Book review: Linked

A delightful book on the science, power and complexity of networks: that’s how I could sum up Albert-László Barabási‘s book Linked – How Everything is Connected to Everything Else and What it Means for Business and Everyday Life.

I believe that in the uncertain, complex and postnormal times we live in it is increasingly important to understand the nature and dynamics of networks as the author himself states in the book’s introduction:

“We have come to see that we live in a small world, where everything is linked to everything else. We are witnessing a revolution in the making as scientists from all different disciplines discover that complexity has a strict architecture. We have come to grasp the importance of networks.”

Barabási cleverly resorts to storytelling to illustrate the fundamentals of networks and also to explain the evolution of research and our understanding of how networks work and the impact they have. The book can thus be surprisingly entertaining and at the same time rigorous.

He explores networks’ presence in areas such as nature, society, science and the Internet. As he states:

“The robustness of the laws governing the emergence of complex networks is the explanation for the ubiquity of the scale-free topology, describing such diverse systems as the network behind language, the links between the proteins in the cell, sexual relationships between people, the wiring diagram of a computer chip, the metabolism of the cell, the Internet, Hollywood, the World Wide Web, the web of scientists linked by coauthorships, and the intricate collaborative web behind the economy, to name only a few.”

One of my favourite parts was dedicated to the “six degrees of separation” phenomenon, made famous in Broadway play by John Guare and then by Hollywood movies, based on a study conducted by Harvard professor Stanley Milgram restricted to certain cities in the US. Barabási debunks the myth:

“Milgram’s study was confined to the United States, linking people “out there” in Wichita and Omaha to “over there” in Boston, For Guare’s Ousa, however, six degrees applied to the whole world. Thus a myth was born. Because more people watch movies than read sociology papers, Guare’s version has prevailed in popular thought”

I would also highlight the chapter dedicated to the Network Economy. In it Barabási reflects on companies as networks part of a bigger network (the economy):

“As companies face an information explosion and an unprecedented need for flexibility in a rapidly changing marketplace, the corporate model is in the midst of a complete makeover […] a fundamental rethinking of how to respond to the new business environment in the postindustrial era, dubbed the information economy.

The most visible element of this remaking is the shift from a tree to a web or network organization, flat and with lots of cross-links between the nodes.”

A highly recommended book!

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