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Scale summary

Geoffrey West

The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies and Companies

4 (68 ratings)
23 mins

Brief summary

Scale by Geoffrey West is a scientific exploration of universal laws that govern the growth and development of living organisms, cities and companies. He argues that fundamental scaling principles underlie everything from the smallest cells to the largest metropolises.

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    A hidden pattern sustains all life and culture.

    Earth is home to over 8 million different species, from microscopic bacteria to enormous blue whales, as well as an incredible diversity of social life, cultures, cities and traditions.

    It can be quite overwhelming to think about. But the truth is that there are some surprising systematic patterns behind the complexity of biological and socioeconomic life. For instance, if you plot a graph of the metabolic rate of animals – that is, the amount of energy they spend per unit of time – against the body mass of those animals, you’ll see a perfectly straight line.

    That’s right; the metabolic rate of any animal from a mouse to an elephant is perfectly fixed relative to its body mass. Not only that, but if in the same equation you substitute the metabolic rate for the total number of heartbeats in an animal’s life, you’ll get another straight line!

    There is, however, one trick at play. To get this result, the scales need to be logarithmic, meaning the units on each axis need to increase by factors of ten, so from one to ten to 100, and so on.

    Take an example from the world of economics: if you plot out the number of patents registered in a city against that city’s population, you’ll find that the number of patents will increase 15 percent faster than the population, also producing a straight line.

    Are these incredible correlations mere coincidences?

    Hardly. What you’re actually observing are called scaling relationships. The examples above are just a peek into the ways organisms and cities scale with size, and understanding this phenomenon can illuminate much about the world.

    For instance, new drugs are often tested on mice to model the way they’ll impact the human body. However, mice are of course much smaller than people – so how can scientists draw conclusions about humans from tests on rodents? Well, scaling can explain the answer. In the following blinks, you’ll learn about other incredible ways scaling can explain organisms, cities and even companies.

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    What is Scale about?

    Scale (2017) is a glimpse into the hidden and fascinating world of the mathematical relationships that tie the world together. The blinks describe how such laws connect everything from microscopic organisms to international metropolises, and what they can tell us about the behavior of complex systems.

    Scale Review

    Scale (2017) by Geoffrey West is a fascinating exploration of how scaling affects everything in our universe. Here are three reasons why you should definitely pick up this book:

    • It provides eye-opening insights into the patterns and dynamics of scaling, from biological organisms to cities and companies, helping us understand our complex world better.
    • Through well-researched examples and accessible explanations, it demonstrates the importance of scaling laws in predicting the behavior and potential of different systems.
    • With its engaging blend of scientific research, anecdotes, and thought-provoking ideas, the book presents a fresh perspective on the interconnections between growth and sustainability.

    Best quote from Scale

    Godzilla could not exist. Still, scaling laws allow a few calculations: Godzilla would pee some 20,000 liters of urine per day and poop three tons of feces.

    —Geoffrey West
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    Who should read Scale?

    • Physicists, biologists, mathematicians and economists
    • City planners, company owners and innovators
    • Environmentalists and anyone interested in sustainable development

    About the Author

    Geoffrey West is a theoretical physicist whose interests range from the fundamental questions of physics to biology and global sustainability. He is a distinguished professor at the Santa Fe Institute and a visiting professor at Oxford University, Imperial College and Nanyang Technical University in Singapore. He was listed on Time magazine’s 2006 list of the “100 Most Influential People In the World.”

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    Scale FAQs 

    What is the main message of Scale?

    The main message of Scale is that scaling laws govern everything from organisms to cities, offering insights into the patterns and dynamics of complex systems.

    How long does it take to read Scale?

    The reading time for Scale varies depending on the reader's speed, but it typically takes several hours. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Scale a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Scale is worth reading because it provides a fascinating exploration of how scaling laws influence diverse phenomena, sparking new perspectives on the world around us.

    Who is the author of Scale?

    The author of Scale is Geoffrey West.

    What to read after Scale?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Scale, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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