“I read somewhere that everybody on this planet is separated by only six other people. Six degrees of separation. Between us and everybody else on this planet. The president of the United States. A gondolier in Venice. Fill in the names. … It’s not just big names. It’s anyone. A native in a rain forest. A Tierra del Fuegan. An Eskimo. I am bound to everyone on this planet by a trail of six people. It’s a profound thought. … How every person is a new door, opening up into other worlds.” — John Guare, “Six Degrees of Separation” (1990)
THE RARE FIRST EDITION OF THE BOOK THAT INTRODUCED THE IDEA OF “SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION” AS A FUNDAMENTAL CHARACTERISTIC OF SOCIAL NETWORKS.
One of the key characteristics of social networks is what is known as the “small world phenomenon” — the idea that every individual can be linked to every other individual through a relatively short chain of acquaintance relationships. “[T]he first significant empirical study of [the phenomenon] was undertaken by the social psychologist Stanley Milgram, who asked randomly chosen ‘starter individuals’ to each try forwarding a letter to a designated ‘target’ person living in the town of Sharon, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston... Roughly a third of the letters eventually arrived at the target, in a median of six steps, and this has since served as basic experimental evidence for the existence of short paths in the global friendship network, linking all (or almost all) of us together in society” (David Easley and John Kleinberg, “Networks, Crowds, and Markets: Reasoning About a Highly Connected World” (2010)). Since the time of Milgram’s original research — first published in the charter issue of the magazine Psychology Today — the concept has been validated by, among other things, analysis of Facebook and Twitter data. (See Mark Newman, “Networks” (Oxford 2018), ch. 10.) It is Milgram’s work, however, that led John Guare to give the phenomenon its modern name, “six degrees of separation” — actually something of a misnomer since the 44 paths reported in Milgram’s original study had a mean length of 5.4 and a median length of 5 (although, to be fair, the modal path length was 6).
But the idea, if not the empirical and theoretical research to back it up, long preceded Milgram. In fact, it originated in 1929, in the work offered here, a collection of stories by the Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy. In the short story “Láncszemek” (“Chain Links”), the narrator explains that “one of us suggested performing the following experiment to prove that the population of the Earth is closer together now than they have ever been before. We should select any person from the 1.5 billion inhabitants of the Earth — anyone, anywhere at all. He bet us that, using no more than five individuals, one of whom is a personal acquaintance, he could contact the selected individual using nothing except the network of personal acquaintances.” (Adam Makkai’s translation).
Karinthy’s story “investigated in abstract, conceptual, and fictional terms many of the problems that would captivate future generations of mathematicians, sociologists, and physicists within the field of network theory... “ (CTI Reviews: Elementary Statistics). “Without any pretensions to scientific rigor or proof, Karinthy tackled and suggested answers to one of the deep problems in the theory of networks. In ‘Chains,’ Karinthy argues, as Jules Verne did fifty years earlier, that the world is getting smaller. Unlike Verne in ‘Around the World in Eighty Days,’ however, Karinthy proposes to demonstrate his thesis not by physical means — circumnavigating the globe — but by a social argument. He claims that people are increasingly connected to each other via their acquaintances, and that the dense web of friendship surrounding each person leads to an interconnected world in which everyone on Earth is at most five acquaintances away from everyone else” (Mark Newman, et al., The Structure and Dynamics of Networks.
(a) a copy of the May 1967 issue (volume 1, issue 1) of Psychology Today, containing the first publication of Stanley Milgram’s research on “The Small-World Problem”; and (b) the true first edition (in softcover, preceding the hardback publication) of John Guare’s play “Six Degrees of Separation,” signed by the author.
Budapest: Athenaeum, 1929. Small octavo (120x182), original patterned and gilt-decorated cloth. Cloth exceptionally fresh with only a touch of wear at top of spine, small paper split between half-title and title (but everything holding), mild toning to page edges (as expected with this paper stock).
EXCEEDINGLY RARE: WE KNOW OF NO OTHER COPY THAT HAS BEEN ON THE MARKET.
Price: $7,500 .