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Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another Paperback – 3 Feb 2005
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"Exquisitely produced and painstakingly researched... Ball writes patiently and eloquently.. Exciting... A rousing call-to-arms, and an elegant answer to the shallow tradition of British empiricism." (Independent)
"In his fascinating new book, Critical Mass, Philip Ball tells the story of this research in a comprehensive and often captivating way... Ball delves far beyond today's headlines... Impressively clear and breathtaking in scope... Substantial, impeccably researched and...persuasive. For anyone who would like to learn about the intellectual ferment at the surprising junction of physics and social science, Critical Mass is the place to start." (Nature)
"Lucid, accessible and engaging... Ball makes a persuasive, comprehensive case and it's a welcome antidote to popular individualistic thought." (Glasgow Herald)
"Critical Mass fizzes with ideas and insights" (The Guardian)
"more than a book, this in an intellectual curiosity" (Independent on Sunday)
The winner of the Aventis Prize for Science Books, this is a fascinating exploration of the age-old question: are there 'laws of nature' that guide human affairs? Is there anything inevitable about the ways humans behave and organise themselves? Do we have complete freedom in creating our societies, or are we trapped by 'human nature'?See all Product description
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In the initial chapters the author describes the history of social science, economics and statistics. He tells how tools of the state, statistics, were adopted in the physical sciences. Then Ball looks at processes in human society such as the formation of traffic jams, the pattern of movement in a crowd trying to escape a burning building, the growth pattern of cities, Internet morphology and what it owes to The Cold War years. In all these areas he demonstrates common traits that can be used to analyse and understand the processes in operation.
Ball describes the application of these tools in the natural sciences and then reports on how they have been used in the analysis of human behaviour and such things as the movement of share prices in the stock market.
It is Ball's contention that there are fundamental patterns that describe many behaviours and trends in human endeavour, from the voting patterns in elections, through the distribution of wealth in nations, to the boom and bust nature of the world's economies, and that understanding of these fundamentals will improve decision making and planning.
He also reports on simulations carried out to assess the effectiveness and otherwise of different forms of government, i.e. dictatorship, democracy, etc... This is most enlightening and interesting.
While he claims these tools can help us describe process behaviour and help us, he warns against the idea that they can necessarily be used to predict behaviour.
The above paragraphs do scant justice to this book. It is the first non-fiction book I have read in a long time that I was loath to put down. It is vast in scope and presents information at a level that the majority of readers will find accessible. This is a thought provoking book that I will be returning to time and again.
Yeah the critical point, the bell curve, I got it first time, no need to lead me down this path time and time again.
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