I first picked up this book because I thought this book was about the world’s most prevalent network: the internet. However, I soon realized that the scope of this book was much bigger. To be sure, Barabasi uses the Internet (one of his primary research subjects) throughout the book, but this book is mostly about the development of network theory – and I do mean theory.
In particular, Barabasi discusses how social networks develop, how diseases spread, how innovative ideas are adopted, how food chains are interconnected, and how the internet functions. (It feels like Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point but with more scientific observation). Interestingly, it appears that there are common elements of network behaviour in each of these scenarios. While I can’t get as excited about math and physics as Barabasi – and he does get excited – I do appreciate his attempt to present the history of network research as a series of stories rather than as a textbook. Sometimes stories just work better–actually, probably most times.
It’s hard to know where to start with this book. Simply put, it’s a brilliant read. Wiseman attempts to imagine a world in which humans are quite suddenly wiped off the planet (e.g. from a super virus). The whole book is essentially speculation about what our legacy would be like and how long it would take for life/nature to reclaim the planet.
Wiseman gathers opinions from engineers, biologists, and other experts and actually imagines a post-human earth. He describes how long it would take for our buildings to break down; how the flooded subway system would erode New York City’s foundation; and how vegetation would take over our concrete buildings and asphalt streets.
The World Without Us doesn’t really flow like a novel or even your average popular science title because the chapters tackle such varied topics (The African Paradox, Polymers are Forever, The World Without Farms, etc.); however, this diversity makes for a very intriguing read.
For me, the best thing about this book is the overall concept. It’s like a 300 page thought essay on the self-healing nature of nature – and Wiseman executes it beautifully.