60 of 79 people found the following review helpful
Science plus politics equals dullsville,
This review is from: Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another (Paperback)
This is a rare, book indeed - one that I couldn't finish! In the last thirty years, I have failed with only perhaps ten books, and this is one of them. There are a number of reasons for this. First, the opening few chapters are an extremely dull and mainly pointless diversion into phase transitions. Ball is concerned with making a point about masses of humans behaving like particles but frankly, even if we do, we don't need pages and pages of O Level physics tedium to describe what is happening in trafiic jams and the markets.
Second, the writing, whilst competent, is dry and dusty in the extreme. I found myself dozing off or my mind wandering much of the time, despite the fact that once it gets going, there are some intresting nuggets to be gleaned. But Ball has made a thick book out of a few points of interest, and that means lots of history of science and lots of references.
Third, Ball cannot keep his rather naive leftish political views out of the argument. If I want politics, I'll read/buy politics. This is supposed to be science though, and bending the story to meet some wishy-washy view of the world is not enlightening. The section on markets is terribly ill-informed and adds almost nothing to what is already known. Ball also makes the common mistake of using US stock markets as a proxy for the capitalist system, which leads to some strained comparisons and conclusions.
There are far more interesting books out there that deal with some of the issues Ball raises. Indeed, The Wisdom of Crowds uses some of the same examples and pieces of data to make more plausible and insightful theories about human behaviour. All in all, impossible to recommend.