Critical Mass Paperback – 3 Feb 2005
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"Exquisitely produced and painstakingly researched... Ball writes patiently and eloquently.. Exciting... A rousing call-to-arms, and an elegant answer to the shallow tradition of British empiricism." (Independent)
"In his fascinating new book, Critical Mass, Philip Ball tells the story of this research in a comprehensive and often captivating way... Ball delves far beyond today's headlines... Impressively clear and breathtaking in scope... Substantial, impeccably researched and...persuasive. For anyone who would like to learn about the intellectual ferment at the surprising junction of physics and social science, Critical Mass is the place to start." (Nature)
"Lucid, accessible and engaging... Ball makes a persuasive, comprehensive case and it's a welcome antidote to popular individualistic thought." (Glasgow Herald)
"Critical Mass fizzes with ideas and insights" (The Guardian)
"more than a book, this in an intellectual curiosity" (Independent on Sunday)
The winner of the Aventis Prize for Science Books, this is a fascinating exploration of the age-old question: are there 'laws of nature' that guide human affairs? Is there anything inevitable about the ways humans behave and organise themselves? Do we have complete freedom in creating our societies, or are we trapped by 'human nature'?See all Product description
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In some chapters (e.g., "On the road") I would argue that at best, all Critical Mass is doing is importing names from physics to describe similar appearing phenomena in our macro world. However, as the great Richard P. Feynman once said: "simply knowing the name of something is not knowledge". To me at least, there should have been more discussion on experimentation to back up the assertions that the similar appearing phenomena are in fact the same thing. Then it would truly illustrate something deeper. Again, to borrow from Feynman using his famous license plate analogy, if you have already observed the results and then develop a theory it is not science.
I could also have done without some of the condescending comments on the some of the great men that came before that apparently disagreed with the author's politics. For example, when discussing Adam Smith's theories on economics (Rhythms of the Marketplace), the book belabors his theories (e.g., page 180 "...even on its own term's Smith's economic theory was too simplistic to cover the whole story..." or page 184 "...Smith does not endorse the grinding poverty implicit in his words...") In contrast, the author is positively gushing when in the same chapter he describes Karl Marx's theories as "...the most influential of `scientific' economic theories in the nineteenth century..." (page 183) and "Marx's economic vision contained the crucial concept of a market that was potentially unsteady and to oscillate between boom and bust..." (page 186).
Just one man's opinion.
I found this a very interesting read and I appreciated that the author does not breathlessly hype the models, but explains the reasoning behind each and details the results, where they work and sometimes where they fail.
Philip Ball is obviously a very experienced writer. This book - the very first (but definitely not the last)I read from him - is essential for everyone who is interested in the problems of today's world. Since he covers wide range of subjects, the reader can obtain information about seemingly unconnected subjects and put a larger picture together. The greatest advantage of this book is that the reader can learn a lot about very different things without the need of shopping around for books specialized in the matter in question. Each chapter goes into depths easily understandable by laymen with providing all necessary information.
A great book, the opinion of the Economist summarizes it the best: "Critical Mass is an intellectual roller-coaster".
Joseph Feredoes, AustraliaCritical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another
past the half it gets deeoer requiring slower reading