At 10 I wanted to be a chemist, and at 16 a poet. At 18 I entered college as an English major but soon realized that I loved social science courses more than literature courses. In dismay, I consulted a college career counselor, who suggested social science as a compromise between a humanities discipline and a biological science. So I became a sociologist (though if the truth be known, I still hanker after biology and harbor a secret ambition to write a novel).

After majoring in sociology I went on to graduate work at Columbia University. There I encountered three figures who became mentors for much of the work I have done since: Robert K. Merton, Paul F. Lazarsfeld and C.W. Mills. Each was an outstanding model for a particular talent: Merton for theoretical elegance and writing grace, Lazarsfeld for crisp simplicity in problem formulation and the measurement of complex...

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