My Books

Crashes, Crises, and Calamities

How We Can Use Science to Read the Early-Warning Signs

ISBN 0465021026 (hb)
Basic Books (2011)

Why do certain civilizations, societies and ecosystems collapse? Can mathematics help explain a failing marriage? How does the domino effect relate to the credit crunch? And under what circumstances can animals predict natural disasters?

The future is uncertain – we all know that. But, with the help of popular scientist Len Fisher, we can all better foretell what lies ahead. Drawing on ecology and biology, mathematics and physics, Crashes, Crises and Calamities demonstrates how to expect the unexpected, both in our daily lives and in a larger global context. Fisher explains how the fundamental tools that help scientists and engineers forecast the likelihood of sudden changes can actually help us recognize key indicators for potential disaster, which include dangerous concentrations of stress and increasing swings between extreme states. But beyond that, observing the behavior of animals in their natural habitat and humans throughout history can teach us how to act before a fully-fledged catastrophe is upon us today. From the demise of a species to the spread of panic amidst a crowd, from the collapse of relationships to the onset of global warming, Fisher uncovers how we can plan for events that might otherwise take us by surprise.

See also my interviews with Salon and Wired magazine.

Crashes, Crises, and Calamities: How We Can Use Science to Read the Early-Warning Signs

Comments from Experts

“With this third book in his trilogy of exploration into how to address some of society’s most complex and vexing problems, Len Fisher challenges us to rethink how science and mathematics is used in what might be called ‘crisis prediction and management.’ This book is getting me to rethink some of my own work.”

Scott M. Cooper

MIT Research Affiliate, co-author of Coolhunting

“Excellent discussion of the most important problem of our time.”

Yaneer Bar-Yam

Professor and President, New England Complex Systems Institute

“Fisher is a master story-teller, making difficult scientific concepts seem simple through elegant exposition. Crashes, Crises, and Calamities addresses the challenge of disaster prediction in socio-economic, ecological, and physical systems by a brilliant and engaging integration of diverse scientific perspectives.”

Simon A. Levin

Moffett Professor of Biology, Princeton University; author of Fragile Dominion

“Len Fisher is a natural storyteller, and his tales about the mathematics of crashes, crises, and calamities keep the pages turning. A great way to find out what the world’s mathematicians are doing to forecast and prevent disasters of all kinds.”

Ian Stewart

author of Professor Stewart’s Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities

Extracts from Reviews

Crashes, Crises, and Calamities is a small book that opens its readers’ eyes to the big picture. The language is simple, even homey, and Fisher deftly illustrates complex mathematical concepts with familiar examples…. [T]he value in this work is the nudge it gives us to step back from our narrow interests and consider possible connections with other fields, perhaps even inducing a critical transition in our own thought processes.

David Ludden

PsycCRITIQUES (American Psychological Association)

Fisher has put together … an entertaining collection of interconnected threads, many of which weave together in an entertaining, thought-provoking manner.

Jared Wade

“Risk Management”

The volume is remarkably well written and could be presented as a superb example of the English language. There are 46 pages of end-notes, themselves a stand-alone treasure. This book warrants universal popularity.

J.D. Ives

“Choice” (American Library Association)

… a serious but fun tour of the science of prediction … Crashes, Crises, and Calamities may not have all the answers, but this book certainly gets you on a good path to asking the right questions.

Robert Schaefer

New York Journal of Books

Crashes, Crises and Calamities is well-suited for all readers who want to think creatively about their own and the world’s future.

Rick Docksai

“The Futurist”

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