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Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Flaneur)

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).


This book, first published in 2007, 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, relying on hundreds of examples and drawing on a large variety of sources - psychology, behavioral economics, biology, political science, historical writings, philosophy and fiction. Written in accessible and jargon-free language, Elster aims at accuracy and clarity while eschewing formal models. In a provocative conclusion, Elster defends the centrality of qualitative social sciences in a two-front war against soft (literary) and hard (mathematical) forms of obscurantism.

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