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Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age [Kindle Edition]

Duncan J. Watts
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)

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Book Description

The pioneering young scientist whose work on the structure of small worlds has triggered an avalanche of interest in networks.

In this remarkable book, Duncan Watts, one of the principal architects of network theory, sets out to explain the innovative research that he and other scientists are spearheading to create a blueprint of our connected planet. Whether they bind computers, economies, or terrorist organizations, networks are everywhere in the real world, yet only recently have scientists attempted to explain their mysterious workings.



From epidemics of disease to outbreaks of market madness, from people searching for information to firms surviving crisis and change, from the structure of personal relationships to the technological and social choices of entire societies, Watts weaves together a network of discoveries across an array of disciplines to tell the story of an explosive new field of knowledge, the people who are building it, and his own peculiar path in forging this new science.


Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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

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.

Product Details


Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
60 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An entertaining and illuminating read! March 19, 2003
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Contrary to some recent remarks from an apparently aggrieved reader, I think Six Degrees is actually quite different from most books claiming to cover new and exciting scientific developments. Far from being self-aggrandizing, I found it's tone remarkably humble and generous to others. Watts, in fact, is the first person to call his subject the "new" science of networks, and goes to considerable lengths to acknowledge, even glorify, his intellectual predecessors. He doesn't mention every scientist who has made contributions: it's not meant to be a text book, thankfully.
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?
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60 of 68 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So...how many degrees from Kevin Bacon? May 9, 2003
Format:Hardcover
I've always been fascinated by social networks, having read Granovetter's work on strong vs. weak ties. As a career coach, I naturally talk to clients about the joys and frustrations of networking -- and I loved the movie "Six degrees of separation."
If you're looking for an easy piece of entertainment, this is not the book for you. Watts shows how this field has advanced by combining research efforts in information science, physics, mathematics and sociology. We look over his shoulder as he collaborates with other scientists to solve tough problems -- and get a glimpse of modern science in action (although I think Watts emphasizes the more positive, cooperative aspects of "doing science").
Students of psychology will enjoy his discussion of Milgram's famous experiment -- messages mailed to a Boston stockbroker -- and the real, as compared to legendary, results. Milgram's even more outrageous obedience experiment, which Watts includes, also deserves a footnote: subjects refused to obey (a) when the experimenter broke the rules and gave reasons for the order and (b) when they were able to reconstruct their roles outside the laboratory.
I began by borrowing this book from a library but realized that it needs to be owned. It's not a quick, one-time read. Although it's accessible, you have to pay attention and I found a need to read sequentially, from chapter to chapter. But if you read carefully, you'll change the way you look at the world.
As other reviewers have noted, Watts shows how daily life is influenced by properties of networks: Why do some viruses, computer and biological, spread, and why others come to a quick halt? Why do airline hub-and-spoke networks often break down? How do computer searches work and what makes them effective?
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent for its audience April 29, 2006
Format:Paperback
I wrote this book review as an assignment for a class. Its intended audience was sociologists unfamiliar with network theory. The intended audience for the book though is much wider. If you want the math, read academic journals.

In the first chapter of Six Degrees Duncan Watts notes that gossip, power outages, epidemics, even properties of the human brain such as consciousness are phenomena that may be understood as emerging from the interaction of their constituent elements. Through such examples, he calls attention to the broad applicability of his subject matter. Having provided this motivation, Watts spends much of first half of the book discussing what he knows best, "small world" networks. In the second half he presents a network perspective for a wide range of topics such as epidemics, externalities, speculation, social decision making, and organizations.

Like many academics marketing books to non-academics, Watts skillfully weaves his personal story with the science. His personal story is not only provided to keep laymen interested. Watts is now a member of the sociology department at Columbia University, but one can't help but wonder whether he identifies as a sociologist? How would other members of the discipline respond to a youngster whose PhD is in theoretical and applied mechanics who may never have read Durkheim? His early collaborators were mathematicians, physicists, and computer scientists lodged in appropriate departments. Watts though, has become a strong proponent of interdisciplinary science, and he respectfully acknowledges research that has been done in anthropology, sociology, psychology and economics.

His first foray in the social sciences was inspired by the "small world" phenomenon.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth the time if read at a leisurely pace.
This book can be challenging at times and unless your have a major degree in a scientific discipline I recommend it be read in small doses. Read more
Published 2 months ago by William L. Mince
5.0 out of 5 stars Works as great introduction and invite for those who want to better...
Fluid and engaging this is a sort of storytelling science where we both learn and get involved throughout the development of the Network discipline. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Jose A A Nonato
4.0 out of 5 stars FIne Popularization
This well written book is a very good introduction to the science of networks. The author is a pioneer in this field and the book is organized to some extent around his... Read more
Published 4 months ago by R. Albin
5.0 out of 5 stars Still feels fresh
For a book in this realm to remain fresh and relevant when over a decade old is remarkable. I found myself recalling the events of the past decade,including the financial crisis,... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Michael S. Donald
4.0 out of 5 stars An amazing book.
Easy and comprehensive.
A must read book for those who want to understand how everything is connected. I strongly recommend.
Published 10 months ago by André
2.0 out of 5 stars Maybe It's Me...
I'm 200 pages into this 300-page book, and to save my life I couldn't say what it's about. Sure, some of it is interesting, but generally I look for a takeaway, something I... Read more
Published 16 months ago by John R. Holmes, Jr.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great service
Great experience overall from beginning to end. Quick and fast delivery with no compromise to quality. I recommend this seller for potential future buyers.
Published 21 months ago by Leathee
3.0 out of 5 stars Review
Tough treading for someone of average intellect (me). But there are points of interest that everyone can equate to in their daily lives.
Published 22 months ago by Bob
5.0 out of 5 stars Eye opener
The book starts somewhat slowly but the middle part on the emerging network theory and the framing of it in different disciplines is really well written. Read more
Published on October 19, 2011 by Bart Denturck
5.0 out of 5 stars Connections
"Six Degrees" provides a clear and interesting explanation of how networks function. In particulary, the six degrees of the title refers to the largest number of steps needed to... Read more
Published on January 28, 2011 by Paul Moskowitz
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