Six Degrees: The Science Of A Connected Age Paperback – Jan 27 2004
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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.
Top Customer Reviews
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
Watts also has bigger fish to fry than simply the importance of networks in everything under the sun. His real message is that social reality has to be understood both in terms of the way people are connected and also the way they behave. So focusing on individual behavior to the exclusion of their interactions misses half the story, but so does just focusing on the interactions (as much of network theory has done). It's true that many of the ideas are quite old (and Watts again is the first to point this out), but the way they are put together is new, and that is what is so interesting about it.
The results are often quite deep and thought provoking, which means you have to actually read the book to understand what's in it, but Watts always comes up with an entertaining anecdote or analogy to make even the hardest concepts palatable and interesting. Overall, it's a great, fun read about a fascinating subject that really makes you think. And what more can you ask from a book?
The book is also a wonderful look at the process of scientific discovery. It highlights the growing importance of interdisciplinary work in tackling many of today's problems. Physicists and mathematicians may have much to say on this new science, but especially when looking at human networks, the social scientists have their own unique contributions to make. You also get to see the "small world" in action as chance encounters play an important role in the story.
I also agree with several of the other critiques of an earlier review about the author's arrogance or lack thereof. I thought Mr. Watts was very generous in highlighting the contributions of both his predecessors as well as his contemporaries. Even noting several times that he should have thought of something, but hadn't. That said, is Mr. Watts enthusiastic about and proud of his work? Absolutely. And I think that is great... we ought to love what we do for a living and be genuinely excited about sharing it with others. Only time will tell how important this new science of networks turns out to be. But I am glad that Mr. Watts chose to write this book and I recommend it highly.
The main problem I have with this book is that like many science books written for lay-people by self-important scientists, such as Laszlo Barabasi and Stephen Wolfram, who extol their scientific research as a singular event of such magnificent proportions that nothing less than a scientific revolution a la Karl Popper would suffice in recognition of the brilliance of their ideas, you have a situation where the author at some point decided not to actually mention the competing work and ideas that either pre-existed or co-evolved with his own work because doing so would diminish the work's importance.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
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 morePublished on April 10 2004 by Arnold V. Loveridge
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. Read morePublished on Feb. 14 2004 by James Chu
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 morePublished on Oct. 8 2003 by drezac
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. Read morePublished on Oct. 6 2003 by Calvin Professor
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. Read morePublished on Sept. 23 2003 by Chong Hyuck Park
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 morePublished on Sept. 3 2003 by Mark Mills
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 morePublished on July 4 2003 by JH
I've always been fascinated by social networks, having read Granovetter's work on strong vs. weak ties. Read morePublished on May 9 2003 by Dr. Cathy Goodwin
I enjoyed reading this book and recommend it highly to anyone who would like to know why this "world" is so small. Read morePublished on March 19 2003
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