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Bursts: The Hidden Pattern Behind Everything We Do Hardcover – April 29, 2010

2.7 out of 5 stars 62 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"In Linked, Barabasi showed us how complex networks unfold in space. In Bursts, he shows us how they unfold in time. Your life may look random to you, but everything from your visits to a web page to your visits to the doctor are predictable, and happen in bursts."
-Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody

"Barabasi is one of the few people in the world who understand the deep structure of empirical reality."
-Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan

"Barabßsi brings a physicist's penetrating eye to a sweeping range of human activities, from migration to web browsing, from wars to billionaires, from illnesses to letter writing, from the Department of Homeland Security to the Conclave of Cardinals. Barabßsi shows how a pattern of bursts appears in what has long seemed a random mess. These bursts are both mathematically predictable and beautiful. What a joy it is to read him. You feel like you have emerged to see a new vista that, while it had always been there, you had just never seen."
-Nicholas A. Christakis, M.D., Ph.D., coauthor of Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives

"Bursts is a rich, rewarding read that illuminates a cutting-edge topic: the patterns of human mobility in an era of total surveillance. The narrative structure of Barabßsi's provocative book mimics the very pattern of bursts, as abrupt jumps through the lives of a post-modern sculptor, a medieval Hungarian revolutionist, and Albert Einstein eventually converge on a single theme: that our unthinking behaviors are governed by a deeper meaning that can only be deciphered through the brave lens of mathematics."
-Ogi Ogas, Ph.D., and Sai Gaddam, Ph.D., Boston University

"Barbasi, a distinguished scientist of complex networks, bravely tests his innovative theories on some historic events, including a sixteenth-century Crusade that went terribly wrong. Whether or not the concept of "burstiness" is the key to unlocking human behavior, it is nonetheless a fascinating new way to think about some very old questions."
-Thomas F. Madden, Ph.D., Professor of Medieval History, Saint Louis University, author of The New Concise History of the Crusades

About the Author

Albert-László Barabási is a pioneer of real-world network theory and author of the bestseller, Linked: How Everything is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means for Business, Science, and Everyday Life. At 32, he was the youngest professor to be named the Emil T. Hofmann Professor of Physics at the University of Notre Dame and has won numerous awards for his work, including the FEBS Anniversary Prize for Systems Biology and the John von Neumann Medal for outstanding achievements. He currently lives in Boston and is Distinguished Professor and Director of the Center for Network Science at Northeastern University.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 310 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton Adult (April 29, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0525951601
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525951605
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,345,305 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I thought Albert-László Barabási's first book, "Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means," was excellent (see my 4/18/10 review), so I looked forward to reading "Bursts" with great anticipation, hoping that he was going update us on all the interesting things he learned in the intervening 8 years (especially related to biomedicine and cancer). Instead, having just finished "Bursts," it's hard to convey how disappointed I am.

While "Linked" presented plenty of solid and useful science in an appealing format, "Bursts" has minimal scientific content and I learned almost nothing. The only significant idea Barabási presents is that the time-spacing of many events in the natural and artifical worlds follows a power law distribution, which means that events have some tendency to cluster into "bursts," although very widely spaced events can also occur, since power laws have "long tails" rather than dropping off exponentially (as Barabási himself acknowledges in passing, "bursts" is a somewhat misleading term, since power law distributions are continuous, not dichotomous). But Barabási doesn't offer much explanation for the ubiquity of these power laws, nor does he offer useful insights regarding their implications.

He does try to argue that awareness of these power laws will eventually enable precise prediction of human behavior, but this is simultaneously both obvious and wrong (and it's telling that Barabási appears to be unaware of the seminal work of Quetelet on this topic).
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Format: Hardcover
I'm not the only reviewer expressing strong disappointment with this book. Barabasi did such a masterful job with Linked that I grabbed this book to moment I saw it hoping for more of the same "can't put it down" reading I got with Linked. Wow was I surprised--and not in a good way.

This book is not Linked nor anything like it, beware! Linked was a very well crafted story that explained various complex topics about networks. Bursts is pop-science at best. Worse, like other reviewers, I too am totally annoyed by the Hungarian history lesson from the 1500s that takes up every other chapter. And, after reading one of these POINTLESS chapters you feel like, "what was this supposed to add to the overall understanding of the topic?" The answer is little to nothing.

Bursts lacks the insightful and useful science that Linked gave us. The references/notes are OK, not fantastic like in Linked. The book uses a lot of text to make some rather simple points about behavior. We behave in bursts, not randomly. Bursts (activity clusters in time) exhibit power law characteristics. In the future, since behavior is not random, perhaps it can be better predicted.

Save your money and your time! At best, wait for the paperback (if it makes it that far) and read it at the beach. Better still, do a second reading of Linked, you'll get more out of it that you would Bursts. Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means
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Format: Hardcover
Here in the Bronx there is a street scam called three-card monte. A person skillfully manipulates three cards, moving them around on a makeshift table, usually the bottom of a large, upside down cardboard box. The object of the game is to pick the ace among the three cards, after the scammer comes to a full stop and lays the three cards face down. To lure an innocent victim, the shuffler has two or three partners stand around the box, pretending to play. One of the partners will then "guess" the right card, and the shuffler will "pay" him or her $20 for the win. Naive innocent onlookers will then play and lose their bet as the skilled shuffler will do whatever trick it is he does to ensure that the victim does not win. All along during the shuffling the victims are flashed for an instant a view of the ace, which then disappears, never to resurface after the victim makes his or her choice.

Reading Bursts felt something like being taken at a three card monte game. The author jumps back and forth between a convoluted, though admittedly interesting, historical epoch in Hungary, and then back to studies and analysis done about different behavioral phenomena, like the way people use their cell phones, or respond to email or correspondence, or how dollar bills circulate, and then back to the Hungarian episode, and then back to the research, and now we hop back to a story about a Muslim surnamed individual who seems to be an exception to the author's findings, back to the history, back to more research, and on and on. The ace among the cards is Barabasi's claim that people tend to behave in "bursty" ways, that is doing some things intensively over a short period of time, and then doing nothing or very little of that thing for a long time.
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Format: Hardcover
The author was born in Transylvania and would like us to know all about the 16th century battle of Koloszvar, where his "heroic" ancestor, Lenard Barlabasi, led a bunch of well-armed knights in a massacre of mostly poor peasants who were trying to bring a new order to greater Hungary. Since only about 3 people in the world care about this obscure corner of Transylvanian history, Barabasi has to come up with some excuse for a theme that would find readers for his genealogical excursion, so he recycles the 30-year old issue attention cycle to pretend he has some new theory about "the hidden pattern behind everything we do." The excuse to bring in Transylvania is a pronouncement by another Hungarian councilor, Istvan Telegdi, who supposedly predicted the whole sequence of events that led to the Koloszvar battle beforehand. Barabasi pretends to want to know how it is that Telegdi could have predicted the events that led to Koloszvar when supposedly humans behave randomly. It turns out that a newly elected and power-hungry de Medici Pope, Leo X, wanted to keep a Hungarian papal challenger at bay and came up with the idea of a peasant Crusade to retake Constantinople in order to have an excuse to get the challenger out of Rome, leading to a whole cascade of events that ended up at Koloszvar with Hungarians slaughtering one another. Of course recruiting peasants in April for a Crusade before the harvest would not sit well with the knights they worked for, and encouraging peasants to fight instead of the knights whose whole excuse for a privileged societal position was their supposed availability for Crusades like this one was a recipe for disaster.Read more ›
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