On reading Mark Buchanan's new book, Small World
, you can see Kevin Bacon has a lot to answer for. As anyone who has visited The Oracle of Bacon will know, the actor is well connected: only two or three handshakes separate him from every other actor on the Internet Movie Database. Is Mr Bacon special? No. We are all of us--all six billion of us--only about six "degrees of separation" away from each other. Whenever coincidence prompts to say that "it's a small world", we have, says Buchanan, stumbled upon a piece of mathematics as fundamental to the natural world as Fibonacci numbers and the Golden Mean. "Small world networks" are everywhere, underlying diverse cultural, biological and even physical systems.
Buchanan has been quick off the mark with this book: the mature study of small world networks is barely four years old; so, naturally enough, the same pioneering names recur often as he outlines the field's development. But there is nothing contingent or flimsy about Buchanan's arguments as he stakes out the numerous areas for which this new science is already providing surprising insights.
One of the great surprise strengths of this book is Buchanan's grasp of social policy and the behaviours of governments and organisations. In an account that does its level best not to shortchange any application of a new science, it's good to see Buchanan addressing ordinary human applications with such authority and enthusiasm. This approach should reassure those readers who tremble at the idea that this might turn out to be "a book about maths". As far as that goes, the maths is pretty easy territory (spectacular, too)--and Buchanan is an excellent guide. --Simon Ings
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Good reviews coming in for this title: "Some of the conclusions are truly surprising."FOCUS "Enthralling"DAILY MAIL "Buchanan goes for the guts of numbers, the power laws that underlie every network from the Kevin Bacon game connecting Hollywood stars to worms' nervous systems."NEW SCIENTIST