cover image Not by Chance Alone: My Life as a Social Psychologist

Not by Chance Alone: My Life as a Social Psychologist

Elliot Aronson, Basic, $27.50 (304p) ISBN 978-0-465-01833-8

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. (Sept. 1)