I've written three books, each of which explores how the basic ideas of physics can be applied outside of physics, and can help us make sense of the human world. I'm currently working on a fourth book -- tentatively titled The Physics of Finance -- which will be all about how the ideas and concepts of physics can help us understand financial systems (and economic systems) more clearly.

You'll find some information on my previous books below, including links to some reviews (which have generally been very positive). I'll begin with The Social Atom, published in 2007 in the U.S. (Bloomsbury Press) and U.K. (Cyan Press) and in many other countries around the world since then. For more information on my books Ubiquity or Small World (Nexus in the U.S.), scroll down the page.

The Social Atom

In this book I argue that we should learn to think of people as the "atoms" of the social world, and learn to do social science more in the way that physicists do physics. Let me explain in a little more detail.

In physics, researchers have had a pretty good picture of how single atoms work for nearly a century. Today, alot of physics research involves trying to understand the myriad organized forms of matter that result when those relatively simple atoms go together in different patterns. Water is a liquid when it comes out of the tap; put it into the freezer and it turns to solid ice. What makes that happen? What happens when water boils and turns to vapor? Ultimately, it is all down to the way the atoms fit together; the patterns by which they fall together in the substance. Take the very same atoms and put them together differently and you get completely new things. Diamond, which is made of carbon atoms, becomes the soft graphite of a pencil tip. The key insight in an area of physics known as "condensed matter" physics is that almost all of the properties of a substance — its being a liquid or solid, whether it is soft or hard, elastic or brittle, its color � have to do with how the atoms or molecules inside are put together. A lot of modern physics is really concerned with understanding how this can be; how organization can emerge on its own, the laws by which it forms, and so on. (A good popular book exploring this idea is A Different Universe by Robert Laughlin, winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in physics).

In The Social Atom I explore how scientists are beginning to see that much the same is true when you look at the social world. Much more than their individual personalities, what is most important is the patterns of how people interact. Just as you can study the atoms in a diamond in infinite detail and never answer why it is diamond and not graphite, you�d never understand the social world even if you knew everything about individual people. So in a sense, physics and social science really face much the same problem � trying to understand how relatively simple parts get put together to create wholes, collective systems with properties all their own.

The book won't be available until the first week of June, but I've put together a brief set of questions and answers (publicity people use these when a book is launched to help them get a good idea of what it is about) that you can see here. I hope this will stir you to get the book when it comes out! So far a few people who have read the book have had nice things to say about it. Here are a few examples:

I'm very proud to say that no less a figure than Thomas Schelling, a legendary economic theorist and co-recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize in economics, liked the book and wrote that...

"This lucid and friendly introduction to social theory requires no mathematical or other prerequisites, is full of surprises, and introduces some new ways of thinking about the way human beings interact with each other."

Lee Mcintyre, professor in the philosophy of science at Boston University and strong critic of the current state of social theory (see his wonderful book Dark Ages) wrote that...

"I devoured this book as if it contained the secret answer to the human condition — as indeed it might. To those who have watched the social world unravel in recent decades and wondered why we couldn�t do better, Mark Buchanan offers a disarmingly simple solution: emulate the methods of explanation that have already proven themselves effective in the study of nature. The Social Atom is briskly written, informative, and deals with problems of the highest order. Read it and get a glimpse of the coming revolution in the social sciences.

Finally, the well-known writer Mike Davis wasn't exactly thrilled with the book, but the author of bestsellers Planet of Slums and Buddha's Wagon makes it very clear that he wasn't bored by it...

"Seldom has a book so infuriated me yet kept me tightly gripped to each page. This is a first-class attack on the smugness of the Humanities by a brilliant provocateur: a disturbing challenge to all of us who think we understand something about the logic of social action and the patterns of history."

Small World (published as Nexus in the U.S.)

In this book I explored the emerging new science of complex networks, which has been stimulated by the recent work of physicists and is advancing very rapidly. If you look at the physical layout of the Internet (computer linked by telephone lines or satellite links), or the wiring pattern of neurons in the human brain, or the tangled web of social bonds that links together a community, you'll see in each case what looks like an unintelligable mess. You'd see the same bewildering complexity in the network of predator-prey relationships in any ecosystem, and in many other settings — in networks of economic trade, for example. But in fact these and many other natural networks, despite their apparent complexity, possess a hidden order and share deep architectural similarities. Physicists and mathematicians over the past decade have begun learning how to understand the architecture of such networks, and to build up a real science that explains how and why they have the structures they do. Small World offers a snapshot of this recent explosion of research.

This book ws shortlisted for the Aventis science writing prize in year 2003. You can read some representative reviews in Science, Nature, Physics World, those in the American Scientist and in some blogs such as this one.


This was first book, publlished in year 2000. In many ways I think it has been my most successful book, perhaps because it was the most imaginative. The book makes the argument that modern historians are locked in the past and, in their interpretations of human history, work with a set of philosophical concepts and ideas about how systems change that come from the physics of several centuries ago (especially astronomy). The conceptual categories that use to interpret change are very limited. The book argues that historians could and should greatly expand their tool-kit for thinking about the world by learning new concepts that have entered physics in the past few decades. I've been very encouraged by the reactions of historians, economists, physicists and many others.

A representative review is this one by the well-known historian Niall Ferguson writing in Nature. Here's another by Edward Skidelsky in the New Statesman.