Like Gleick is to Information Theory, X is to Social Choice Theory
April 3, 2014 9:11 AM   Subscribe

What are some great, accessible books that would allow me to learn more about social choice theory without having to become an economist? I am thinking something along the likes of James Gleick's "popular science" Information Theory book, but for social choice theory.

Arrow's impossibility theorem and the Gibbard-Satterthwaite theorem fascinate me, but not being an economist and not having time to dedicate myself to becoming one, I am stuck following links in brief Wikipedia articles when I want to procrastinate at work (like now).

I would like to learn a little more about the history, results, and implications of what is known in that field.
posted by TheyCallItPeace to Science & Nature (2 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I have my grad degree in the topic, so here are some texts I like.

The first one is by one of the biggest current names in the field (Kenneth Shepsle). This is a book used to teach undergrad courses. It's a great and relatively easy read, and doesn't shy away from math, but also doesn't obscure facts with excessive notation or proofs. Using at most simple algebra to convey the core concepts. It is the best book for your goals and desires. Although it might not be as light as you would like, I think it's not really possible to learn the basics of this field without an axiomatic approach (since that's literally the purpose of the field: Developing an axiomatic approach to what was once considered pure theory). It does go over the two theorems you linked, but in a way that would be sufficient to teach a clever 2nd year University student with highschool math, whereas wiki is bogged down. (

This is less of a textbook and more of a seminal book (i.e. it isn't teaching a field but rather an argument by an academic). The author is Douglas North, one of the--if not THE--most important person to build up the methodology and philosophy of science behind social choice theory. This is also not terribly complex, but a step up from the previous link (
EDIT: Now that I think about it, you might actually prefer this book as it's less textbooky.

Lastly here are two advanced textbooks that make judicious use of math and game theory. You probably will want to stay away from these, but it could give you a good idea of what we work towards.
posted by jjmoney at 10:23 AM on April 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Cool, these suggestions look great! Thanks, jjmoney.
posted by TheyCallItPeace at 2:01 PM on April 3, 2014

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