- File Size: 3455 KB
- Print Length: 529 pages
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (May 16, 2006)
- Publication Date: May 16, 2006
- Sold by: Macmillan
- Language: English
- ASIN: B008BJ0HQ4
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Not Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #799,586 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
"A wide-ranging and dazzlingly informed book about the science of interactions. I can promise you'll be amazed." --Bill Bryson, chair of the 2005 Aventis General Prize Judging Panel
"Philip Ball makes physics sexy again in Critical Mass."-Elissa Schappel, Vanity Fair
"It's lively and wonderfully informative."--George Scialabba, The Boston Globe
"Fascinating. . . impressively clear and breathtaking in scope. . . substantial, impeccably researched . . . 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." - Stephen Strogatz, Nature
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Philip Ball is obviously a very experienced writer. This book - the very first (but definitely not the last)I read from him - is essential for everyone who is interested in the problems of today's world. Since he covers wide range of subjects, the reader can obtain information about seemingly unconnected subjects and put a larger picture together. The greatest advantage of this book is that the reader can learn a lot about very different things without the need of shopping around for books specialized in the matter in question. Each chapter goes into depths easily understandable by laymen with providing all necessary information.
A great book, the opinion of the Economist summarizes it the best: "Critical Mass is an intellectual roller-coaster".
Joseph Feredoes, Australia Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another
I found this a very interesting read and I appreciated that the author does not breathlessly hype the models, but explains the reasoning behind each and details the results, where they work and sometimes where they fail.
In some chapters (e.g., "On the road") I would argue that at best, all Critical Mass is doing is importing names from physics to describe similar appearing phenomena in our macro world. However, as the great Richard P. Feynman once said: "simply knowing the name of something is not knowledge". To me at least, there should have been more discussion on experimentation to back up the assertions that the similar appearing phenomena are in fact the same thing. Then it would truly illustrate something deeper. Again, to borrow from Feynman using his famous license plate analogy, if you have already observed the results and then develop a theory it is not science.
I could also have done without some of the condescending comments on the some of the great men that came before that apparently disagreed with the author's politics. For example, when discussing Adam Smith's theories on economics (Rhythms of the Marketplace), the book belabors his theories (e.g., page 180 "...even on its own term's Smith's economic theory was too simplistic to cover the whole story..." or page 184 "...Smith does not endorse the grinding poverty implicit in his words...") In contrast, the author is positively gushing when in the same chapter he describes Karl Marx's theories as "...the most influential of `scientific' economic theories in the nineteenth century..." (page 183) and "Marx's economic vision contained the crucial concept of a market that was potentially unsteady and to oscillate between boom and bust..." (page 186).
Just one man's opinion.
Top international reviews
Jedes Beispiel ist für sich durchaus interessant, jedoch schafft Ball es nicht immer, die Beispiele stringent mit einem roten Faden zu versehen. Stattdessen wird es seitenweise eher dröge mit historischen Abrissen (die nicht unbedingt immer passend sind). Zudem schwächelt die Argumentation mitunter. Es reicht nun mal nicht aus, zu sagen, dass die scheinbar korrekten Ergebnisse beweisen, dass die Methode korrekt ist. Insgesamt erscheint mir der Ansatz dieses Buches, nämlich jedwede Form von Gruppenverhalten mittels der Statistik zu erklären, zu ambitioniert. Es wäre hier besser, Ball würde mit weniger Beispielen in die Tiefe gehen als mit sehr vielen Beispielen in die Breite.
Wenn man von diesen Schwächen absieht, kommt ein Buch heraus, das interessante Kerngedanken enthält und viele Leser dazu animieren dürfte, sich weiter mit dem Themengebiet auseinanderzusetzen. Das Leseerlebnis selber wird allerdings an vielen Stellen durch die oben erwähnten Schwächen erschwert.
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.
Uma leitura leve e com detalhes muitos porem com linguagem clara e facil de entender.
Yeah the critical point, the bell curve, I got it first time, no need to lead me down this path time and time again.
The joy of Ball's erudition is that he can speak intelligently on any subject which must have been useful at Nature and is essential when he tackles popular science books such as this. His books are not for the lazy but curious person, to get joy out of Ball's books you must be prepared to think hard, concentrate a little and then the rewards will come. In this book, Ball discusses the startling results that physicists have had when applying physics to social phenomena - war, business, traffic. People are particles is a common theme. Obviously classical physics or even quantum phenomena are not going to predict a single persons actions, but what about a million? As it turns out there are parallels which we run in to again and again. One fascinating analogy - and it is more than just analogy really, thats the whole point - is how traffic slowing to a jam is much like water freezing. Phase changes and critical points come up repeatedly. Reading this book was absolutely fascinating. I looked forward to my bus rides to work so I'd have another chance to read some more.
The diagrams ease comprehension and the writing is lucid and entertaining throughout. There is even some dry humour which I found refreshing. I'm not sure I can praise this book highly enough, I've read popular science, and many academic titles and this is probably the one I've enjoyed most - it is one of those books that will make you look at everything differently.
Five stars without a doubt. A stimulating, exciting, fascinating read. 1st rate popular science, 1st rate writing.
The first few chapters are relatively harder to follow for the layman but pave the way to the following ones, where physics enter the realm of the social sciences.
The 'physics of society' Philip Ball hopes for is, in my opinion, only part of what we should aim at to understand human beings and their aggregate behaviour; yet, it certainly helps improve our understanding of matters studied by the social sciences.
Don't expect answers from the book. However, you'll have the chance to reflect deeply on the themes explored by the author.
Our collective behaviour generates uncertainty. Nevertheless, can such uncertainty be partially tamed by discovering universal principles governing the behaviour of interacting 'intelligent particles' called human beings?
Can physics uncover those sought-after principles other disciplines (e.g. economics) 'fail' to discover?
These are, in my opinion, the main topics of the book. Well worth investigating.