Scale : the universal laws of growth, innovation, sustainability, and the pace of life in organisms, cities, economies, and companies

by Geoffrey B. West

Paperback, 2017




New York : Penguin Press, 2017.


"From one of the most influential scientists of our time, a dazzling exploration of the hidden laws that govern the life cycle of everything from plants and animals to the cities we live in. The former head of the Sante Fe Institute, visionary physicist Geoffrey West is a pioneer in the field of complexity science, the science of emergent systems and networks. The term "complexity" can be misleading, however, because what makes West's discoveries so beautiful is that he has found an underlying simplicity that unites the seemingly complex and diverse phenomena of living systems, including our bodies, our cities and our businesses. Fascinated by issues of aging and mortality, West applied the rigor of a physicist to the biological question of why we live as long as we do and no longer. The result was astonishing, and changed science, creating a new understanding of energy use and metabolism: West found that despite the riotous diversity in the sizes of mammals, they are all, to a large degree, scaled versions of each other. If you know the size of a mammal, you can use scaling laws to learn everything from how much food it eats per day, what its heart-rate is, how long it will take to mature, its lifespan, and so on. Furthermore, the efficiency of the mammal's circulatory systems scales up precisely based on weight: if you compare a mouse, a human and an elephant on a logarithmic graph, you find with every doubling of average weight, a species gets 25% more efficient--and lives 25% longer. This speaks to everything from how long we can expect to live to how many hours of sleep we need. Fundamentally, he has proven, the issue has to do with the fractal geometry of the networks that supply energy and remove waste from the organism's body"--… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member danrk
I did not like this book mainly because the writing style is so verbose and conceited. The main thesis of this book is remarkable, but there are too many diversions.
LibraryThing member jmoncton
I always think it's fascinating how certain laws in one field can be applied to a totally different field. In this book, physicist Geoffrey West demonstrates how the principle of size scaling can be applied to biological organisms like our circulatory system to cities, companies, and even personal networks. If you are curious about questions like why whales live so much longer than mice or the reason why 150 is the magic number for people in an organization, then this book might be a good choice.

However, although the subject matter is interesting, it's presentation is not always ideal. The author reminds me of the type of professor in school who could easily get distracted with stories about his past, some interesting and relevant, and some a complete detour into the weeds. He also has a very erudite vocabulary which he uses incessantly making the book a little less accessible. And finally I listened to this in audio and the narrator had a way of reading this that made the text come across as very snobby and wordy. I do think there are some very interesting concepts discussed in this book, especially toward the end. His presentation about paradigm shifts and the future of our world was fascinating and definitely a timely and pressing topic.
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LibraryThing member nicdevera
Most of the biology and metabolism info should already be well-known, I thought. The stuff on cities and companies is the most interesting, applying network thinking to human institutions.



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