In graph theory, we work with adjacency matrices which define the connections between the vertices. These matrices have various properties in themselves. For example, their trace can be calculated (it is zero in the case of a nonrecursive graph). And we can also calculate their determinants. How would you interpret the determinant in the context of a graph? For example, I teach network theory and the calculation of eigenvector centrality requires the use of determinants. But the general question always comes up: what does the determinant mean in the context of the network (or graph)? Does it tell me of a property of the network that is useful? In essence, I am trying to form a userfriendly interpretation of determinants in the context of networks or graphs. I would be grateful for any assistance.

Let $G$ be a graph with adjacency matrix $A$. Let $s(G)$ be the number of connected components of $G$ that are cycles and $r(G)$ the number of connected components that are $K_2$. Then $$\det(A) = \sum_{H} (1)^{r(H)} 2^{s(H)}$$ where the sum is over all spanning subgraphs of $G$ that have only $K_2$ and cycles as their connected components. In particular if $T$ is a tree the determinant of its adjacency matrix is $\pm$ the number of perfect matchings of $T$. This identity can be generalized to all other coefficients of the characteristic polynomial of $A.$ For more information check the chapter "Determinant expansions" of Biggs' book on algebraic graph theory. 


If your graph is directed and each edge has weight $1$ then the determinant counts the number of notnecessarilyconnectedcycles (that is subgraphs being disjoint unions of connected cycles) passing through every vertex of the graph. The cycle is counted as $1$ if the number of its components has different parity than the number of vertices of the graph, otherwise it is counted as $1$. 

