1. Critical Mass (My Favorite Books in 2020)

Critical Mass: How one thing leads to another, by Philip Ball (2005).

This is a rare example of a book not recommended by a friend, another book, or Jeff Bezos. Instead, I found it when I was browsing the shelves of the wonderful Libreria Lerner in Bogota. It was during the first week after the full lockdown was lifted and non-essential stores were finally open. I must have spent at least four hours in the library, thrilled about my newly found freedom, taking my time to enjoy the pages of books I had never heard about before. When I saw “Critical Mass”, it was love at first sight.

The connection in this book is Physics with social phenomena. Concepts and ideas in Thermodynamics and Statistical Physics are reformulated to explain the stock market, traffic jams, companies’ mergers, and the political relationships between countries. The book is exceptionally well researched, and it serves as a brilliant introduction to applied aspects of complexity, emergence and self-organization phenomena.

Some may find the historical and philosophical discussions a bit tedious – I found them essential. The book was written in 2004, and contrary to what some reviewers nowadays claim, it has aged quite well, even in topics that proved to be difficult to predict back then, as was the evolution of social media. I would love to see a revised version of this book over the next decade.

Next: 2. Seeing like a State

Go back to the list My favorite 10 books in 2020.

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