal readers.
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