How The Availability Of Some Plants And Animals Can Explain Thousands Of Years Of Human History
One of the most elegant explanations I have encountered in the social sciences comes courtesy of Jared Diamond, and is outlined in his wonderful book "Guns, Germs, and Steel." Diamond attempts to answer an enormously complex and historically controversial question—why certain societies achieved such historical dominance over others—by appealing to a set of very basic differences in the physical environments from which these societies emerged (such as differences in the availability of plants and animals suitable for domestication).
These differences, Diamond argues, gave rise to a number of specific advantages (such as greater immunity to disease) that were directly responsible for the historical success of some societies.
I'm not an expert in this domain, and I accept that Diamond's explanation might be completely misguided. Yet the appeal to such basic mechanisms in order to explain such a wide set of complex observations is so deeply satisfying that I hope he is right.