Tag Archives: books

New resilience theory related book Phase Transitions

Ricard Solé, the well known complex systems scientist, has a new book Phase Transitions (here’s Table of Contents). It sounds interesting especially since Solé’s work frequently includes ecological and evolutionary dynamics.  The book looks very similar it is to Marten Scheffer‘s Critical Transitions in Nature and Society – so it will be interesting to see how they differ in approach and content.

The book is the third in Princeton University Press’s Primers in Complex Systems series.  Since phase transitions, critical transitions, and regime shifts are all extremely similar and all relate to resilience I’ll certainly check the book out.

The publisher describes the book:

Phase transitions–changes between different states of organization in a complex system–have long helped to explain physics concepts, such as why water freezes into a solid or boils to become a gas. How might phase transitions shed light on important problems in biological and ecological complex systems? Exploring the origins and implications of sudden changes in nature and society, Phase Transitions examines different dynamical behaviors in a broad range of complex systems. Using a compelling set of examples, from gene networks and ant colonies to human language and the degradation of diverse ecosystems, the book illustrates the power of simple models to reveal how phase transitions occur.

Introductory chapters provide the critical concepts and the simplest mathematical techniques required to study phase transitions. In a series of example-driven chapters, Ricard Solé shows how such concepts and techniques can be applied to the analysis and prediction of complex system behavior, including the origins of life, viral replication, epidemics, language evolution, and the emergence and breakdown of societies.

Written at an undergraduate mathematical level, this book provides the essential theoretical tools and foundations required to develop basic models to explain collective phase transitions for a wide variety of ecosystems.

Links: death threats, uprisings, social memory, nature, and LIDAR

1) From Nature News, death threats are being sent to Australian climate scientists, including our Stockholm Resilience Centre colleague Will Steffen.  More information from Australia’s ABC news 1 & 2.

2) How well are researchers able to forecast popular uprisings? Some reflections from political scientist Jay Ulfelder.

3) Economists argue that the long-gone Habsburg Empire is still visible in Eastern European bureaucracies today on Vox.eu.

4) Novelist TC Boyle, recommends five books on people and nature.  He recently wrote a good novel, When the Killings Done, on the control of invasive species in California.

5) Also from Nature News, Greg Asner and colleagues have developed a digital catalogue of the chemical and optical properties of some 4,700 plant species in different conditions. By using this information to analyze high resolution LIDAR images from the Carnegie Airborne Observatory, Asner hopes that they will be able to identify the species of individual trees.

4 recent books that sounds interesting but I haven’t read

1) Australian economist John Quiggin, author of Zombie Economics, recommends a recent book, State of Innovation, edited by Fred Block and Matthew Keller that examines the process of innovation in the US.  He writes that the books key conclusion is:

… over the last four decades, government programs and policies have quietly become ever more central to the American economy. From “basic research” to commercialization, the fingerprints of government can be found in virtually every major industrial success story of the late 20th and early 21st century.

2) Novelist and technology activist Cory Doctrow recommends:

Joseph Reagle Jr‘s Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia is exactly what a popular, scholarly work should be: serious but not slow, intelligent but not dull, and esoteric but not obscure. It’s practically a textbook example on how to adapt a dissertation as a trade book — dropping the literature review, moderating the stuff that’s meant to prove you’ve done your homework, and diving straight into the argument.

Reagle, an avid wikipedian himself, nevertheless takes up an objective distance and tries to suss out how it is that Wikipedia works as well as it does (I’m always amazed by critics who characterize Wikipedia as a hopeless quagmire of argument — there’s certainly a lot of argument there, but hopeless? If it’s so hopeless, how did those millions of articles get written and edited?). His thesis: Wikipedia works because it has a distinctive culture of assumed good faith; that is, there is a powerful (though not universal) norm of assuming that the person on the other side of the argument is every bit as committed as you are to getting high quality, accurate encyclopedic entries written and maintained.

3) Political scientist Henry Farrell recommends Francis Spufford’s Red Plenty:

Really, really good, in ways that are hard to convey in a review. An extraordinary combination of intellectual history and novel, using a series of vignettes to show how the USSR’s leaders sought to respond to the consumer utopia of the West, and how this affected the lives of ordinary Soviet citizens. A deeply humanistic book, which takes economic theory seriously in ways that few humanists do, treating it not only as a way of thinking about the world, but as a tangle of hopes and aspirations.

4) Oregon plant breeder Carol Deppe‘s Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times is recommended by local sustainability author Casaubon who writes:

It is rare for me to read a book that … fills that middle gap by offering me genuinely new and engaging ideas, is local to its place but thoughtful about how information gleaned in one environment might connect to another, is written by someone who does have limits on time and energy and occasionally desire to do it perfectly, and finally, is conscious of the need to garden in response to difficult times. That’s why Carol Deppe’s _The Resilient Gardener_ is such a gift.

…The premise is one that I can’t but appreciate – she points out that hard times come to all of us, whether they are national or international in scale or purely personal. The narrative begins with the years she spent caring for her mother who suffered Alzheimers disease, and the ways that her garden was a respite and a nurturance to herself and to her mother, but also the ways that her garden had to become resilient to allow for demands on her time and resources. She then shifts us towards a world picture, but never forgets that our gardens have to serve us in complicated situations.

Pattern recognition

I quoted William Gibson‘s book Pattern Recognition in a workshop on Expertise for the Future the other day.  Gibson wrote:

… we have no idea, now, of who or what the inhabitants of our future might be. In that sense, we have no future. Not in the sense that our grandparents had a future, or thought they did. Fully imagined cultural futures were the luxury of another day, one in which ‘now’ was of some greater duration. For us, of course, things can change so abruptly, so violently, so profoundly, that futures like our grandparents’ have insufficient ‘now’ to stand on. We have no future because our present is too volatile. … We have only risk management. The spinning of the given moment’s scenarios. Pattern recognition.

In the novel the words are spoken by Hubertus Bigend a smart, but creepy public relations media entrepreneur,suggesting that while it is an insightful comment on some of the current problems of thinking about the future, maybe we shouldn’t take it as the last word.

Books: Social demoncratic thought, peer review, and genetic engineering

1) Henry Farrell on Crooked Timber asks for suggestion for The New New Left Book Club that considers “which books are useful for understanding where the ‘left’ are now.  He suggests:

  • Thomas Geoghegan – Which Side Are You On? Trying To Be For Labor When It’s Flat On Its Back
  • Rick Perlstein’s Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus
  • Tom Slee’s No One Makes You Shop at Wal-Mart
  • Mark Blyth, Great Transformations: Economic Ideas and Institutional Change in the Twentieth Century
  • Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom

I’ve only read one of the books that he suggests, Tom Slee’s No One Makes You Shop at Wal-Mart. I thought Slee’s book was insightful and clear.  I adapted a number of examples of it for my adaptive management class at McGill.

2) Michèle Lamont’s book How Professors Think : Inside the Curious World of Academic Judgment examines how social scientists review each others proposed research:

Judging quality isn’t robotically rational; it’s emotional, cognitive, and social, too. Yet most academics’ self-respect is rooted in their ability to analyze complexity and recognize quality, in order to come to the fairest decisions about that elusive god, “excellence.” In How Professors Think, Lamont aims to illuminate the confidential process of evaluation and to push the gatekeepers to both better understand and perform their role.

3) The US National Academy has published its assessment of Impact of Genetically Engineered Crops on Farm Sustainability in the United States.  Their bottom line:

Many U.S. farmers who grow genetically engineered (GE) crops are realizing economic and environmental benefits — such as lower production costs, improved pest control, reduced use of pesticides, and better yields — compared with conventional crops, says a new report from the National Research Council. However, GE crops could lose their effectiveness unless farmers use other proven weed and insect management practices.

But they also state their is a lack of research on social impacts of GE crops, and along with improving social research they recommend:

  • Stakeholder group needed to document emerging weed-resistance problems and develop cost-effect practices to increase longevity of herbicide-resistant crop technology
  • Infrastructure needed on the water quality effects of GE crops
  • Public and private research institutions improve monitoring and assessment capacity to ensure GE technologies contribute to sustainable agriculture
  • Increased support for the development of ‘public goods’ traits through collaborative approaches to genetic engineering technology

Summer reading

As summer approaches (at least here in the Northern hemisphere) newspapers, magazines, and radio shows are proposing lists of summer books to read.

Below are a list of some of the books I’m hoping to read, most of which have only oblique connections to resilience, along with reviews that got me interested in the book.

In the comments, I’d love to hear what others are planning to read and why

2666 by Roberto Bolaño

In Time Lev Grossman wrote: “the relentless gratuitousness of 2666 has its own logic and its own power, which builds into something overwhelming that hits you all the harder because you don’t see it coming. This is a dangerous book, and you can get lost in it. How can art, Bolaño is asking, a medium of form and meaning, reflect a world that is blessed with neither?”

After Dark by Haruki Murakami
I’ve read and enjoyed most of Murakami’s books. Michael Dirda writes: “After Dark is a short book, hypnotically eerie, full of noirish foreboding, sometimes even funny, but, most of all, it’s one that keeps ratcheting up the suspense. At times, the novel recalls those unsettling films of Jean-Luc Godard or Michelangelo Antonioni where something dire seems always about to happen, even as attractive young people, full of anomie and confusion, meander aimlessly through an ominous urban landscape.”

India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy
by Ramachandra Guha

In the Guardian Amit Chaudhuri wrote “Guha’s book reminds us of what some other recent studies of India have been getting at, but without this civilised single-mindedness: that it’s not just the story of independence that’s worthy of being counted as one of the great triumphal stories of 20th-century world history; that the survival and perhaps the flourishing of free India counts legitimately as another.”

Principles of Ecosystem Stewardship: Resilience-Based Natural Resource Management in a Changing World edited by Terry Chapin, Gary Kofinas, Carl Folke

A new book by many of my collaborators. From Springer’s website: “This textbook provides a new framework for natural resource management—a framework based on stewardship of ecosystems for ecological integrity and human well-being in a world dominated by uncertainty and change. The goal of ecosystem stewardship is to respond to and shape changes in social-ecological systems in order to sustain the supply and availability of ecosystem services by society. The book links recent advances in the theory of resilience, sustainability, and vulnerability with practical issues of ecosystem management and governance.”

The Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane

Andrew Motion in the Guardian: It means, among other things, that The Wild Places is an odd addition to today’s books about the environment: a consoling thing, as well as an admonitory one. It’s not just that Macfarlane finds certain kinds of satisfaction for himself – creating, as he promised to do at the outset, a map in which the priorities of motorists are replaced by sites of natural wonderment, and discovering that wildness is not inevitably “about asperity, but about luxuriance, vitality, fun”. He also encourages his readers to feel that while many of our fundamental connections have been broken or lost, many remain – if only we have the sense and tuned senses to appreciate them. This may not seem a particularly striking conclusion but it’s well worth saying. And the journeys to reach it are so vigorously animated, they are well worth taking with him.

It’s Our Turn to Eat by Michela Wrong

Development economist Chris Blattman writes “Wrong is among my favorite journalists writing on Africa (a favorite piece is here). Her new book is superb – part journalism, part diary, and part Le Carre novel. The academic in me wasn’t always pleased; her assessment of ethnic politics is thinly constructed (this syllabus might come in handy), and her portrait of Githongo can’t help but be influenced by a close friendship. But a more interesting and readable book on Africa is hard to find.”

McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld by Misha Glenny

Geoff Manaugh writes “I can’t recommend this book enough. A look at the global counter-economies of sex trafficking, drugs, illegitimate construction, counterfeit goods, and light weaponry, the otherwise somewhat embarrassingly titled McMafia shows us a planet riddled with labyrinthine networks of unregistered transactions, untraceable people, and even illegal building sites. … this is one of the most interesting books I’ve read all year.”