It Is A Small World After All

“All I know is I am not a Marxist.”
Karl Marx 1818-1883
41 Maitland Park Road, London

Karl Marx’s Last Home
41 Maitland Park Road

Yesterday I discovered that some of my ancestors lived two doors away from Karl Marx’s last London home only a few years after he died in 1883 (they may even have been living there at the same time as Marx, but that has yet to be proved). Earlier this year I confirmed that another branch of the family living at the same time in Canada was related to Ulysses S. Grant, 18th President of the United States.

These coincidences started me thinking about the phenomenon called “six degrees of separation” which is the theory that we are all only six people away from any other individual in the world (for more on the theory, aka the small world effect, and its increasing popularity see WLO: January/February 2000: Six degrees of separation).

This theory originated in 1967 but in 1997 some bright sparks thought of using the Internet Movie Database to demonstrate the theory on a small scale. I don’t know why they picked on poor Kevin Bacon, but you can try it out for yourself by viewing UVA Computer Science: The Oracle of Bacon at Virginia.

So in terms of connections between people, is the world getting bigger or smaller? There are more people in the world than ever before, so that should increase the degree of separation. On the other hand communication is easier than ever before, so that should decrease the degree of separation. Perhaps the two trends are just cancelling one another out and the degree of separation remains largely the same.

I wonder if anything else links Karl Marx and Ulysses S. Grant? Yes indeed. A quick search via Google suggests that:

  • both were born under the astrological sign of Taurus;
  • both suffered migraine headaches;
  • and both knew Horace Greeley, founder and editor of the New York Tribune.

Greeley employed Marx as European correspondent for the Tribune in the 1850s and lost resoundingly to Grant in the US Presidential election of 1872.