Book Review: “The Rules of Contagion: Why Things Spread – and Why They Stop”

Considering the all-too-familiar with the COVID-19 pandemic, the concept of contagion and something spreading from one person to the next, has been poorly understood until now. Adam Kucharski, a Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, demonstrates how COVID-19 (as well as other epidemics) and viral social media content behave in a
remarkably similar fashion.

Without drawing too much on the theoretical side of social networks,
Kucharski demonstrates the power of these connections between individuals in terms of their ability to reach masses of people at scale. For example, say,
one person passes a message to three people. Every time this is repeated it
grows exponentially reaching many people on the way, with very few connections. That means 1 becomes 3, then 3 becomes 9, 27, 81, 243, … etc

This book increases awareness for this phenomenon by relating it to issues
such as fake news (and how it can spread like wildfire via social media) and
epidemics (and how they can be prevented). This demonstrates the potential of social networks as a mechanism to achieve maximum disruption.

As someone who is familiar with the concepts of social network analysis and network science more broadly, I found this a fascinating book to read although, I feel that some of the explanations are not so obvious – especially for those who do not have a background in social science.

Overall, The Rules of Contagion is a fascinating book for understanding how
and why things spread and grow at such a rapid rate and is a must-read for
anyone getting interested in social network analysis or social computing should.