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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Review: Connected

When Google rolled out the Orkut social network, a bunch of us scratched our heads and wondered what the heck we would ever use it for. Now in 2009, social networks from Facebook to Twitter have become big news, even if nobody knows how profitable they are, and it's become far more important to understand the way social networks operate than ever.

Connected is a book about human networks. Ruchira Datta first pointed me at it through the New York Times article about how friends can cause each other to gain (or lose) weight, even across a thousand miles. If you think about it, this is a very surprising result, because it's not like you're going to see your friends that far away frequently enough to copy their weight gain or loss.

Each chapter of this book presents at least one such interesting revelation. The one that really surprised me was the well-known fact that married men live about 5 years longer than single men, but married women live only about 2 years longer. The book answers how the mechanism works, and why it is that women seem to benefit less than men from marriage. The answer turns out to be very surprising and relevant to traditional views about marriage. Then there's a romp through human organizations, Dunbar's number, and a presentation of the "3 levels of indirection" influence rule.

The subsequent chapters concern themselves with epidemics, politics, wealth, and the internet, and the future of our connected lives. Of all the topics, the ones on wealth and epidemics are the most enlightening, and the one on politics least surprising, while the chapter on the internet space the weakest, since this space is still very much in its infancy, though the value provided there is immense.

The writing is clear, the topics selected fascinating, and I found the entire book really enjoyable. Highly recommended, at the $9.99 Kindle price, or even at the full hardback price. Yes it is that good. I won't be surprised if I ended up nominating this book for the book of the year.

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