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Publisher's Summary

A revolutionary new theory showing how we can predict human behavior-from a radical genius and best-selling author.

Can we scientifically predict our future? Scientists and pseudo scientists have been pursuing this mystery for hundreds and perhaps thousands of years. But now, astonishing new research is revealing patterns in human behavior previously thought to be purely random. Precise, orderly, predictable patterns.

Albert Laszlo Barabasi, already the world's preeminent researcher on the science of networks, describes his work on this profound mystery in Bursts, a stunningly original investigation into human nature. His approach relies on the digital reality of our world, from mobile phones to the Internet and email, because it has turned society into a huge research laboratory. All those electronic trails of time stamped texts, voicemails, and internet searches add up to a previously unavailable massive data set of statistics that track our movements, our decisions, our lives. Analysis of these trails is offering deep insights into the rhythm of how we do everything. His finding? We work and fight and play in short flourishes of activity followed by next to nothing. The pattern isn't random, it's "bursty." Randomness does not rule our lives in the way scientists have assumed up until now.

Illustrating this revolutionary science, Barabasi artfully weaves together the story of a 16th century burst of human activity-a bloody medieval crusade launched in his homeland, Transylvania, with the modern tale of a contemporary artist hunted by the FBI through our post 9/11 surveillance society. These narratives illustrate how predicting human behavior has long been the obsession, sometimes the duty, of those in power.

©2010 Albert-Laszlo Barabasi (P)2010 Random House

Critic Reviews

"In Linked, Barabasi showed us how complex networks unfold in space. In Bursts, he shows us how they unfold in time. Your life may look random to you, but everything from your visits to a web page to your visits to the doctor are predictable, and happen in bursts." (Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody)

"Barabasi is one of the few people in the world who understand the deep structure of empirical reality." (Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan)

"Barabasi brings a physicist's penetrating eye to a sweeping range of human activities, from migration to web browsing, from wars to billionaires, from illnesses to letter writing, from the Department of Homeland Security to the Conclave of Cardinals. Barabasi shows how a pattern of bursts appears in what has long seemed a random mess. These bursts are both mathematically predictable and beautiful. What a joy it is to read him. You feel like you have emerged to see a new vista that, while it had always been there, you had just never seen." (Nicholas A. Christakis, MD, PhD, coauthor of Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives)

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What listeners say about Bursts

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  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars

Very few Bursts of actual science

I was a big fan of Barabasi's first book, "Linked," and bought "Bursts" the minute I saw it without looking for reviews or anything. I regret that impulsive burst. This book is made up of only a small amount of science, the majority is history.

He tries to shoehorn a long and painstakingly detailed description of a 16th century peasant's revolt into his thesis that human behaviors and actions come in bursts. (It quickly becomes clear that this story is important to the author because it takes place in the country of his birth. Unfortunately, he fails to connect it with anything scientific.) Even the discussions of science are largely chronicles of what happened, but with little scientific analysis. We hear about how the author researched Einstein's letter writing habits, or how time and again some simple mathematical model failed to explain the complex behaviors of people and animals.

The book's main premise is unfulfilled. He claims that the science of "bursty" behaviors will allow us to predict human action. He describes dozens of cases, but never brings it all together. Because Linked was such a good book, I gave Barabasi the benefit of the doubt all the way to the end, but I came away feeling that this was the rough notes for what could be a good book.

The book is not a total loss, though. If I had been interested in a history lesson (sometimes I am!) this would have been a much more enjoyable listen. The writing is clear and direct. And the reader does a very good job.

10 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars

bursting into tears

10 hours and twenty dollars later I am angry. Not at
the author but at an editor that allowed this
wandering mess to be published. I don't often start
yelling "get to the point", when I am alone in my
house listening to a book. I have no idea what this
author was trying to accomplish.

6 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars

Lotta Sizzle...little steak

This book has lots of "stuff"...but I'm not sure I was able to pull much of it together into something I could walk away with. Wrapping physics, human behavior and social networking around Medieval Hungarian history was entriguing...but never really reached a conclusion or made a point. This could have been 2 seperate books...One about Bursts and the other about history.

4 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

Interesting premise, but too long

Meanders into several barely relevant and uninteresting historical stories. The basic thesis is interesting, but the whole thing should have been condensed by an editor into a much shorter book.

4 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

Lots of words

Few bursts of good ideas.
Barabasi talks a lot about himself and his family's history. Much less about what can be predicted from Bursts.

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Definitely worth a read.

Whilst I really enjoyed the book over all, I found the many meanderings a tad distracting at times.

Awesome insights and wonderful questions now swim in my mind as I journey towards my PhD.

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

large swaths of irrelevant bits

the book is punctuated with long sections detailing medieval Transylvanian politics, and while the author tried to pull it together at the end, he mostly fails, so it's basically half filler. Those parts detract from the interesting parts that resemble his other book Connected, which I expected to be the focus.