The best books about human interactions and the complexity of social life

Why am I passionate about this?

Rajiv Sethi is an economist, currently a professor at Barnard College, Columbia University, and an external professor at the Santa Fe Institute. His research deals with information and beliefs, with particular focus on how stereotypes condition interactions among strangers. 


I wrote...

Shadows of Doubt: Stereotypes, Crime, and the Pursuit of Justice

By Brendan O'Flaherty, Rajiv Sethi,

Book cover of Shadows of Doubt: Stereotypes, Crime, and the Pursuit of Justice

What is my book about?

In this book, economists Brendan O’Flaherty and Rajiv Sethi explore how stereotypes can shape the ways crimes unfold and how they contaminate the justice system through far more insidious, pervasive, and surprising paths than previously imagined.

Crime and punishment occur under extreme uncertainty. Offenders, victims, police officers, judges, and jurors make high-stakes decisions with limited information, under severe time pressure. With compelling stories and extensive data on how people act as they commit, prevent, or punish crimes, O’Flaherty and Sethi reveal the extent to which we rely on stereotypes as shortcuts in our decision making. Shadows of Doubt shows how deeply stereotypes are implicated in the most controversial criminal justice issues of our time, and how a clearer understanding of their effects can guide us toward a more just society.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Micromotives and Macrobehavior

Rajiv Sethi Why did I love this book?

This pioneering book explores the ways in which decentralized, uncoordinated choices by large numbers of people acting independently can give rise to aggregate phenomena that no individual anticipated or wished for, from traffic jams to social segregation.

It is a foundational contribution to what has come to be called complexity science.  

By Thomas C. Schelling,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Micromotives and Macrobehavior as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Schelling here offers an early analysis of 'tipping' in social situations involving a large number of individuals." -official citation for the 2005 Nobel Prize

Micromotives and Macrobehavior was originally published over twenty-five years ago, yet the stories it tells feel just as fresh today. And the subject of these stories-how small and seemingly meaningless decisions and actions by individuals often lead to significant unintended consequences for a large group-is more important than ever. In one famous example, Thomas C. Schelling shows that a slight-but-not-malicious preference to have neighbors of the same race eventually leads to completely segregated populations.

The updated…


Book cover of Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States

Rajiv Sethi Why did I love this book?

This breathtakingly original book examines two interconnected ways in which organizations can be induced to improve performance—abandonment (exit) and complaint (voice).

If exit is too easy, there may not be enough time for voice to operate, and organizations that could have recovered may end up collapsing instead. Loyalty to the organization can slow exit and create space for voice to operate, but not if loyalty is blind and uncritical. 

By Albert O. Hirschman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Exit, Voice, and Loyalty as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An innovator in contemporary thought on economic and political development looks here at decline rather than growth. Albert O. Hirschman makes a basic distinction between alternative ways of reacting to deterioration in business firms and, in general, to dissatisfaction with organizations: one, "exit," is for the member to quit the organization or for the customer to switch to the competing product, and the other, "voice," is for members or customers to agitate and exert influence for change "from within." The efficiency of the competitive mechanism, with its total reliance on exit, is questioned for certain important situations. As exit often…


Book cover of The Imperative of Integration

Rajiv Sethi Why did I love this book?

Elizabeth Anderson writes with exceptional clarity and precision in ways that are jargon-free and accessible to a broad audience.

In this book she tackles a broad range of important and interconnected issues, including the burdens faced by negatively stereotyped individuals who must spend time and effort to dispel clouds of suspicion, and the proper understanding of meritocracy in selection practices.

By Elizabeth Anderson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Imperative of Integration as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

More than forty years have passed since Congress, in response to the Civil Rights Movement, enacted sweeping antidiscrimination laws in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. As a signal achievement of that legacy, in 2008, Americans elected their first African American president. Some would argue that we have finally arrived at a postracial America, but The Imperative of Integration indicates otherwise. Elizabeth Anderson demonstrates that, despite progress toward racial equality, African Americans remain disadvantaged on virtually all measures of well-being. Segregation remains a key cause of these…


Book cover of The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life

Rajiv Sethi Why did I love this book?

This path-breaking book presents a view of human communication as theater, where speakers choose their words to create desired impressions, and listeners try to interpret speech while guarding against manipulation and deceit.

Strategic interaction and interpretation are central to the argument. In effect, Goffman is examining dynamic games with incomplete information, decades below the formal language for such analyses was developed. 

By Erving Goffman,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the defining works of twentieth-century sociology: a revelatory analysis of how we present ourselves to others

'The self, then, as a performed character, is not an organic thing ... it is a dramatic effect'

How do we communicate who we are to other people? This landmark work by one of the twentieth century's most influential sociologists argues that our behaviour in social situations is defined by how we wish to be perceived - resulting in displays startlingly similar to those of actors in a theatrical performance. From the houses and clothes that we use as 'fixed props' to…


Book cover of The Anatomy of Racial Inequality: With a New Preface

Rajiv Sethi Why did I love this book?

This beautifully written and tightly argued book examines mechanisms that sustain inequality among social groups across generations, which Loury traces primarily to discrimination in contact rather than discrimination in contract.

Contractual discrimination can be addressed by law, but discrimination in contact—in such matters as friendship, marriage, adoption, and residential choice—lies largely outside the scope of state action. Through such channels historical inequality between groups can persist indefinitely, even under formal equality of opportunity.

By Glenn C. Loury,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Anatomy of Racial Inequality as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Lifts and transforms the discourse on 'race' and racial justice to an entirely new level."
-Orlando Patterson

"Intellectually rigorous and deeply thoughtful...An incisive, erudite book by a major thinker."
-Gerald Early, New York Times Book Review

Why are black Americans so persistently confined to the margins of society? And why do they fail across so many metrics-wages, unemployment, income levels, test scores, incarceration rates, health outcomes? Known for his influential work on the economics of racial inequality and for pioneering the link between racism and social capital, Glenn Loury is not afraid of piercing orthodoxies and coming to controversial conclusions.…


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Mindleap: A Fresh View of Education Empowered by Neuroscience and Systems Thinking

By Jim Brown,

Book cover of Mindleap: A Fresh View of Education Empowered by Neuroscience and Systems Thinking

Jim Brown Author Of Mindleap: A Fresh View of Education Empowered by Neuroscience and Systems Thinking

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I have spent my entire professional life quietly patrolling the frontiers of understanding human consciousness. I was an early adopter in the burgeoning field of biofeedback, then neurofeedback and neuroscience, plus theory and practices of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, plus steeping myself in systems theory as a context for all these other fields of focus. I hold a MS in psychology from San Francisco State University and a PhD from Saybrook Institute. I live in Mount Shasta CA with Molly, my life partner for over 60 years. We have two sons and two grandchildren.

Jim's book list on brain, mind, and consciousness

What is my book about?

In this thoroughly researched and exquisitely crafted treatise, Jim Brown synthesizes the newest understandings in neuroscience, developmental psychology, and dynamical systems theory for educators and others committed to nurturing human development.

He explains complex concepts in down-to-earth terms, suggesting how these understandings can transform education to engender optimal learning and intelligence. He explores the nature of consciousness, intelligence, and mind.

Brown then offers a model of optimal human learning through lifelong brain development within a supportive culture--drawing on the work of Piaget, Erickson, Maslow, Kohlberg, and Steiner--and how that work is being vastly expanded by neuroscience and dynamical systems thinking.

Mindleap: A Fresh View of Education Empowered by Neuroscience and Systems Thinking

By Jim Brown,

What is this book about?

In this thoroughly-researched and exquisitely crafted treatise, Jim Brown synthesizes the newest understandings in neuroscience, developmental psychology, and dynamical systems theory for educators and others committed to nurturing human development. He explains complex concepts in down-to-earth terms, suggesting how these understandings can transform education to truly engender optimal learning and intelligence. He explores the nature of consciousness, intelligence, and mind. Brown then offers a model of optimal human learning through life-long brain development within a supportive culture--drawing on the work of Piaget, Erickson, Maslow, Kohlberg, and Steiner--and how that work is being vastly expanded by neuroscience and dynamical systems thinking.


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