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Chaos and Harmony: Perspectives on Scientific Revolutions of the 20th Century Hardcover – October 10, 2000

ISBN-13: 978-0195129175 ISBN-10: 0195129172 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 366 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (October 10, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195129172
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195129175
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.4 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,969,297 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Trinh Xuan Thuan, whose books of popular science are bestsellers in France, is an astronomer by training. In Chaos and Harmony, he reaches well beyond the immediate bounds of that field to consider the explosion of scientific knowledge of all kinds in the 20th century, and he muses on the very nature of scientific inquiry.

The most important aspect of a theory of science, in Trinh's view, is not that it be verifiable experimentally, but that it "allow beauty and truth to emerge into one." General relativity is a hallmark in this regard. Unendingly rich in insight and implication, as well as "inevitable, simple, and congruent with the whole," it has enabled cosmologists to range across the whole of time and to conceive of such phenomena as black holes and curved space. Trinh applies his beauty-and-truth criterion to various problems, such as where the moon--the largest known satellite in the solar system--came from, how chaos theory can properly be applied to economic modeling, and why nature seems to favor symmetry. Along the way, Trinh pauses to remark on episodes in the history of science and to make gentle but provocative asides (for example, gainsaying Einstein to insist that God does indeed play dice with the universe). Elegant and lively, Trinh's book is a fine survey of contemporary scientific ideas and a look ahead at science's ongoing quest for a unifying Theory of Everything. --Gregory McNamee


"Thuan's elegant prose vividly captures the interplay of chance and necessity that shapes our universe. An astonishing array of phenomena are woven together in a coherent way. Thuan conveys an appreciation of the complexity and beauty of our cosmos, and the excitement of our ability to understand it."--J. Richard Gott, III, Professor of Astrophysics, Princeton University

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Leighton Cowart on December 8, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Just so you get an idea of Dr. Thuan's philosophical viewpoint, he is a neo-Platonist (in the sense that he believes in a self-existing reality where mathematics "resides") and he believes that the universe was designed. He also thinks that determinism is bad. If you agree with any or all of these perspectives, you probably won't find any new reasons to support your viewpoint. If you disagree, you will probably find little here to convince you otherwise. This is not a philosophically original work.
But Dr. Thuan does offer an engagingly written (if brief) account of much of the history of modern physics--big bang cosmology, electromagnetism, special and general relativity, quantum mechanics, strong and weak nuclear forces, particle physics--as well as some fun topics like black holes and wormholes, and he teases the reader with short accounts of potential research areas such as superstring theory and supersymmetry. His treatment is nice since we get not only the results of modern physics, but also some sense as to how we got them in the first place, which is often missing in works of popular science.
My only complaints (other than the possibly misleading title) are:
* I wish he would have been a little more careful to distinguish the behavior of chaotic systems from the operation of "chaos theory" in Chapter 3.
* In Chapter 6 I wish he would have given more rigorous reasons than his personal incredulity for doubting that natural selection can account for the diversity of life. At least he could have gotten a biologist's perspective--he quoted quite often from physicists and mathematicians, so presumably it wouldn't have been very hard to get a relevant comment from a biologist.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A. J. Valasek on September 16, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book is a reflection of the scientific discoveries of the 20th century. Written in layman's terms, this book is fairly easy to read and understand. Not once did I come across a menacing differential equation or proof, so this book is truly for the non-scientific person with a desire to get familiar with at least the accomplishments of the field. I particularly liked the way the author tied everything together and showed how one discovery led to another. The author did this by starting with the premise of mankind's search for the "theory of everything," the holy grail of science. The only thing that I was disappointed with was his brevity on the subject of superstrings, considering their substantial potential. With that said, getting the average reader to the present in light of the past is accomplished well with this text.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By wordtron on February 6, 2002
Format: Hardcover
A clear, eloquent, and graceful discussion of how recent scientifc discoveries impact our lives in more than just theoretical terms. Thuan begins with a wonderfully vivid, accessible overview of the latest theories about chaos, gravity, strange attractors, fractals, symmetry, superstrings, and the strangeness of atoms, and reveals how these discoveries have shaped our view of the universe. From the subatomic world to the vastness of quasars and galaxies, from the nature of mathematics to the fractal characteristics of the human circulatory system, Trinh Xuan Thuan takes us on a truly awe-inspiring tour of the universe as we know it today. With brilliant analogies that open up the strangest, often counterintuitive theories about all sorts of things most of us don't take the time to consider, what Thuan really shows readers in Chaos and Harmony is how science has actually restored mystery and amazement to the world around us.
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