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Linked: The New Science of Networks

Albert-Laszlo Barabasi

posted on 15 May 2002

reviewed by Stefan Bornholdt

The general public is often said to be not too much interested
in science, but if a book written by a professional scientist
about his own research reaches an Amazon Sales Rank of 63 on
the first day, this picture does not seem to be that simple.

Well, in this case, there is hardly any other topic touching
everyone's life in more respects than the topic of this book:
Networks - in our body, between us and other people, and in the
world around us. In "Linked: The New Science of Networks",
Laszlo Barabasi presents a personal account of the emergence of
a new branch of interdisciplinary physics, from the perspective
of someone who played a major role in shaping this field over
the last few years.

Why physics, or why is it a theoretical physicist who looks at
such phenomena as computer viruses, the wiring of the internet
or the interaction of genes in the living cell, and ponders
about the dominance of Microsoft on today's desktops? Those
of you who have seen increasing numbers of physicists enter
interdisciplinary fields during the last years will not be
surprised: The methods of theoretical physicists are not limited
to applications inside physics, and indeed turn out to be quite
powerful in outside applications as also documented in this book.

Why now? It may surprise that while graph theory and other methods
have been around for decades, the study of complex networks in
nature only now obtained sudden popularity. The inside account
of the early research in the Barabasi group given in this book
is not only entertaining but also lets you feel what is important
for this type of research: Fast computers, as well as the availability
of the first data sets of large networks, in this case sparked by
the sudden emergence of the World-wide web and its availability
to curious researchers. Just now, as also data from the genome and
the cell become available, Barabasi shows another first in this book:
A statistical approach to biological networks in the living cell as
recently performed by his group. In the light of the new data-driven
branches of science this book sketches an important new approach
and is clearly the right book at the right time.

Unlike many other popular books written by scientists themselves,
this one is carefully aimed at non-specialists and the presentation
of new ideas is exceptionally clear. Instead of using formulas,
Barabasi chose a whole spectrum of real world examples to illustrate
the basic messages. So you don't need a degree to enjoy this book -
but on the other hand, if you happen to be a scientist, you will
have fun as well (other than with many books written by professional
science writers). It is a nice historical account of the early
research in the Barabasi group and other groups which many of us
followed on the preprint servers over the last years, and it may
serve as an excellent appetizer to the physics of networks, in each
chapter providing a detailed set of references to original work, to
dive into wherever you wish.

I very much enjoyed reading this book. No matter if you like surfing
on the internet and wonder what this web is, or if you are a business
person, thinking about economy, or if you happen to be a teenager,
searching for optimal dating strategies (or even a science manager
in search of new fields in fight of the ailing physics students number
in some countries) - The "think network" perspective sketched in this
book provides a refreshing new look at many everydays phenomena in
the world around us.

While I've been writing this short review, the Amazon Sales Rank
climbed another two steps to 61, well deserved in my view for
this excellent book.