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How Societies Change (Sociology for a New Century Series) Paperback – May 27, 2011

ISBN-13: 978-1412992565 ISBN-10: 1412992567 Edition: Second Edition

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Product Details

  • Series: Sociology for a New Century Series (Book 1)
  • Paperback: 184 pages
  • Publisher: SAGE Publications, Inc; Second Edition edition (May 27, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1412992567
  • ISBN-13: 978-1412992565
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.1 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #477,110 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


It's good to have a concise, well-written summary like this. (David Swift 2009-09-22) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Daniel Chirot is the Job and Gertrud Tamaki Professor of International Studies and of Sociology at the University of Washington in Seattle. His most recent book is called Contested Identities: Ethnic, Religious, and Nationalist Conflicts in Today’s World and was recently published by Routledge. He is the author of Modern Tyrants, published by Princeton University Press, and the co-author, with Clark McCauley, of Why Not Kill Them All? The Logic and Prevention of Mass Political Murder, also published by Princeton. He has written several books about global social change and has authored as well as edited other books about economic history, ethnic conflict, and international politics. Chirot has served as a consultant for various foundations and NGOS working in Eastern Europe and West Africa. His research and writing has been helped by grants from, among others, the United States Institute of Peace, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. He has a BA from Harvard University in Social Studies and a PhD in Sociology from Columbia University.

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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By C. Kollars on February 4, 2004
Format: Paperback
I've looked far and wide for a boad brush description of cultures that among other things would explain why the west is currently ascendant, something much more detailed than just saying "Industrial Revolution," yet still accessible to a generalist. I finally found it in this slim volume. Apparently targeted at college sociology course reading lists, it also serves the curious general reader quite well.
It's pleasing and intellectually satisfying to have such a broad sweep laid out so succinctly. This book avoids the pole of too much depth and erudition--hundreds and hundreds of pages of rather obscure analysis, parts of which are outdated or irrelevant. One need only browse the references in this book to see the difference between its sources and itself. Materials written by Max Weber, Talcott Parsons, Karl Marx and many many others tend to be decades old and to mix insights with errors and irrelevancies so that grasping them is difficult without a fairly thorough academic background. This book also avoids the other pole of being too superficial to be useful--simply saying Industrial Revolution as if that answered all questions.
A brief description of how very early human societies (hunter gatherer) were organized opens the book. Next it discusses agrarian societies in some depth: how did they come about? how widespread were they? how did various people live in them? what problems did they bring? Then it covers the question of why the west grew to dominate, including the historical roots of how it happened, relationship to enlightenment ideas, the economic transformation at the base of the dominance, and its consequences (empires, nationalism, the importance of commerce, etc.).
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Irfan A. Alvi TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 3, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This superb book by Daniel Chirot considerably exceeded my hopes and expectations. Chirot brilliantly illuminates key factors which influence how societies change, and he maps out how societies have actually changed historically as a result of these factors.

More specifically, as with biological evolution of organisms, Chirot shows how the size and (hierarchical) complexity of societies has tended to increase during the transition from (a) hunter-gatherer bands to (b) small agricultural societies to (c) larger agricultural civilizations to (d) modern rationalized and industrialized societies. Modernization in particular has resulted in many beneficial changes which have raised average standard of living and produced high culture, but has also resulted in considerable intensification of population pressure, environmental impact, social instability, social inequality, and competition and conflict.

More generally, Chirot argues that, since social change is an evolutionary process, governed by selection and involving some contingency (randomness), we can't reliably judge the adaptive fitness of changes (including new ideas) except in retrospect. This makes the past only a limited guide to the future, and so there is much uncertainty about what policies we should pursue going forward, which explains the endless debate regarding how conservative versus progressive we should be.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Aaron Swartz on September 26, 2006
Format: Paperback
Daniel Chirot is a follower of Talcott Parsons. While he does not reveal this fact until his final chapter, it is evident throughout, both in the book's conserative assumptions and its oddly-difficult writing. Nonetheless, it does cover an enormous amount of ground in a small amount of space and is certainly more readable than some books on the subject.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Scott P. Crane on January 28, 2013
Format: Paperback
I enjoyed Chirot's book, both for it's coverage of early human societies and for it's conciseness and accessibility. However, I found Chirot's discussion of the modern world quite flawed. Just a few issues I had:

1) Chirot dismisses all modern socialist movements and ideas by pointing out the failures of communism and conflating all socialism with communism. At one point he provides data showing how European nations are doing better than the US in terms of lower inequality (he could have also mentioned better healthcare and education, comparable innovation) but he never mentions the role of socialism in those nations, nor the role of socialism in the economic boom in the US in the mid-20th century. He dismisses all socialism as an intellectual pipe dream or a Luddite movement by those who hate progress.

2) He tries to lump fascism and communism together as opposition movements to capitalism, failing to admit the close ties between fascism and capitalism (Spanish Civil War, early support for Mussolini and Hitler by US industry) and even claiming that modern European socialist governments have their roots in the corporatist elements of fascism. Perhaps he should examine the incestuous relationship between government and industry in modern capitalist society and rethink this. He also relies on the tired notion that fascism and communism become surrogate religions to their proponents, again ignoring the near cult-like status that "free markets" enjoy at all levels of western capitalist government and media.

3) Chirot repeatedly puts the cart before the horse in examining why certain societies or elements within society don't seem to have progressed in the same way as the broader western capitalist society has.
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