There seem to be an abundance of books that focus on simple questions like "why is the sky blue?" or "why don't penguins get cold feet?", I have always found these types of books interesting, but ultimately the answers are of little relevance to my everyday life where I turn on the news and am confronted with falling stock markets, terrorist attacks and the spread of the latest computer virus. Why do things like these occur, can we understand them and what do they have in common?
It is through answers to these questions and the explanations of everyday events that "two's company, three is complexity" really shines. Using the science of Complexity Johnson explains the underlying causes behind many of the phenomena we see in the world around us. Phenomena like traffic jams, terrorism, stock markets, the common cold and the growth of cancer tumours. Before I read this book I had assumed these things were too difficult to understand (without a PhD), or that they just occurred at random. However Johnson largely succeeds in explaining these phenomena using intuition, diagrams and good analogies. To his credit equations are kept to a minimum so the book remains very readable. That said I think that the real strength of the book lies in its ability to draw parallels and links between these seemingly disparate systems. I started to realise that the growth of a Cancer tumour was perhaps not so different from the movement of traffic on city streets, or that the price movements on international currency markets might be share many features with the spread of the common cold.
In reading this book I had a large number of Ah-Ha moments and perhaps that is why it is ultimately so enjoyable. It was as if a light bulb would suddenly appeared over my head as I read the explanations.
This book is an engaging tour through the new science of complexity, told in an addictive manner. Do yourself a favour and next time you are going on a long flight, ditch the B grade in-flight movie and read this book instead. You will come out with a new appreciation of the way our world works and you will never look at a traffic jam in the same way again :)