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Further reading

Read a selection of books and papers that give a background to systems thinking
Author(s) Title Description
Arrighi, Giovanni The Long Twentieth Century: money, power and the origins of our time  A classic account of the historical origins of our financial system, going back to Genoa in the 15th century
Arthur, W. Brian

Complexity and the Economy 

An introduction to complexity economics, developed in the 1980s and 1990s as an alternative to traditional economics

Arthur, W. Brian

The Nature of Technology. What It Is and How It Evolves

Although this book is mainly about Arthur's ideas on how technological invention and innovation arise as a matter of basic engineering problem solving, it is especially interesting in respect of Systems Thinking: in the way it conceives of the systems of the economy and technology as co-evolving with each other. Technology shapes the economy; the economy shapes technology; back and forth, on and on. Technology, moreover, is understood in a much wider sense than just the "mills and machinery" of production, thus to include, banking and financial systems, legal systems, regulatory systems, etc. Invention and innovation occur in these systems too. 

Ball, Philip

Why Society is a Complex Matter: Meeting Twenty-first Century Challenges with a New Kind of Science 

A guide to understanding society through the lens of complexity science

Barabasi, Albert-laszlo

Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means for Business, Science, and Everyday Life 

An introduction to how an understanding of the interconnectedness of everything can reveal unexpected behaviors

Aspinall, N.G, Jones, S.R, McNeill, E.H, Werner, W.A, Zalk, T

Sustainability and the Financial System - Review of literature 2015

This IFoA sponsored literature review searches academic finance and economic literature for understanding of the interaction between the financial system and the sustainability of the real economy and environment. The limited number of papers identified is a result in itself, but includes extensive reviews and interpretation of the papers found.

Beautement, Patrick

Complexity Demystified: A guide for practitioners 

A guide to how complexity science can be used in practice

Beck, M.B

Cities as Forces for Good in the Environment: Sustainability in the Water Sector

Around the turn of the century, we became familiar with the idea of Triple Bottom Line accountancy: investments made for the benefit of the environment, the economy, and society. To some extent we may recognize this today as ESG investing. This Monograph (a Sustainability Concepts Paper) reworks the triple bottom line into a 15-line scheme, spanning many disciplines, from those dealing with microscopic systems (neuroscience) to those of the macroscopic and global, namely Earth Systems Analysis. Put another way, the Monograph studies the focal matter of Sustainability from a variety of perspectives, encircling it, as it were, from the perspectives of the Natural, Built, and Human environments, from the disciplines (principally) of Ecology, Engineering, and Social Anthropology. It does so against a backdrop of cities and their infrastructures, in particular, that of water. It exercises what we may call multi-disciplinary (or holistic) Systems Thinking, as opposed to other styles of Systems Thinking, notably that of what might be called cross-disciplinary problem solving. 

Beinhocker, Eric

The Origin of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity and the radical remaking of Economics

Eric Beinhocker describes how economies should be seen as complex adaptive systems which will fundamentally change our thinking on topics ranging from technological innovation, to the workings of the stock market and political debates

Blundell-Wignall, A; Atkinson, P; Lee, S.H.

The Current Financial Crisis: Causes and Policy Issues

An analysis of potential and likely causes of the GFC and a focus on better policymaking.  While the paper doesn't explicitly present a system or model, it provides glimpses of the components of the system. 

Bookstaber, Richard

The End of Theory: Financial Crises, the Failure of Economics, and the Sweep of Human Interaction 

An exploration of the human complexities which drive financial systems

Buchanan, Mark

Forecast: What Physics, Meteorology, and the Natural Sciences Can Teach Us About Economics 

An introduction to understanding how feedback loops and other features of complexity can shape economics

Capra, Fritjof and Luisi, Pier Luigi

The Systems View of Life

This book is more a general tour of systems thinking, applicable to all complex systems, rather than being specifically about life. It discusses how systems thinking means shifting focus from the parts to the whole, from quantities to qualities and linear to nonlinear. It covers the scientific method, and the nature of scientific knowledge, which is always limited and approximate, although objective. Once systems thinking is adopted it becomes obvious that perpetual growth is an illusion.

Carroll, Sean

Mind scape podcast

Sean Carroll is a theoretical physicist, he interviews leading thinkers, mostly scientists, on their work. Many of the podcasts touch on issues of complexity, either directly or indirectly

Cohen, Jack and Stewart, Ian

The Collapse of Chaos: Discovering Simplicity in a Complex World 

The book explores complexity theory and how complexity arises in nature and society

Dragoslav, D. Siljak

Decentralized Control of Complex Systems (Dover Books on Electrical Engineering) 

A relatively technical book, which introduces the idea that you have to control complex systems in a different way

Fenton, Norman and Neil, Martin

Risk Assessment and Decision Analysis with Bayesian Networks, 2nd Ed.

A good primer for dealing methodically with cause-and-effect relationships, events and with uncertainty.  It assumes a basic understanding of probabilities, but also gives a primer in that, too.

Ferguson, Niall

The Square and the Tower: Networks, Hierarchies and the Struggle for Global Power 

A view of society as a tension between hierarchies and networks

Forrester, Jay. W

System Dynamics - the next fifty years (speech)

A speech in 2007 by a pioneer of system dynamics thinking and modelling.  He recaps the past 50 years and the progress made using system dynamics to solve important problems.  He summarizes present issues and describes what he believes should happen in the next 50 years.

Galbraith, John Kenneth

The Anatomy of Power

Synopsis from Amazon "Discusses the many sources and instruments of power, and explains how power is utilized by organizations and businesses and in economics and political and military life."  The author provides a useful mode of thinking to understand reasons for system inefficiencies and to think about responses to potential policy responses to address those inefficiencies.

Gell-Mann, Murray

The Quark and the Jaguar

This book is about how the wonderful diversity of the universe can arise out of a set of fairly simple basic laws. It is written by an expert in both the fundamental laws and the complex structures that they can produce.' Stephen Hawking's acclaim of Murray Gell-Mann's literary debut is typical of the reception the book received on first publication in 1994. From one of the twentieth century's greatest scientists comes this unique, highly personal vision of the connections between the basic laws of physics and the complexity and diversity of the natural world. THE QUARK AND THE JAGUAR - the simple and the complex - is an irresistibly engaging and rewarding introduction to the life's work of physicist, polymath and Nobel Laureate Murray Gell-Mann.

Goldin, Ian and Mariathasan, Mike

The Butterfly Defect: How Globalization Creates Systemic Risks, and What to Do about It 

A look at the growing gap between systemic risk and our ability to manage it

Graeber, David

The utopia of rules: on technology, stupidity and the secret joys of bureaucracy

A highly idiosyncratic but enjoyable and insightful take on the anthropology of bureaucracy

Gunderson, Lance and Pritchard, Lowell

Resilience and the Behavior of Large-Scale Systems (Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE) Series Book 60) 

An introduction to the concept of resilience and how it can be influenced by human interaction

Gunderson, Lance H and Holling, C.S.

Panarchy: Understanding transformations in human and natural systems

Understanding how the complex interconnected systems around us can be understood and managed

Haldane, Andrew G

Rethinking the financial network

A seminal paper written by one of the world leading central banking thinkers written at the height of the credit crunch. It considers the financial system as a complex adaptive system and applies some of the lessons from other network disciplines – such as ecology, epidemiology, biology and engineering – to the financial sphere. 

Hazlitt, Henry

Economics in One Lesson

Published in 1946.  Interesting in itself for Hazlitt's non-mainstream economic views, but most notable for his approach to complex economics problems incorporating wider stakeholders and comparing different potential versions of economic systems based on varying the underlying components.

Hidalgo, César

Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies 

This book introduces a view of why growth occurs in different places through the lenses of information, networks and complexity

Jackson, Tim

Prosperity without growth

Is more economic growth the solution? Time Jackson provides a credible vision of how human society can flourish - within the ecological limits of a finite planet.

Laland, Kevin Darwin's unfinished symphony: how culture made the human mind A great introduction to the interaction between culture and evolution
Lent, Jeremy

The patterning instinct

Explores the human journey from the stone age to the space shuttle with systems theory and complexity as a guide. Identifies how the systems view of life may hold the key to humanity's evolution and future survival.

Lewis, Simon and Maslin, Mark

The Human Planet: how we created the Anthropocene

A history and introduction to the concept of the Anthropocene written by two scientists

Livesey, Finbarr

From Global To Local: The making of things and the end of globalization 

An exploration of changing economic drivers and trading structures

Mackenzie, Donald

An Engine, Not a Camera: How Financial Models Shape Markets

From the MIT Press website, "In An Engine, Not a Camera, Donald MacKenzie argues that the emergence of modern economic theories of finance affected financial markets in fundamental ways. These new, Nobel Prize-winning theories, based on elegant mathematical models of markets, were not simply external analyses but intrinsic parts of economic processes."

Marczyk, Jacek

Complexity and Resilience Rating: New Paradigms in Finance, Economics and Sustainable Investment 

Introduces one way to apply complexity to thinking about financial systems with a different quantitative metric than probability of default

Martin, Felix

Money - the unauthorized biography

What is money, and how does it work? Felix Martin looks through the history of money and demonstrates its original interpretation as credit rather than commodity money.

McGilchrist, Iain

The Master and his Emissary

Why is the brain divided? McGilchrist argues that the left and right hemispheres have differing insights, values and priorities. We need both hemispheres, but he argues that the left has become so far dominant that we're in danger of everything that makes us human.

Meadows, Donella and Wright, Diana

Thinking in Systems: a Primer 

A great intro to Systems Thinking written by its doyenne & a vital read for all concerned with economics, business, sustainability and the environment. Explains clearly stocks, flows, feedback loops  etc and how these combine to create stable, effective or unstable, dysfunctional systems. 

Meadows, Donella; Randers, Jorgen, Meadows Dennis

Limits to Growth - the 30-year update

The original limits to growth was written in 1972. Armed with 30 years additional data these authors sound alarm on humanities devastating effects on climate, water quality, fisheries, forests, and other imperiled resources.

Miller, John and Page, Scott

Complex Adaptive Systems: An introduction to computational models of social life

A very interesting introduction to how complexity science can help you understand emergence, self-organization and the relevance of networks in studying systems involving people

Mitchell, Melanie

Complexity: A Guided Tour 

A very accessible book which introduces complexity science as a tool to understand everyday phenomena

Pagel, Mark

Wired for culture

Shedding light on everything from art, morality and affection to jealousy, self-interest and prejudice, Pagel shows that we developed culture in order to survive.

Polanyi, Karl

The Great Transformation: The political and economic origins of our time

A classic account of how free market ideology in the 19th century caused the system of the time to move to introduce counteractive measures

Silver, Nate

The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction 

Understanding the systems around us and how to predict their behaviors (and how to avoid common pitfalls)

Silver, Nick

Finance, Society and Sustainability: How to Make the Financial System Work for the Economy, People and Planet 

A critical look at how the financial system impacts the economy, society and the natural environment

Sornette, Didier

Why Stock Markets Crash: Critical Events in Complex Financial Systems 

A look at the use of complex systems science to predict crashes, financial crises and other phenomena

Stacey, Ralph D.

Complexity and Organizational Reality: Uncertainty and the Need to Rethink Management after the Collapse of Investment Capitalism 

A view of organizations as complex systems and the implications for how management needs to be done differently

Tainter, Joseph A.

The collapse of complex societies

Dr Tainter describes nearly two dozen cases of collapse and reviews more than 2000 years of explanations. He develops a far-reaching theory that accounts for collapse as a function of the complexity of a civilization. When complexity is the problem in the way forming solutions to crises, complex civilizations must collapse.

Taleb, Nassim N.

Antifragile. Things That Gain from Disorder

From the inside flap: "Taleb … reveals how to thrive in an uncertain world. Just as human bones get stronger when subjected to stress and tension, and rumors or riots intensify when someone tries to repress them, many things in life benefit from stress, disorder, volatility, and turmoil. What Taleb has identified and calls 'antifragile' is that category of things that not only gain from chaos but need it in order to survive and flourish." To add to this, whereas Systems Ecologist Holling introduces us to, and develops, his understanding of the generic, cross-disciplinary (systemic) property of resilience in a system's behavior, Taleb does the same for antifragility. The two properties are similar, but (usefully) not identical, as argued in a review of Antifragile at

Tett, Gillian

The Silo Effect: Why every organization needs to disrupt itself to survive

Thinking about things in silos is dangerous and this book explores how looking across those silos can bring insights

The Bank of England and the Procyclicality Working Group

Procyclicality and structural trends in investment allocation by insurance companies and pension funds

A study by a BoE working party into how life companies and pension funds invest. This paper evidences procylical and heading behaviors and inappropriate de-risking and short-term-ism, and identifies the sources of such problems.

Thompson, Michael

Organizing and Disorganizing: A Dynamic and Non-linear Theory of Institutional Emergence and Its Implications 

An anthropological view of a cultural theory of risk – seeing the world as being in one of five different states, each trying to disrupt the others.

Tranquillo, Joe

An Introduction to Complex Systems: Making Sense of a Changing World​ 

An introduction to the complexity sciences and how they can be applied to everyday situations. Slightly more technical than the Miller-Page book

Ulanowicz, Robert E.

Ecology - the ascendant perspective

This book presents a robust central paradigm derived from information theory, ecosystem energetics, and complexity theory. The result is a theoretical and empirical tool kit better able to measure the developmental status of any living community. This books is a challenge to existing Newtonian and Darwinian paradigms.

Waldrop, M. Mitchell

Complexity. The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos.

From the back cover of the original 1993 edition: "Why did the stock market crash more than 500 points on a single Monday in 1987? Why do ancient species often remain stable in the fossil record for millions of years and then suddenly disappear? In a world where nice guys often finish last, why do humans value trust and cooperation? At first glance these questions don't appear to have anything in common, but in fact every one of these statements refers to a complex system. The science of complexity studies how single elements, such as species or a stock, spontaneously organize into complicated structures like ecosystems and economies; stars become galaxies, and snowflakes avalanches almost as if these systems were obeying a hidden yearning for order."

Werner, Richard

New paradigm in macroeconomics

Professor Werner challenges the traditional paradigm of macroeconomics by exploring enigmas from the Japanese economic experience of the 90s. By placing the role of banks as credit creators at the centre of the economy he identifies the new paradigm and makes clear policy recommendations.

West, Geoffrey

Scale - the universal laws of life and death in organisms, cities and companies

Geoffrey West applies the rigor of physics to questions of biology, cities and the business world. This leads to insights about how all complex systems are dancing to the same tune, however diverse and unrelated they may seem.

Zimmer, Carl

Parasite Rex: Inside the bizarre world of nature's most dangerous creatures

Parasites are not only among the most evolved species on earth, but make up the majority of life's diversity.

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    In the UK, the idea of collective defined contribution (CDC) pension schemes is gaining more attention with the launch of the Royal Mail CDC scheme, the first of its kind in the UK. Our recent research on CDC plans investigates the sources of the putative benefits of CDC schemes: the smoothing of pensions for members.  Using an attribution analysis to burrow into the scheme design, the reason for the smoothing of members' pensions is explained and understood.

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