The long and awkward subtitle of Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies says it all: it’s a long and often awkward book that tries to tie together physics, biology, geography, and business — and I found is fascinating despite its gawky structure. The core of the book is simple: scale matters and the world does not usually work linearly so that a large animal (like an elephant) is much more efficient than a small one (say, a mouse). Same for cities and perhaps for companies, too. The author has gathered scores of examples to illustrate his points, from heartbeats to growth rates to income and patent filings to, more surprisingly, crime and stomach flu.
Now to the not-so-accomplished part: the author insist on explaining everything in “plain English” which makes for eye-watering complication and length. I salute his concerns for the less numerically literate but he would have been better off to include a simple (graphical) lesson about exponential functions and logarithms — and proceed with equations and graphs. And his belabored references to the Santa Fe Institute, which he directed for a while, could be streamlined into a single tribute. Still, this is a wonderful look at how the very large is very different from the very small.