The Rules of Contagion: Why Things Spread--And Why They Stop 1st Edition
Use the Amazon App to scan ISBNs and compare prices.
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Frequently bought together
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
"The Rules of Contagion is a fascinating and richly detailed excursion into a science as old as biblical plagues and as current as today's headlines: the science of contagion, of disease, of ideas, of emotions, of everything. This is a book you'll want to spread to your friends."― Jordan Ellenberg, author of How Not to Be Wrong
"Perfect timing.... Prepares the ground comprehensively for readers to make sense of what is happening today, by distilling the wisdom gathered by studying previous epidemics over more than a century."―Financial Times
"Learned and lucid.... Coronavirus has prompted hot-headed public and media reaction; this book offers comfort in the form of cold, hard facts."―The Prospect
"A fascinating exploration of the mathematics of things that go viral--not least of them viruses.... Kucharski takes his readers down provocative detours, such as the use of public-health models of disease transmission to examine how social networks figure in urban gun violence, with algorithms that take into account such things as 'age gang affiliations, and prior arrests.'... Utterly timely and readable."―Kirkus Reviews
"It is hard to imagine a more timely book ... much of the modern world will make more sense having read it."―The Times (UK)
"This is a hell of a moment for a book like this to come out ... the principles of contagion, which, Kucharski argues, can be applied to everything from folk stories and financial crises to itching and loneliness, are suddenly of pressing interest to all of us."―Sunday Times (UK)
"The Rules of Contagion is popular science at its best. The prose is sparkling and clear. The subject is deeply fascinating and highly relevant. Touching on psychology, medicine, network theory and mathematics, epidemiologist Adam Kucharski has written a brilliant and authoritative guide to the hidden laws of how things spread - from ideas and memes, to violence and deadly viruses. An example of its subject matter, this book is also highly contagious: once you have read it, you will want to make sure others read it too."
―Alex Bellos, author of Alex's Adventures in Numberland
"Rich in stories, The Rules of Contagion is a down-to-earth account of how mathematical approaches can help us better understand and, in turn, better respond to contagion in all its dynamic forms. Tackling issues from pandemics and gun violence, to financial crises and misinformation, Adam Kucharski inspires us all to think like mathematicians. A must read for anybody interested in epidemics and other crises."―Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
About the Author
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
The primary area where it excels it at showing how many unknowns are in each model and how challenging it is to build a robust one. Author's opinions are also supported by his professional experience in disease monitoring. On overall a very enjoyable read.
This book examines contagions that are not just from disease, but also the modern viral contagions spread by the ubiquitous computer and mobile devices. He begins with a fascinating study of Ronald Ross and his findings that help us understand, and deal with the Malaria epidemics of the past. It is a story of how the scientific mind works. He began by reasoning that for transmission to occur, there must be at least one human in the area who is infectious with malaria. An Anopheles mosquito has to bite this person. But only 1 in 4 mosquitoes would manage to bite someone. Hence, if there were 48,000 mosquitoes in the area, only 12,000 would bite; and because only 1 person in 1,000 was initially infectious, only 12 of 12,000 of those mosquitoes would bite that one person. Those mosquitoes themselves will have to survive, and he assumed only 1 of every 3 would make it. So only 4 of the 12 mosquitoes would become infectious, but only 1 in 4 would successfully bite a human, that leaves only 1 to transmit the virus out of 48,000 mosquitoes. But crucially, 20 percent of infected humans recover – so if the recovery rate outpaced new infections, the disease would eventually decline to zero (Page 17). He goes on to explain how this insight became crucial in the control of malaria – there is a critical mosquito density level. Once it falls below that level, the disease fades away.
Kucharski goes on to examine other viral contagions – how memes become viral in the cyber world. He examines the connections between natural viral contagion and cyber contagion. His chapter, ‘Tracking Outbreaks’ studies how we identify and trace viral epidemics such as the HIV and SARS. It will lead us to think about the rise and spread of Corvid-19. Perhaps Corvid-19 may lead to the speedy publication of a revised edition of this fascinating book.
As Mr. Kucharski points out, following the woeful financial crisis that rocked the world in 2008, central banks across the world, latching onto the repository of knowledge built upon the study of infectious diseases, homed in on the concept of networks. A structure of a network could amplify contagion. This was a theory pioneered by researchers engaged in the study of Sexually Transmitted Infections as far back as in the 1980s and 1990s. Similarly, notions such as the basic rate of reproduction or reproduction numbers are enabling researchers quantify the spread of innovations and online content.
Mr. Kucharski begins the book with a poignant personal reference. Struck down by Guillain-Barre Syndrome when still a toddler, the author completes a long and arduous path to recovery aided and abetted by a pair of resilient and resolute parents who keep reminding their son that GBS stands for ‘getting better slowly.’ Mr. Kucharski, in an eerie coincidence comes face to face with his old adversary after many years, when, in 2015, during a course of investigating a dengue fever epidemic in the Fijian Capital of Suva, he finds many patients afflicted by GBS. This endeavour results in the evaluation of surprising linkages between GBS syndrome and various other neurological ailments. As the COVID-19 epidemic of today is leaving the medical and the political community stumped with its mischief, so did the Zika virus with its shenanigans when it first struck. Mr. Kucharski requotes epidemiologist Laura Rodriguez in 2016, “rarely have scientists engaged with a new research agenda with such a sense of urgency, and from such a small knowledge base.” Since then as Mr. Kucharski illustrates, we have come a long way using welcome aids such as Information Technology and community outbreak research. “One of the best examples is the Nextstrain project, pioneered by computational biologists, Trevor Bedford and Richard Neher. This online platform automatically collates genetic sequences to show how different viruses are related and where they might have come from…Nextstrain has proved to be a powerful idea, not just because it brings together and viualises all the available sequences but because it’s separate from the slow and competitive process of publishing scientific papers.”
Mr. Kucharski keeps his narration riveting and shies away from employing technical jargon that might put the lay reader into a bind, if not a tizzy. Taking his readers through various epidemiological techniques employed by pioneers such as Sir Ronald Ross whose forays into the study of malaria are legendary, to the studies of William Kermack (who in 1924 was permanently blinded while working on a corrosive alkali solution in the Edinburgh’s Royal College of Physicians Laboratory) and Anderson McKendrick, Mr. Kucharski highlights the marvelous trajectory that epidemiological research has taken as time has evolved. Kermack and McKendrick evolved the Susceptible Infectious Recovered (“SIR”) Model, which postulates that for an outbreak to gain traction, three important factors are necessary: “a sufficiently infectious pathogen, plenty of interactions between different people, and enough of the population who are susceptible.”
Mr. Kucharski finds himself possessing two unusual and seemingly unconnected domains of expertise. Starting out his early career as an aspiring investment banker, he plied his trade with one of the financial institutions in Canary Wharf before the lure of epidemiology took over him. Hence he brings to bear this an invaluable two-pronged knowledge identifying unique connections between medical outbreaks and spreads of a non-medical nature, such as ideas. Referring to the 1962 work of Everett Rogers, “Diffusion of Innovations”, Mr. Kucharski informs us that four types of people are responsible for a product to become popular: “initial uptake comes from ‘innovators’, followed by ‘early adopters’, then the majority of the population and finally ‘laggards.”
As Mr. Kucharski holds forth, the economist Jean-Paul Rodrigue proposes dividing a financial bubble into four main stages. These stages bear an uncanny resemblance to an epidemic outbreak too. It all begins with the stealth phase, where specialist investors invest in a new idea. This is closely followed on its heels by the awareness phase, with a wider gamut of investor involvement. As and when the idea gains popularity and spreads fast, the media and the public drop their hats into the fray, driving the prices in only one direction – north. Finally, the bubble bursts, during the ‘blow off’ phase. Now compare this with the four phases of an outbreak: spark; growth; peak, and decline.
As the entire world is left to grapple with the consequences of COVID-19, one of the most, if not the most important facet associated with the management of the pandemic is reigning in its “reproduction number’ or ‘R Nought/Naught’. What exactly is this notion? Mr. Kucharski educates his readers on the work of Mathematician Klaus Dietz which resulted in the use and implementation of the R Nought. “R represented the number of new infections we’d expect a typical infectious person to generate on average…If R is below one, each infectious person will on average generate less than one additional infection….If R is above one, the level of infection will rise on average, creating the potential for a large epidemic.”
Drawing on the concept of R, Mr. Kucharski comes up with the acronym, ‘DOTS.’ DOTS stands for: duration of time a person is infectious; the average number of opportunities they have to spread the infection each day they are infectious; the probability an opportunity results in transmission; and the average susceptibility of the population.”
Mr. Kucharski relies on the work of the epidemiologist Sunetra Gupta in 1989 to correlate the dynamics of infection with a financial contagion. The spread of infections is dependent upon whether networks related to it are ‘assortative’ or ‘disassortative’ in nature. In the former, highly connected individuals are linked mostly to highly connected people. “This results in an outbreak that spreads quickly through these clusters of high-risk individuals, but struggles to reach the other, less connected parts of the network. However, in a disassortative network, high risk people are connected to low-risk ones, making the spread of the infection slower initially, but resulting in a larger overall epidemic. The banking network, according to Mr. Kucharski, turned out to be disassortative. This led to failed institutions such as Lehman Brothers spreading the contagion far and wide. Social contagion is also an interesting concept that has captured the imagination of the public at large. Physicians Nicholas Christakis and social scientist James Fowler’s famous, albeit controversial study on “The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network over 32 Years”, gets a special mention in Mr. Kucharski’s book.
“Contagion” abounds with interesting references such as the ones mentioned in the preceding paragraphs. Peculiar and asymmetrical patterns are dissected and social relationships analysed. In an interesting reference to “transmission of suicides”, Mr. Kucharski refers to a 1974 paper published by David Phillips examining media coverage of suicides. “He found that when British and American newspapers ran a front-page story about a suicide, the number of such deaths in the local area tended to increase immediately afterwards.” In fact, researchers in Columbia University found a 10 percent increase in suicides following the death of Hollywood actor Robin Williams.
The correlation between online platforms and biological occurrences can also be uncanny. Most of these platforms that are algorithm driven, feed on a self-perpetuating diet of undesirable viewing choices, pulling people further and further down what technology researcher Zeynep Tufekci terms an online rabbit hole. These algorithms draw people towards content that are more incendiary in general according to Ms. Tufekci. As Mr. Kucharski expounds, “the same situation arises in the biological world. Many species have to adapt simply to keep pace with their competitors. After humans came up with antibiotics to treat bacterial infections, some bacteria evolved to become resistant to common drugs. In response we turned to even stronger antibiotics. This put pressure on bacteria to evolve further. Treatments gradually became more extreme, just to have the same impact as lesser drugs did decades earlier. In biology this arms race is known as the ‘Red Queen effect’, after the character in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass….”
At the time of this writing, there seems to be a glimmer of hope in so far as the efforts to combat COVID-19 go. In a drug trial titled “Recovery” – an acronym for Randomised Evaluation of Covid-19 Therapy that was set up in nine days, and had recruited 11,500 Covid patients in 175 hospitals across the UK, it was revealed that Dexamethasone, an anti-inflammatory steroid which has been in use since the early 1960s has the potential to cut the risk of death for patients on a ventilator by a third, and for those on oxygen by a fifth. This has been the most welcome news in an otherwise depressing miasma of death and excruciatingly prolonged recoveries laced with lasting side effects. This refreshing piece of news bears monumental testimony to the indefatigable work of people such as Adam Kucharski and his ilk. A band of selfless virus hunters who have taken it upon themselves to make the world a happier, healthier and harmonious place to inhabit. And to their efforts, we remain eternally indebted.
Top international reviews
Thus this book blends trying to understand the spread of contagion, what causes it, trying to prevent deaths and infections, along with the spreading of information and such like on a technological platform, making this well worth reading. Unfortunately, the idiots at the moment who are stockpiling toiler paper and other products, not practising social distancing and isolation are those who should read this, but if they cannot understand why they should be doing these things, they will never understand this book.
Taking in many different disciplines and showing how work in one field has helped in other ones so we see how although computer modelling can help to a degree, it will take much more information and mathematical equations to improve algorithms and of course you have to be able to factor in human stupidity. Taking us from work by Ronald Ross on combating malaria, we are taken through to others such as Robert Koch, John Snow, et al. With looking at medical science we can also get insights from studies into language and folktales, making for an absorbing read.
This is so much more than a medical type text as we see not only the spread of viruses in the real world, but also those on-line, and how the work going on in tech companies are at times causing problems, such as trying to manipulate people and direct advertising, along with trying to spread misinformation and disinformation. All the components that make up this book will carry interest for lots of people and shows at times how things can get out of hand, even unintentionally, as well as more direct malicious approach. Taking in such things as the financial crisis and how many were wrong when they thought that major banks were too large to fail, so we can see how certain assumptions have been turned on their heads as well as also showing how viruses can jump species (such as COVID-19) and how further mutations can make things become resistant to antibiotics.
In all this is at the present time a timely wake-up call for many and shows what advances we have made, and those that we still need to make if we want better control over pandemics and so on. Also, this shows unethical approaches that have led to results that are still used, and how we do not know how data collected about us is sometimes used.
The book also covers viral information as well as medical outbreaks, and is very clearly written by a leading practioner (epidemiologist) who has a gift for explaining relatively complex processes in plain language.
I enjoyed reading the book especially on how the false media and false information can be spread online as much as any virus.
4* only because some paragraphs were too rocket science for me.
This book made me realise that there are many forms of contagion from viruses to politicians who use Social Media and populism to promote their private agendas or fake news.
Well written, and surprisingly easy to read for such a complex topic.
It’s rare that I re-read a book. This may well be an exception.