Thursday, 28 January 2010


by Mark Buchanan

Earthquakes, forest fires, avalanches, mass extinctions, heartbeat irregularities... What’s in common? Universality. Everywhere the distribution of events (or frozen potato shards*) follows the power law. Moreover, the same pattern appears in fluctuations of stock markets, the growth of the cities, distribution of deadly conflicts, and even citations of scientific papers.

Ubiquity: The Science of History... or Why the World is Simpler Than We Think, bought in Oxfam couple of years ago (I liked the name), was peacefully gathering dust until last week. I was looking for something else entirely and this book was in my way. By some reason, I read the first page and... couldn’t put it down. It is an excellent, gripping read, blissfully free of jargon and formulae. The only equation, on page 40, is understood by a nine-year old, as I just checked.

Ubiquity: The New Science That is Changing the World

* The frozen potato experiment is my favourite. I think these Danes who conducted their smashing experiments simply enjoy smashing things against the wall; I’m sure it’s more fun than, say, potato proteomics.

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