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Having reviewed over 1100 books on this blog, I have now written one myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. It is available on Kindle through Amazon. Read it and find out whether this critic can write. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

“Six degrees” by Duncan J Watts

This is a description of the science of networks by a physicist turned sociologist. In many ways it reiterates and explains the concepts found in other books such as ‘Wikinomics’ and ‘Critical Mass’. It is brilliantly readable but a little too popular to allow me to understand the mathematical ideas properly. But it is sufficiently in depth to make it clear that Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Tipping Point’ was the froth on the waves on the ocean compared to this book. It is full of amazing insights and brilliant ideas; at the same time it is a beautifully biographical and frequently amusing chronicle of the process through which mathematical discovery is achieved. I was utterly entranced.

And networks are important. An obvious example of network failure Watts doesn’t use is death. He starts by talking through the much cited example of when a power line in Oregon touched a tree and half the Western US was blacked out. By the end of the book we have learned about the Small Worlds phenomenon, epidemics and computer viruses, tulip bubbles and information cascades, how revolutions start and how hindsight makes history useless, and how information flows within hierarchies and what this means for the future of the firm.

Loads and loads to think about. Wonderful.

August 2011; 306 pages

Duncan Watts worked with Steven Strogatz who wrote sync
Other great books in this area include:

  • At Home in the Universe by Stuart Kauffman about fitness landscapes
  • How Nature Works by Per Bak about sandpiles and self organized criticality; an excellent explanation of complexity science
  • Deep Simplicity by John Gribbin which is a brilliant introduction to this whole field
  • Smart swarm by Peter Miller
  • The Information by James Gleick although his Chaos (not reviewed on this blog) is perhaps better

Other books not reviewed on this blog on this topic include:

  • The Wisdom of Crowds 
  • Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell about fads
  • Ubiquity which is brilliant about fractals and power laws
  • Critical mass by Philip Ball which is a brilliant explanation about phase changes

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