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Who's Bigger? [Kindle Edition]

Steven Skiena , Charles Ward

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'This is all fun: reputational face-offs are great entertainment. And, shrewdly, Skiena and Ward have an app. More seriously, historians will put quantitative analysis to good use - and their model may help historiographers grapple with Wikipedia.' New Scientist

'I confess to simply liking the book. I still do not care about the great order of things; nonetheless, I very much appreciate a huge amount of fascinating detail that the book makes available at one's fingertips, and the orderly manner in which it does that.' Alex Bogomolny, MAA Reviews

'… the authors' enthusiasm and sense of play are infectious.' Cass Sunstein, The New Republic

Über das Produkt

In this fascinating book, Skiena and Ward bring quantitative analysis to bear on ranking and comparing historical reputations, aggregating the traces of millions of opinions, as Google ranks webpages. They present rankings of thousands of history's most significant people in science, politics, entertainment, and all areas of human endeavor.


  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • Dateigröße: 60965 KB
  • Seitenzahl der Print-Ausgabe: 391 Seiten
  • Gleichzeitige Verwendung von Geräten: Bis zu 4 Geräte gleichzeitig, je nach vom Verlag festgelegter Grenze
  • Verlag: Cambridge University Press; Auflage: 1 (31. Oktober 2013)
  • Verkauf durch: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Sprache: Englisch
  • ASIN: B00EZ3VF34
  • Text-to-Speech (Vorlesemodus): Aktiviert
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Aktiviert
  • Amazon Bestseller-Rang: #555.412 Bezahlt in Kindle-Shop (Siehe Top 100 Bezahlt in Kindle-Shop)

  •  Ist der Verkauf dieses Produkts für Sie nicht akzeptabel?

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Die hilfreichsten Kundenrezensionen auf (beta) 3.5 von 5 Sternen  23 Rezensionen
15 von 17 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen This book is astounding and outstanding. 11. Dezember 2013
Von Daniel A. Ray - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
I've read the hand full of negative reviews, and it seems clear that the problem people have with this book is that they are expecting something very different from what this book is. It is NOT a history book. It is NOT a book which claims to rank individuals based on some artificial metric (the authors leave that squarely on the "capable" shoulders of many a humanities scholar, and it is not attempting to do ANYTHING besides take an objective, mathematically grounded survey of one particular (very unique and very popular) resource, using newly developed algorithmic techniques. You may disagree with the results in one of two ways. First, you can disagree with the people on the list and have your own favorites. Good for you, you are free to argue however you like about how great a particular individual is in your life or based on your personal metrics, but this is beside the point of this book. You can also argue that the algorithms used are flawed; but you will ALSO equally have to argue that the proof that the authors offer that their algorithms are properly aligned is flawed; a difficult task I believe.

When you read this book, if you remove yourself from your expectations and biases, you will see that the list is more or less the secondary result of the work presented in this book. The real reason why this book is great is that it represents a fascinating intersection of analytics and the humanities (think sabermetrics or the successes of Nate Silver, but better). It provides a unique tool for parsing huge sets of data, impartial in its very nature, whose implications are just BEGINNING to be explored. It is a brand new lens for exploring; from how textbooks are written, to how halls of fame are filled and what that means about who we are.

Is it all things to all men? No. Is it biased toward the Englsh language? Decidedly and self-admittedly, but also inconsequentially, because it invites further study and entices further such pursuits. Is the list holy and sacrosanct, or even REALLY the point of the book? Again, no.

The results are the results, and the list is the list, and if the list challenges you or is lacking in some way, then it's because those shortcomings are the mere reflections of societies shortcomings (again, admittedly; the list reveals that women have to do comparatively more, historically, to reach equal significance), and the bulk of the book is about exploring what the list means about us.
9 von 10 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Very good book -- if you actually read it 10. Dezember 2013
Von Arnout van de Rijt - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
Skiena and Ward are first-class scientists. If you don't read the actual book you can make up a lot to dislike about it. For example, you could cherry-pick some rankings of historical figures that strike you as exhibiting extreme bias of some sort, ignore the authors' qualifications of their data, and pretend like this is a naive book. You could also read the book, find that the authors are very much aware of the limitations of their data and discover that instead they use the usable parts of it in clever ways to provide interesting insights. I recommend you do the latter.
10 von 13 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen A fascinating application of mathematics to history 1. November 2013
Von Amazon Customer - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
If you like history you should read this book. If you like mathematics you should read this book. If you like baseball you should read this book. If you simply like to argue you should read this book. With rankings of individual's historical significance in areas ranging from religion and philosophy, literature, popular music, science and technology to dictators and despots, there's something in this well-written, entertaining, and informative book to appeal to just about any interest you may have. Plenty of charts and graphs make it accessible even to people who don't enjoy reading.

You will certainly disagree strongly with some of the rankings. Winston Churchill only the 37th most significant historical figure? I think not. Robert Peel the most significant figure born on my birthday? I hope not. But such disagreements enhance the enjoyment of the book, not distract from it.

Educators and parents may be especially interested in Chapter 3: Who Belongs in Bonnie's Textbook? This chapter considers the historical significance of people appearing in a fifth grade U.S. history text, and finds a disproportionate number of people with weak significance present. As the author's write, "Do we believe Bonnie's textbook should be populated only by figures of the highest significance rank? Of course not. But we do feel that the large-scale presence of historical figures of weak significance in elementary school textbooks is a phenomenon worth questioning."

(full disclosure: I've known the first author since first year at the University of Virginia in 1979, and I reviewed an early version of the manuscript. Neither of these facts would cause me to rate this book highly if I didn't really enjoy it.)
2 von 2 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen What can quantitative methods contribute to historiography? 18. Januar 2014
Von Charlie Johnson - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
Entertaining, provocative, fresh. Who's Bigger? contains the results of and commentary on a computer algorithm that used source data from Wikipedia and Google to rank the most significant historical figures. Beside the list itself, the book has two main sections. Roughly the first half of the book explains the development, meaning, and value of the list. It also looks at other ways that people have tried to create a canon of historical figures (history books, halls of fame, etc.) and compares them with the list. The second half of the book breaks the list into various categories of people (US Presidents, world leaders, artists, etc.) to show how the ranking data can be used to tell certain kinds of historical narratives. One creative chapter told the story of recorded history by dividing each century into five 20-year blocks and focusing on the most significant person born in that block.

It would be easy to take the details of the list too seriously, e.g., this person should be #12, not #9, or Aristotle before Plato? However, I think the greater danger lies in not taking the authors' achievement seriously enough. One thing history provides people is calibration. It is only through history that we realize that things such as democracy, Western dominance, universal education, and effective medical treatment are not given by nature but the outcomes of contingent processes, outcomes that distinguish the present from the majority of history. History also takes the individual out of his or her corner of the world, enriching his or her canon of significant figures through contact with those of other civilizations. I believe this book can be a tool for calibrating one's historical sense. One chapter uses the list to critique one of the authors' daughter's fifth grade history textbook. The question is how well calibrated the book is to its subject matter. (It is debatable, of course, whether only the most significant historical figures should be included in history education. "Everyperson" figures have their uses, and who exactly gets included will always be largely arbitrary. My guess is that some of the more puzzling figures in the daughter's textbook were subjects of the contributors' personal research.)

I am a professional historian. This book made me think more deeply about what historical significance means and about how it can be distinguished from mere popularity or notoriety. (The algorithm was designed to make precisely those distinctions and seems to do so pretty well.) It also challenged me to imagine what kinds of quantitative analysis would most enrich my work. Finally, it was thoroughly entertaining. The authors have a gift for drawing useful morals out of seemingly trivial topics, such as who gets included in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Works of this sort are no substitutes for histories that narrate events and discuss causes, but they are welcome additions.
2 von 2 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
3.0 von 5 Sternen Very interesting study -- but did the authors bite off more than they could chew? 14. Dezember 2013
Von Phil in Mågnøliá - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
This book was reported on recently by Time Magazine (their piece titled "The 100 Most Significant Figures in History"), and the premise of the work is quite interesting. This is not a study based upon some survey or collective opinion from a group of historians or academicians, as one would normally expect. Rather, it reports on the work done by two computer scientists -- Steven S. Skiena, Distinguished Teaching Professor of Computer Science at Stony Brook University, and Charles B. Ward, engineer on the search engine team at Google.

The Time article explains how the study was conducted:

"When we set out to rank the significance of historical figures, we decided to not approach the project the way historians might, through a principled assessment of their individual achievements. Instead, we evaluated each person by aggregating millions of traces of opinions into a computational data-centric analysis. We ranked historical figures just as Google ranks web pages, by integrating a diverse set of measurements about their reputation into a single consensus value."

"Historically significant figures leave statistical evidence of their presence behind, if one knows where to look for it, and we used several data sources to fuel our ranking algorithms, including Wikipedia, scanned books and Google n-grams"

"...we adjusted for the fact that today's stars will fade from living memory over the next several generations... By analyzing traces left in millions of scanned books, we can measure just how fast this decay occurs, and correct for it..."

"Since we analyzed the English Wikipedia, we admittedly measured the interests and judgments of primarily the Western, English-speaking community... Our algorithms also don't include many women at the very top... This is at least partially due to women being underrepresented in Wikipedia".

The authors then dissect the study results and examine how individuals in many different fields and pursuits were ranked - Part II of the book examines American political figures, modern world leaders, individuals in science and technology, religion and philosophy, sports and the arts.

And here is where I almost immediately found an error, leaving some doubt in my mind regarding the rigor and accuracy of the work the authors have presented.

In Chapter 14, the authors present a tabulation of the "most significant classical composers", stating that "19 rank among the most 500 significant figures in history".

Except -- they have overlooked two composers at least - from the top 100, Richard Wagner is at #62 on the list and Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky is at #63. If the full listing of 500 was examined then how many more composers may have also been omitted? And I haven't examined any of the other tabulations to determine whether or not other omissions may have been made in those specific listings.

This is unfortunate. The study is fascinating and perhaps ground-breaking. But the authors need to step back and carefully examine the conclusions that they are presenting. If this reviewer has been able to catch a fairly obvious error so quickly, then it suggests that others may be present as well. Once these are fixed, the book will be fully deserving of 5 stars.
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