Book Review: How Nature Works

per-bak-how-nature-worksHow Nature works is a fascinating book. I first heard of the late Per Bak and his sandpile theories when I some time back read an article by Koubatis and Schönberger (1995) on Risk management of complex critical systems. At that time I had just discovered the International Journal of Critical Infrastructure, and I was perusing their archives for articles I could use in my research on transportation vulnerability. Koubatis and Schönberger actually consider Per Bak’s “sandpile” model to be as relevant to business and society as Adam Smith’s legendary “invisible hand”. When I read that I was simply compelled to investigate more.

Self-organized systems

I looked up Per Bak on Wikipedia and was intrigued by his theories, but I put it aside as not particularly relevant to me at that time. Currently I am writing a book chapter on risks in Virtual Enterprise Networks (VENs), as described by Ken Thompson in The Networked Enterprise and it was as a background for VENs that Per Bak’s sandpile model came into my mind again. A VEN is a collection of loosely coupled businesses, self-organized and more efficient than traditional businesses, and it’s the self-organizing concept that I needed to understand more about. How nature works provided me with that understanding. Chapter 11 on economics was particularly helpful here. Actually, every economist should read that chapter. It has certainly widened my horizon. How Nature Works


Koubatis, A., & Schönberger, J. Y. (2005). Risk management of complex critical systems. International Journal of Critical Infrastructures, 1(2/3), 195-215.

Jan Husdal is an engineer turned researcher turned engineer again and he is now a Resilience Adviser with the Southern Region office of the Norwegian Public Roads Administration (Statens vegvesen Region sør) in Arendal, Norway,

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