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Six Degrees : The Science of a Connected Age
The pioneering young scientist whose work on the structure of small worlds has triggered an avalanche of interest in networks.
In this remarkable book, Duncan Watts, one of the principal architects of network theory, sets out to explain the innovative research that he and other scientists are spearheading to create a blueprint of our connected planet. Whether they bind computers, economies, or terrorist organizations, networks are everywhere in the real world, yet only recently have scientists attempted to explain their mysterious workings.
From epidemics of disease to outbreaks of market madness, from people searching for information to firms surviving crisis and change, from the structure of personal relationships to the technological and social choices of entire societies, Watts weaves together a network of discoveries across an array of disciplines to tell the story of an explosive new field of knowledge, the people who are building it, and his own peculiar path in forging this new science.
Watts, a Columbia University sociology professor, combines his own research in network theory with summaries of the work of others who he says are "collectively solving problems which cannot be solved by any single individual or even any single discipline." The result is a dizzyingly complex blend of mathematics, computer science, biology and social theory that, despite the best efforts at clarification, often remains opaque, buried in scientific language and graphs. The book also assumes a high level of unfamiliarity on the reader's part with the subject, treating phenomena like the 17th-century tulip craze or the "Kevin Bacon game" as fresh news. Even more surprising, however, are the significant omissions- there is not a single mention of "tipping points," for example, the subject of a recent bestselling book. The parts of the book dealing with the author's own research are strong on science, but frustratingly vague on the social network of scientists with whom Watts has worked. There are intermittent highlights in the scientific account, such as an explanation of why casual acquaintances are more likely to provide life-changing opportunities than best friends, or a look at how New York City's reaction to September 11 illustrates current thinking on network connectivity and disruption, but, despite an admirable effort to syncretize discoveries in several fields, the book as a whole is too dry to compete effectively with the popularized accounts that exist for each separate field. Illus.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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W. W. Norton & Company
February 16, 2004
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