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Chaos: Making a New Science by James Gleick

Chaos: Making a New Science

by James Gleick

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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5,577491,214 (3.9)95
The author describes how scientists studying the growth of complexity in nature are discovering order and pattern in chaos. He explains concepts such as nonlinearity, the Butterfly Effect, universal constants, fractals, and strange attractors, and examines the work of scientists such as Mitchell J. Feigenbaum, Edward Lorenz, and Benoit Mandelbrot.… (more)

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Showing 1-5 of 46 (next | show all)
This book is quite marvelous for several reasons. First, it holds up despite its age. Second, it is really entertaining. Third, it manages to draw together several different fields of inquiry into one volume.

Although it is quite dated, this book still holds up like I said. The computer images still apply, even if they are quite ancient by computer standards. Nonlinear equations and other mathematical models haven't changed since the 1980s either. Also, it is rather charming to read about Cray supercomputers and other limitations that these pioneers had and realize that you could probably redo all of their work on a modern computer in about an hour or less; I don't really know.

Part of the entertainment comes from the fact that the book is so old, but most of it comes from Gleick's writing style. It is quite distinct and personal. He explains things in a manner that a layman will understand and still succeeds in getting the gist across.

Finally, Gleick draws from numerous fields to create this particular book. He starts with Lorenz and his strange attractors, goes on through a number of names that I had not heard of, and talks about all of the fields that are touched by Chaos in general. The problem of turbulence comes pretty high on the list. Even some mechanical systems that seem perfectly deterministic have a jot of randomness in them. Gleick uses the idea of the pendulum, but there are many others; water dripping out of a faucet for instance.

Anyway, this book was really good. If you have even a passing interest in science, this is a very good volume to start with. ( )
  Floyd3345 | Jun 15, 2019 |
This book, over two decades old now, is one of the great classics of science popularization. It was a blockbuster bestseller at the time, and it's still well worth reading, a fascinating, enjoyable introduction to one of the most important scientific developments of our time--the birth of chaos theory.

One of the compelling features of the chaos story is that this scientific breakthrough wasn't a physics, mathematics, chemistry, astronomy, or biology breakthrough; it was all of them. A mathematician turned meteorologist, Edward Lorenz, builds a "toy weather" on what's still a fairly early computer in the early 1960s, and in working with the parameters, concludes that long-term weather forecasting is doomed--a simple deterministic system is producing unpredictable results. Mitchell Feigenbaum, a theoretical physicist at Los Alamos in the early seventies, and two other scientists working together independently of him, are working on the problem of turbulence and.discover that it doesn't, as anticipated, build up gradually in an orderly manner. Reach the tipping point, and there it is.
Beloit Mandelbrot, an IBM mathematician working with an equation that produces fractals, arrives to give a presentation to an economics class and finds "his" equation already on the board; the patterns he's found in pure path also apply in economics, the reproductive rates and numbers of animal populations, and countless other places.

In each field, also, the initial work was most often either resisted or ignored. Precisely because chaos was popping up all over, with just a few people in each of many different scientific fields, it was easy for scientists in any field to notice a paper or presentation, note the fact that is was completely different from the methods, logic, math that had relevance for their own work, that much of the work was in fact being done in other fields--and dismiss it. For new doctoral students, there were no mentors in chaos theory, no jobs, no journals devoted to chaos theory. It completely upended ideas about how the natural world worked. It was heady, exciting--and much harder to explain than to demonstrate. Much of what the first generation of chaos scientists did is incredibly easy to demonstrate with a laptop computer today--but most of these chaos pioneers were working with handheld calculators, mainframe computers with dump terminals and limited and unreliable access for something so peripheral to the institution's perceived mission, computers whose only output device was a plotter.

Gleick very effectively conveys the science, the excitement the early scientists working on it felt, and the challenges that faced them.

Highly recommended.
( )
  LisCarey | Sep 19, 2018 |
Chaos is not a part of mathematics nor is it a part of physics. It is its own discipline. ( )
  jefware | Apr 17, 2018 |
How the emerging science of chaos theory and nonlinear systems came to be.

I read this before when it first came out, but that was quite a while ago and as well as wanting to refresh my memory I wondered what had happened in the field since I first read it. There is an expanded version available as an ebook, but I have to say it wasn't really worth it. There were some nice videos included which added to the visual attractiveness, but the links to the endnotes would have worked better as pop-ups, especially as most of the notes were simply references rather than adding anything to the text. The afterword didn't really add anything at all. ( )
  Robertgreaves | Aug 22, 2016 |
Read some time ago as part of my "physics book of the year" goal. It was interesting at the time, but I didn't invest a lot of brain-power in remembering details. Need to get an up-to-date book on the subject. ( )
  librisissimo | Jul 3, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 46 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (22 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Gleick, Jamesprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Adelaar, PattyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gamarello, PaulCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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human was the music,

natural was the static...

--John Updike
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The police in the small town of Los Alamos, New Mexico, worried briefly in 1984 about a man seen prowling in the dark, night after night, the red glow of his cigarette floating along the back streets.
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Che cosa determina la forma di una nuvola? Perché nel mondo "i conti non tornano mai"? Questo libro racconta come da una quindicina d'anni un gruppo di studiosi stiano formulando un nuovo codice di lettura dell'universo e della realtà che ci circonda: un'avventura intellettuale che attira lo sguardo non solo di scienziati, ma anche di analisti, politici e industriali alle prese con un mondo sempre più globalmente omogeneo ma localmente frantumato, sospeso in un instabile equilibrio tra ordine e caos. L'autore illustra questa nuova frontiera e ci racconta le vicende dei suoi pionieri, uomini fuori dagli schemi spesso osteggiati dalla scienza ufficiale.
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