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Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age

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.

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Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age

Small Worlds: The Dynamics of Networks Between Order and Randomness

Everyone knows the small-world phenomenon: soon after meeting a stranger, we are surprised to discover that we have a mutual friend, or we are connected through a short chain of acquaintances. In his book, Duncan Watts uses this intriguing phenomenon—colloquially called “six degrees of separation”—as a prelude to a more general exploration: under what conditions can a small world arise in any kind of network?

The networks of this story are everywhere: the brain is a network of neurons; organisations are people networks; the global economy is a network of national economies, which are networks of markets, which are in turn networks of interacting producers and consumers. Food webs, ecosystems, and the Internet can all be represented as networks, as can strategies for solving a problem, topics in a conversation, and even words in a language. Many of these networks, the author claims, will turn out to be small worlds.

How do such networks matter? Simply put, local actions can have global consequences, and the relationship between local and global dynamics depends critically on the network’s structure. Watts illustrates the subtleties of this relationship using a variety of simple models—-the spread of infectious disease through a structured population; the evolution of cooperation in game theory; the computational capacity of cellular automata; and the sychronisation of coupled phase-oscillators.

Watts’s novel approach is relevant to many problems that deal with network connectivity and complex systems’ behaviour in general: How do diseases (or rumours) spread through social networks? How does cooperation evolve in large groups? How do cascading failures propagate through large power grids, or financial systems? What is the most efficient architecture for an organisation, or for a communications network? This fascinating exploration will be fruitful in a remarkable variety of fields, including physics and mathematics, as well as sociology, economics, and biology.

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Small Worlds: The Dynamics of Networks Between Order and Randomness
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