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Scale: The Universal Laws of Life, Growth, and Death in Organisms, Cities, and Companies Paperback – 15 May 2018

4.4 out of 5 stars 310 ratings

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Product details

  • Language : English
  • Paperback : 496 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 014311090X
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0143110903
  • Customer reviews:
    4.4 out of 5 stars 310 ratings

Product description


"An enchanting intellectual odyssey...also a satisfying personal and professional memoir of a distinguished scientist whose life's work came to be preoccupied with finding ways to break down traditional boundaries between disciplines to solve the long-term global challenges of sustainability.... Mr. West manages to deliver a lot of theory and history accessibly and entertainingly... Provocative and fascinating."--The New York Times

"Scale, a grand synthesis of topics [Geoffrey West] has studied for several decades, makes an important and eloquent case for the significance [of universal laws of size and growth] in an ecology of the natural and human world -- and in understanding whether the two can fit together." --Nature

"West's insightful analysis and astute observations patiently build an intellectual framework that is ultimately highly rewarding, offering a new perspective on the many scales with which nature and society challenge us...A fascinating journey." - Science Magazine

This is the sort of big-ideas book that comes along only every few years, the kind that changes the conversation in boardroom, common room and dining room....A book full of thrilling ideas. --The Sunday Times (London)

"From a dean of complexity theory comes a sharp consideration of the pace and pattern of life in a universe of complex adaptive systems" ...West's book is a succession of charts, graphs, and aha moments, all deeply learned but lightly worn. By the end of the book, readers will understand such oddments as why it is that the hearts of all animals, from mouse to elephant, beat roughly the same number of times across a lifespan and why the pace of life increases so markedly as the population grows (which explains why people walk faster, it turns out, in big cities than out in the countryside) ...Illuminating and entertaining--heady science written for a lay readership, bringing scaling theory and kindred ideas to a large audience."--Kirkus Reviews

I can think of no more exciting thinker in the world today than Geoffrey West. By bringing a physicist's razor-sharp mind to wonderfully surprising questions -- 'Why Aren't There Mammals the Size of Tiny Ants?' or 'Are Cities and Companies Just Very Large Organisms?' -- West forces us to see everything anew, from our own bodies to the mega-cities our species increasingly chooses to inhabit. Scale is a firework display of popular science.
--Niall Ferguson, senior fellow, the Hoover Institution

"This spectacular book on how logarithmic scaling governs everything is packed with news--from the self-similar dynamics of cells and ecosystems to exactly why companies always die and cities don't. I dog-eared and marked up damn near every page."
--Stewart Brand, creator of the Whole Earth Catalog

"Geoffrey West's Scale is filled with brilliant insights. He illuminates the laws of nature underlying everything from tiny organisms and humans to cities and companies, and provides a quantitative framework for decoding the deep complexity of our interconnected world. If you want to know why companies fail, how cities persist and what is needed to sustain our civilization in this era of rapid innovation, read this amazing book."
--Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce

"When Geoffrey West, a brilliant theoretical physicist, turned his lens to the study of life spans, biological systems or cities he stumbled onto a game-changing universal insight about growth and sustainability. Scale is dazzling and provocative and West proves himself to be a compelling and entertaining writer--this is a book we will be talking about for a long time."
--Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone

"If there were a Nobel Prize for transdisciplinary science Geoffrey West would have won it for the work covered in Scale. This is a book of great originality and deep importance, containing startling insights about topics as seemingly unrelated as aging and death, sleep, metabolism, cities, energy use, creativity, corporations, and even the sustainability of our existence. If you are curious about how the world really works, you must read this book."
--Bill Miller, Chairman, Emeritus, Sante Fe Institute

"Geoffrey West's Scale is a revelation. Based on his path breaking theory and research on super-linear scaling, it provides powerful new insights into the basic scientific laws that power our modern society and economy, its startup companies, large corporations and cities. The book is a must read for CEOs, technologists, mayors, urban leaders and anyone who wants to understand the simple laws that shape the complex, self-organizing world in which we live."
--Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class

"This is an important and original book, of immense scope. Geoffrey West is a polymath, whose insights range over physics, biology and the social sciences. He shows that the sizes, shapes and lifetimes of living things - despite their amazing diversity -- display surprising correlations and patterns, and that these follow from basic physical principles. He then discovers, more surprisingly, the emergence of similar 'scaling laws' in human societies - in our cities, companies and social networks. These findings are presented in clear non-technical prose, enlivened by anecdotes which convey how these concepts arose, and thoughtful assessment of why they're important for those planning our future. This fascinating book deserves very wide readership."
--Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal and author of Just Six Numbers

"Each human should learn to read and write, to count, and for those who know how to count, scalability. Scaling is the most important yet most hidden and rarely discussed attribute--without understanding it one cannot possibly understand the world. This book will expand your thinking from three dimensions to four. Get two copies, just in case you lose one."
--Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of the Incerto

"An absolutely riveting read. Like the best detective story, West lays out the amazing challenge of understanding why animals, cities and companies all scale so uniformly and then skillfully lets us into the secrets that his detective work has uncovered. This book captures the spirit of science in the 21st century, revealing the deep connections not just across physics and biology but society and life. The book is a perfect balance between the big scientific story and West's own personal narrative. We accompany the author on his quest to face up to his own mortality while at the same time being exposed to the theoretical discoveries that West has pioneered in his groundbreaking work."
--Marcus du Sautoy, Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University and author of The Great Unknown

"It's rare in the history of science that someone has a big, bold, beautiful, stunningly simple new idea that also turns out to be right. Geoffrey West had one. And Scale is its story."
--Steven Strogatz, Professor of Mathematics at Cornell University and author of The Joy of X

About the Author

Geoffrey West is a theoretical physicist whose primary interests have been in fundamental questions in physics and biology. West is a Senior Fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory and a distinguished professor at the Sante Fe Institute, where he served as the president from 2005-2009. In 2006 he was named to Time's list of "The 100 Most Influential People in the World."

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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com

Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars 147 reviews
Aaron C. Brown
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing book from an author who is capable of much better
6 April 2017 - Published on Amazon.com
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377 people found this helpful
Odysseus at home
5.0 out of 5 stars The unexpected order of everything.
23 October 2017 - Published on Amazon.com
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5.0 out of 5 stars The unexpected order of everything.
Reviewed in the United States on 23 October 2017
In three words, excellent, necessary, and inspiring.

Scale is about order where we see just chaos. It should be read together with [[ASIN:0786887214 Sync: How Order Emerges From Chaos In the Universe, Nature, and Daily Life]]. You should try this one first.

By the way, Geoffrey West has a Ted conference on the topic that I saw, in fact, before reading the book. But, as is customary, the book is superior, even necessary because it expands in every direction the topics he touches at the conference room. I would say that the conference is more focus in the theme of cities as organisms. The book is the path you have to follow before arriving there. And the journey (the book is a fascinating one) is full of little details and several perspectives that are being added one by one up to the final chapter, where you see the whole picture.

But before getting there, the book has to answer several questions. The main one is enunciated at the very beginning (page 7): "How do we ensure that our human-engineered systems evolved only over the past ten thousand years, can continue to coexist with the natural biological world, which evolved over billions of years?" And even more important: "Can we maintain a vibrant, innovative society driven by ideas and wealth creation, or are we destined to become a planet of slums, conflict, and devastation?"

Full of examples and ideas, the work makes you look for yourself, to review some videos, articles, papers, and, as always, some other books. In fact, inspired by Scale I bought also [[ASIN:067974195X The Death and Life of Great American Cities]] by Jane Jacobs. A classic.

This is a Santa Fe Institute hot topic so this is more than mere academia, is surfing on top of wave. The book was published this year and my hunch is that it will continue to be present for several more. The search for "universal laws of growth, innovation, sustainability, and the pace of life in organisms, cities, and companies," is just beginning. The math is the same as usual but today we have computer simulation, and we can do experiments in a scale never imagined before.

If you are interested in how the world works in a big scale, this is the book. Every week or so a million people leave the countryside to the city. Yes, every week. Can you imagine? All those huge nodes, connected to each other are configuring a net so vast and thick, that we need something more than just keeping accounts. Here enters scale, showing that size matters, and every single species occupies a unique niche according its scale --including us, of course. So, if the scale, which means the position of an organism or a super-organism (as cities) with respect, for instance, to the consumption of energy, represents an order, well, we are facing the possibility of finding a law or laws that tell us how this works, what we can expect for the future, what we should see when reviewing the past, an so on. The point is "that the dynamics, growth, and organization of animal, plants, human social behavior, cities, and companies are, in fact, subject to similar generic laws." That is why the book is so impressive and that's why you need time to digest all this information page by page.

It takes a week to read it, but after that it will always be with you. You won't forget it because it changes the way you see the city, your city. And in so doing is leaving behind all those crazy ideas that try to explain through rhetorical means why the cities are so big and why they fail (like Santiago de Chile, during the last winter when it ran out of electricity).

Well, a deserved and permanent five stars book.
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19 people found this helpful