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Six Degrees [Paperback]

Duncan J Watts
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 27 2004 0393325423 978-0393325423 Reprint
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.

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From Amazon

You may be only six degrees away from Kevin Bacon, but would he let you borrow his car? It depends on the structures within the network that links you. When the power goes out, when we find that a stranger knows someone we know, when dot-com stocks soar in price, networks are evident. In Six Degrees, sociologist Duncan Watts examines networks like these: what they are, how they're being studied, and what we can use them for. To illustrate the often complicated mathematics that describe such structures, Watts uses plenty of examples from life, without which this book would quickly move beyond a general science readership. Small chapters make each thought-provoking conclusion easy to swallow, though some are hard to digest. For instance, in a short bit on "coercive externalities," Watts sums up sociological research showing that:

"Conversations concerning politics displayed a consistent pattern .... On election day, the strongest predictor of electoral success was not which party an individual privately supported but which party he or she expected would win."

Six Degrees attempts to help readers understand the new and exciting field of networks and complexity. While considerably more demanding than a general book like The Tipping Point, it offers readers a snapshot of a riveting moment in science, when understanding things like disease epidemics and the stock market seems almost within our reach. --Therese Littleton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Networks explained July 20 2006
The author calls the science of networks a science of real people, where stuff like friendships, rumours, diseases, fashion and music trends, commerce and finance are all involved. He explains how this science fits into the larger scheme of scientific progress and what it tells us about the world in our connected age. The book really covers two narratives: The history and development of the science of networks itself, plus the manifestation of network phenomena in the real world.

Chapters 2 to 5 investigate real world networks, chapters 3 to 5 consider the creation and implication of various models of networked systems, whilst chapters six (Epidemics and Failures), seven (Decisions, Delusions and the Madness of Crowds), eight (Thresholds, Cascades and Predictability) and nine (Innovation, Adaptation and Recovery) explore the spread of diseases, recovery, fads, politics, finance and organizational strength.

Some of the lessons of this thought-provoking book are that distance is deceptive and that in connected systems, cause and effect are related in complicated and sometimes misleading ways. In the latter regard, Watts discusses the many initial rejections that Kerouac's later very popular classic On The Road had to endure and the similar case of Rowling's first Harry Potter book.

The Further Reading section is arranged by chapter and provides recommendations of websites and books on that particular topic. The text contains tables, figures and some black and white illustrations and the book concludes with a bibliography and index. The Hidden Connections by Fritjof Capra and Small World by Mark Buchanan are similar books that I have found to be interesting and informative in this regard
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4.0 out of 5 stars six degrees? Feb. 14 2004
Six Degrees has been the only book that I¡ve been reading lately. It was the description of this book to me by a friend that caught my attention. Can I possibly be just 6 people away from any other person on the other side or the world? After I started reading it, the book sucked me right in, and I found this book quite different from other books in the same genera. Duncan J. Watts, the author of this book, unlike other specialists in their area who often take an absolute and definite view in their opinions, instead adapted a more humble attitude in his own works. He open questioned the possible flaws and mistakes in his own theories and opinions, in which I think granted the readers some space to think, and to better digest the contents of this book.
Duncan J. Watts gathered opinions and research results from different areas to develop his theories. Network, as Duncan himself had mentioned, is an area of science with much more yet to be discovered. I got to say, this is some hard science that this book is discussing. It covers materials all the way from the study of social structures, advanced math, to advanced physics, and much more. Also according to Duncan, the science of network could actually be more closely to our lives then we imagined. Diseases, social structure, and economy are all under the fields of network. There¡s no way that a regular high school student like me could get a complete hold of such a complex structure of materials. Yet, Duncan¡s explanations and thoughtful examples successfully illustrated a number of clear pictures in my minds and really helped me a lot in the understanding of his concepts.
I suggest everyone to read this book, even though one might not fully understand the book, it does give inspirations and provide new perspectives. I am glad that I read this book, it had an great impact upon my view of the world, and reminded how closely things could be related unexpectedly.
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4.0 out of 5 stars I Liked It Oct. 6 2003
I picked up the book to get an introduction into social network theory. Unlike the other critics, I enjoyed the descriptions of his working relationships with others. The book provides good food for thought for the uninitiated, which includes me. I particularly liked his historical description of what was known prior to his research (graph theory, random graphs, Milgrams work). In particular, his use of contemporary events provided a foundation for understanding the significance to his work. I detected, and the author admits, that there were a few areas not fully substantiated yet.
There was one aspect particularly exciting for me. As a Christian, I revisited the Book of Acts after reading this book. I thought about the fact that if Christ had lived the 12 apostles might not have dispersed - they would have remained clustered in one group. Their disbursement was crucial to the proliferation of a network and in a sense provides another form of validating the author's thoughts on thresholds and cascading effects. An incredible mind was certainly at work!
I gave one start less than five, though, due to the author's tendency for age discrimination in the area of people doing graduate work. I started graduate school well into my forties. :-)
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5.0 out of 5 stars Uncertainly networked world Sept. 23 2003
Our world is narrower and people are closer to each other than ever before due to the development of a variety of transportation and telecommunications technologies. We can jet any foreign country within a few days. What is more surprising is the flow of information. The advent of Internet made it possible to access to global information with a series of clicks. We can be connected to each other through diverse network systems. Duncan J. Watts shows this well through his book, Six Degrees: the science of a connected age.
The author attempts to define our world as a complex network and develop simple mathematical models such as ¥á and ¥â to represent the dynamics of it and on it. What is intriguing in this book is that it shows interdisciplinary efforts to understand and explain small world phenomena, in which people can be connected within fewer steps than expected. The author could gain insight and develop his models through direct and indirect academic encounters with mathematicians, physicists, computer scientists, and sociologists.
Furthermore, he tries to develop more plausible model through interaction between existing models and actual natural and social phenomena. Taking the contagion of disease such as AIDS/HIV, Ebola, and plague as examples, he introduces the concept of percolation and threshold. It is especially important that characteristics of a network can produce both robustness and weakness. For example, a network which has a few large clusters and a high degree of connectivity can be efficient in terms of information transmission, but it also has the risk of catastrophic contagion of diseases or computer viruses.
This book starts from general mathematical models of our world and ends with the difference and uncertainty in specific situations.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best written books of the year
This was one of the most fascinating books I've read recently. Although I had heard of the concept of at most six links between any two people on the earth and the connection with... Read more
Published on April 10 2004 by Arnold V. Loveridge
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book! The amazing new science of networks made easy.
Duncan Watts presents his findings and discoveries in the amazing new science of networks in a most deferential way; he is quick to acknowledge the contributions of others and... Read more
Published on Oct. 8 2003 by drezac
3.0 out of 5 stars A student's diary
If you haven't read anything about networks and imagine setting out on an academic career, joining Duncan on his network adventure might be a great deal of fun. Read more
Published on Sept. 3 2003 by Mark Mills
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Book, Difficult Content
Duncan Watts' book is a fascinating read about the science of networks with a particular focus on the "small-world" theory that he and a fellow researcher were active in... Read more
Published on July 4 2003 by JH
5.0 out of 5 stars many degrees from Kevin Bacon?
I've always been fascinated by social networks, having read Granovetter's work on strong vs. weak ties. Read more
Published on May 9 2003 by Dr. Cathy Goodwin
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Look at the Science of Networks
Duncan Watts' book Six Degrees is a fascinating look at the early days of a "new" science. The book takes its title from Six Degrees of Separation (or Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon... Read more
Published on May 6 2003 by J. Michael Gallipo
5.0 out of 5 stars Definitely a monumental work
I enjoyed reading this book and recommend it highly to anyone who would like to know why this "world" is so small. Read more
Published on March 19 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars Definitely a monumental work
I enjoyed reading this book and recommend it higly to anyone who would like to know why this "world" is so small. Read more
Published on March 19 2003 by J. Lin
5.0 out of 5 stars An entertaining and illuminating read!
Contrary to some recent remarks from an apparently aggrieved reader, I think Six Degrees is actually quite different from most books claiming to cover new and exciting scientific... Read more
Published on March 19 2003
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