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Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives [Hardcover]

Nicholas A. Christakis , James H. Fowler
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 28 2009
Your colleague's husband's sister can make you fat, even if you don't know her. A happy neighbor has more impact on your happiness than a happy spouse. These startling revelations of how much we truly influence one another are revealed in the studies of Drs. Christakis and Fowler, which have repeatedly made front-page news nationwide.

In CONNECTED, the authors explain why emotions are contagious, how health behaviors spread, why the rich get richer, even how we find and choose our partners. Intriguing and entertaining, CONNECTED overturns the notion of the individual and provides a revolutionary paradigm-that social networks influence our ideas, emotions, health, relationships, behavior, politics, and much more. It will change the way we think about every aspect of our lives.




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"Christakis and Fowler have written the book on the exciting new science of social networks. With passion and precision, these two internationally renowned scientists expose the invisible webs that connect each of us to the other, and in so doing cast our lives here together in an astonishing new light. We think we are individuals who control our own fates, but as Christakis and Fowler demonstrate, we are merely cells in the nervous system of a much greater beast. If someone you barely know reads CONNECTED, it could change your life forever. How? Read it yourself and find out."-- "The book has all sorts of interesting information about how our friends influence our lives, for better and for worse."
Daniel Gilbert, bestselling author of Stumbling on Happiness

"[In a category of] works of brilliant originality that can stimulate and enlighten and can sometimes even change the way we understand the world."—The New York Times

"Groundbreaking...."—Kirkus

"An entertaining guide to the mechanics and importance of human networking."—Publishers Weekly

"Engaging and insightful...sure-to-be a blockbuster...Connected succeeds in connecting with its audience."—SeedMagazine.com

"Illuminating...The authors excel at drawing out the devil in the detail. [Connected] has profound implications."—New Scientist

"Intriguing."—SmartMoney.com

"Connected explores the startling intricacies of social networks."—O, The Oprah Magazine

"The book has all sorts of interesting information about how our friends influence our lives, for better and for worse."—MarieClaire.com

"Connected argues convincingly that it's not enough to understand how individuals behave. The book details examples of how individual behaviors affect other members of a social network."-ScienceNews.com



"This wonderful book by Christakis and Fowler could well be one of the most important works of the decade. In a clear and engaging way, the authors apply their creative and provocative findings on social networks to understanding not only our social relationships but also the forces that shape our world. Full of fascinating stories and examples, this book is essential in understanding our very nature. A must read."—Ed Diener, Joseph Smiley Distinguished Professor of Psychology University of Illinois and author of Happiness

"Fascinating... the dozens of interconnected stories of research findings by Chriastkis and Fowler and others leave me eager to learn about the next wave of research in this area."—Andrew Gelman, author of Red State, Blue State

"What makes us human -- for good and bad -- is our social nature. Nowhere is this complex, wonderful, and sometimes dark part of us more clearly revealed than in Connected. In a social world exploding with new ways to interact, Connected is a user's guide for ourselves in the 21st century."—Dan Ariely, James B. Duke Professor of Behavioral Economics and author of Predictably Irrational

"A God's-eye view of social relationships that may make you dizzy. Every business leader, teacher, and parent should see their life from this vantage."—Chip Heath, author Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

"An old adage tells us, 'You can't chose your family.' After reading Connected, you will find that you can't choose many things in your life. Others choose them for you! Christakis and Fowler take a fresh look at an old idea: that who we know matters. Connected is a lively, well-written account of social networks and their power to shape our lives. Complicated ideas become easy to understand and the mysteries of science unfold in front of your eyes. The world becomes smaller and more meaningful after reading this engaging book."—Sudhir Venkatesh, author of Gang Leader for a Day

"From health and happiness to fads and financial markets, Christakis and Fowler take us on a dazzling tour of the world of social networks. And in showing how these networks matter in our individual lives, the authors also make the deeper point that "network thinking" is the key to understanding how all our lives fit together."-Duncan Watts, author of Six Degrees

About the Author

Nicholas A. Christakis, MD, PhD, is a professor at Harvard University with joint appointments in the Departments of Health Care Policy, Sociology, and Medicine, and in 2009 was named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world. James H. Fowler, PhD, is an associate professor at the University of California, San Diego, in the Department of Political Science and The Center for Wireless and Population Health Systems, and was named one of the "most inspiring scientists" by the San Diego Science Festival. Christakis and Fowler's research has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Good Morning America, Today, and The Colbert Report, and on the front pages of the New York Times, Washington Post, and USA Today.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Smart look at social networks June 12 2011
By Dr. Bojan Tunguz TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
The raise of the internet has precipitated the increase of public's interest in networks and many books have come out in recent years that explore this new fascination. Most of these books, however, focus on some very trite and visible aspect of the web networks, and don't delve deeper into the more subtle and nonobvious properties of networks. In the light of that the strength of "Connected" is that it heavily relies on well established scientific research and presents it in an accessible fashion that still does full justice to the topic. Both authors are themselves prominent researchers in the field, and this fact helps with the choice and presentation of topics. The particular focus on social networks is very timely in the light of recent explosion of online social networks. However, social networks have been around for a very long time. In fact, there have been some evolutionary theories that suggest that our rise as a species has been to a large extent spurred by the need to manage large social networks.

The book provides many interesting and nontrivial insights into what sorts of social networks are most beneficial in certain circumstances, and which ones on the other hand can have the most deleterious effects, such as in cases of spreading of diseases. One of the more pleasant aspects of this book has been the more positive attitude towards the role of religion in society that is not simplistic and provides us with some useful new insights and ways of looking at religion. For instance, from the purely social-networking point of view God can be viewed as a node in a network that is equally distant from all other nodes - individual believers in this case.
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By Robert Morris HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
I read this book when it was first published in 2009 but am only now getting around to re-reading and then reviewing it. Since then, the nature and extent of social media have expanded and extended far beyond anything that Tim Berners-Lee could have imagined twenty years ago when he developed his concept of the worldwide "web" of electronic connection and interaction while working as an independent contractor the for European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). Currently he is the director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Perhaps Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, co-authors f Connected, are amazed by the growth since they published their book.

As they observe in the Preface, "Scientists, philosophers, and others who study society have generally divided into two camps: those who think they are in control of their destinies, and those who believe that social forces (ranging from a lack of good public education to the presence of a corrupt government) are responsible for what happens to us." They think a third factor is missing from this debate: "our connections to others matter most, and by linking the study of individuals to the study of groups, the science of social networks can explain a lot about human experience." I agree.

This book is the result of what Christakis and Fowler have learned thus far from their research and I thin they make a substantial contribution to a discussion of a question that has continued for several thousand years: "What makes us uniquely human?" They remain convinced that to know who we are, we must first understand how we are connected.

These are among the dozens of business subjects and issues of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of Christakis and Fowler's coverage.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  75 reviews
70 of 82 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good premise, little backup, too many words Dec 26 2009
By moderate user - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
While the statistics in the original journal articles might be fine, the authors do not present the interpretations in a particularly convincing way. Many interpretations given are just stated and the reader is apparently supposed to accept that explanation without evidence why it is the correct explanation. Even I can think of alternate explanations for some of their observed data.
Also, in many chapters the point is made and then elaborated upon for pages when they could've stopped much earlier--or else instead of just restating the same conclusions over-and-over, they could've told why other explanations don't work.
49 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars what we always suspected Sept. 14 2009
By Kathryn Schultz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I loved this book. Sensitive, aware people perceive on a daily basis that actions, behaviors and emotions impact the lives of those around us, but the science that proves conclusively that your behaviors are impacting mine, my spouse's and friend's in Idaho offers such hope for improvement in the cosmic social network of which we all have our "connectedness". I loved the anecdotal stories - Nicholas and Erika meeting, the Starbucks employee, crazy unstoppable laughter - to which each reader will add additional network stories. We are connected, like it or not, so perhaps we can all start behaving in ways that benefit the entire network. Everyone who reads this will think twice about the impact of cutting someone off in traffic. Dr Christakis and Dr. Fowler have written for the scientific world, NY Times and lay reader - all who are part of the network.
27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Can your friend's husband's coworker make you fat? Nov. 30 2009
By Jay C. Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Nicholas A. Christakis (MD, PhD) and James H. Fowler (PhD) hold a high opinion about the potential value of their own field of expertise: "If we do not understand social networks, we cannot hope to fully understand either ourselves or the world we inhabit." Having read their book Connected I am generally inclined to agree with them, although I remain skeptical of much they have to say, including the validity of some of their most attention-grabbing conclusions. The book exhibits many of the merits that accrue when scientific authors are skilled at writing for a popular audience, but it also illustrates some of the perils that arise when complex and technical research details are truncated to make the product palatable for non-specialists. Nevertheless, anyone with a serious interest in the social sciences, public health, or public policy generally, but not previously fully-versed in social network analysis, should find Connected very instructive.

That is my summary judgment and you can stop here if you just want to understand why I assigned four stars. Connected is rich in content and I apologize that to summarize the book fairly and further justify my evaluation requires considerably more words, quite likely more than you may want to read at this point.

Social networks consist of humans and the connections between them. Most of us are members of "multiplex" networks involving different kinds of connections such as family, close friends, coworkers, neighbors, acquaintances, and so on. We can be either directly connected to others (first degree of separation), or indirectly so, through the second degree (a friend of a friend, for instance) up to about six degrees of separation to cover the globe. Networks have structure and shape: people have specific locations within networks, sometimes forming clusters that are themselves distinct network components. Christakis and Fowler do a commendable job of explaining all of this, plus they include several very clever color "maps" of different kinds of networks to provide visual reinforcement (credit the software).

Networks have the capacity for contagion, for influences to flow through the connections. We all understand how this works in a health epidemic when germs are spread, but Christakis and Fowler contend that it also applies to certain behaviors as well. There are several plausible explanations for why we might often behave or feel like others in our network, or vice-versa, including genetics (for directly related family members), our tendency to associate with others like ourselves (homophily), "emotional contagion" (the authors present several striking accounts of epidemic hysteria), shared environmental exposures, our propensity for imitation, and our desire to conform to social norms.

We can see readily enough how such influences might often operate at the first degree of separation, through ties with people to whom we are directly connected. But the authors are especially interested in "hyperdyadic spread," the tendency of behavioral influences to extend beyond the first level to generate effects at higher degrees of separation (just like germ contagion). It is not immediately intuitive that people we don't even know (aside from media personalities and the like) can significantly influence how we behave or feel. Yet Christakis and Fowler report on research where they claim to have found just that, including studies of network effects on happiness, obesity, and smoking, for example.

They propose a "Three Degrees of Influence Rule." For instance, they found in one of their studies that a person is about 15 percent more likely to be happy if someone to whom he or she is directly connected is happy; ten percent more likely if a connection two degrees removed is happy; and six percent more likely for happy persons three degrees removed. Beyond three degrees "intrinsic decay" (like in the telephone tree game) and network instability (social ties change over time) diminish the influence to negligible levels. Christakis and Fowler report similar findings from their obesity study, where they conclude (somewhat sensationally) that, "You may not know him personally, but your friend's husband's coworker can make you fat." Such network effects were observed supposedly after controlling for genetic influence, the tendency of people to befriend similar people, and the possibility of shared exposures that contributed to weight gain or loss.

The authors summarize many social network studies in addition to their own, addressing such subjects as employment search, romantic matches, sexually transmitted disease, currency circulation, financial market activity, voting behavior, and suicide. Much of the discussion is provocative and enlightening. For instance, readers will learn that there are circumstances where weak ties to others may be more helpful than strong ties, that higher status (college educated) persons influenced the spread of smoking in the 1930s and now influence the cessation of it, that networks might help explain why the rich are getting richer (the rich attract more friends, and having more friends is an aid in getting rich), and that political polarization (a bad thing in the eyes of many) increases political participation (a good thing to most).

I have various reservations about Connected, however. Some are methodological. For instance, the authors obtained the data for their principal research from the Framingham Heart Study, which has collected health information about a large inter-generational group of people since 1948, but was not designed as a social network study. Christakis and Fowler turned it into one by using the researchers' contact notes to reconstruct social connections among the participants in the more recent cohorts. But because the available information was limited the average number of assigned direct "friends" (not counting family, coworkers, neighbors or other kinds of connections) for the study subjects was only 0.7 (I know the number only because I consulted one of the authors' journal articles, not because they provided such detail in the book). Thus to me it seems their network data were at best incomplete, or worse, possibly selection biased, leaving out a large majority of the real-life friends of the study subjects. Surely many persons who were actually closely connected at the first degree were not recognized by the study as connected at all, and possibly many actual first-degree connections were linked inaccurately only at higher degrees of separation.

That is just one example. Peer scientists, persons much more qualified than myself, have raised other methodological concerns. For instance, Christakis and Fowler have been criticized for the specification of one of their mathematical models, with one adjusted replication finding no significant social network effects on obesity.

While it seems clear enough that network analysis has been and can be applied in socially beneficial ways, the authors at times appear overly optimistic about the prospects. One of their themes is that "positional inequality" (persons placed in less advantageous positions in networks) can be mitigated if policy makers better take into account the role of social networks. For example, they suggest that a friends-of-friends strategy may sometimes be preferable to one that involves just the direct subjects and their one-degree friends -- if you join your friends to lose weight you might succeed, they say, but if their friends are overweight and not working on it, your friends might relapse, affecting you too. But, at least in this example, their strategy does not seem to offer much practical promise, since with each additional tier of friends engaged the cumulative cost goes up exponentially and there are diminishing marginal returns in the effectiveness pay-off for the first-tier direct subjects.

One big factor that makes Christakis and Fowler upbeat about the future of network analysis is the advance of communications technology. In part they are excited because they see treasure mines of data. They observe, for instance, that cell phone information allows researchers to study where connected people are minute by minute. The authors do not pause to consider the potential privacy intrusions and risks that expanded access to such data might enable.

Christakis and Fowler believe that technology now makes physical distance less of a constraint for certain networks (such as scientific collaborations, for instance) and they think the Internet has facilitated match-making networks of various kinds. Yet interestingly, they suggest that modern technologies do not take us away from our prehistoric past, but rather move us closer toward it, in the sense that "our desire to form connections depends partly on our genes." They say that, "Overall, the evidence from real-world networks suggests that online networks can be used to enhance what flows between real-world friends and family, but we do not know yet whether the Internet will increase the speed or scope of social contagions in general."

The bottom line is that there is still much about social networks that social scientists and others do not understand. For instance, I do not think that we can yet say much with great confidence about the magnitude and diffusion of behavioral influences (as distinct from pathogenic agents) beyond the first degree of separation, in spite of the assertions of Christakis and Fowler here. However, what they have done should help enrich future research.
36 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece Oct. 12 2009
By B. Kim - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
"Connected" by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler is one of the most important books you will ever read. In this insightful and thought-provoking book, the authors explore our social networks and their powerful shaping role in our daily lives. The authors show that the powerful role of social networks obeys the Three Degrees of Influence Rule, meaning that our behaviors have impact on our friends, our friends' friends, and our friends' friends' friends. This amazing fact can be applied to human experience as diverse as happiness, loneliness and other emotions, political views, sex, and health. For example, happiness can spread through social networks from person to person to person, and our health behaviors can affect those of our friends, our friends' friends, and even our friends' friends' friends.

As I perused this book twice since its publication, I found reading "Connected" very delightful since it presents a constellation of thought-provoking, and sometimes counter-intuitive, ideas on social networks. We can enjoy the book solely for the purpose of enhancing our knowledge. But I think this book is much more than that and has meaningful implications in various ways. First and foremost, the book has very important implications for policymakers. For instance, as the authors articulated in Chapter 4, social-network perspectives can offer a whole new set of cost-effective public-health interventions. This innovative approach is particularly relevant at a time when soaring costs of health care are a major issue and health care reform is gaining momentum. Many policymakers now know that nudging is important, but they don't know how to implement it. This book provides a good answer.

Second, "Connected" has significant implications for academia as well. Efforts to understand human behavior have been confined to a long debate of individualism versus holism. This book offers an entirely different way. By studying social networks, the authors suggest, we can find the missing link between the two perspectives. In other words, through the investigation of how emergent properties arise and exert influence on our lives, we can truly understand human condition and behavior for the first time. This is almost a manifesto, calling for a change in the traditions of "either or approach" between individualism and holism towards "both and approach" by means of the solid bridge offered by social networks that could resolve the chasm. Such a manifesto is convincing and has a strong stance because it is soundly supported by the thoroughly researched evidence from the authors and others.

Finally, this book has meaningful implications for each and every individual because we are all embedded in our social network (both real-world and online network). The fact that we are all connected to others through social networks is significant to us partly because such networks influence us in every aspect. So after reading this book, some may behave differently so that social networks can have positive influence on them. For example, we may try to make friends with happy, slender and rich people. But I think that is not far from a kind of social determinism. Rather, what this book repeatedly stresses is the importance of our own role in social networks--the surprising power of us as humans and how we shape our social networks. The authors assert that social networks are important not only because of the effect others have on us but also because of the effect we have on them. In this sense, being embedded in social networks is a matter of our social responsibility with strong commitment to creating and enhancing public goods. This book thus teaches us one of the most important truths of our life that we are responsible for, and should take care of, others.

Whether you are a policymaker, scientist or everyman like me, if you want to understand who we are and what we must do to be truly human, "Connected" is a must-read. If you are to read just one book this year, this is the one.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Opening Nov. 28 2011
By Peter Hickey - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book opens very well and is extremely convincing... If only it kept this pace. By the end I felt I'd invested enough into the book that I had to finish it even though it had stumbled into common sense connections with little more to add of insightful value. This book is worth it to read about the contagion of obesity and even the public health connections but it should have ended there. Sometimes less is more.
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