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Chaos: Making a New Science [Kindle Edition]

James Gleick
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

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Book Description

The blockbuster modern science classic that introduced the butterfly effect to the world—even more relevant two decades after it became an international sensation
For centuries, scientific thought was focused on bringing order to the natural world. But even as relativity and quantum mechanics undermined that rigid certainty in the first half of the twentieth century, the scientific community clung to the idea that any system, no matter how complex, could be reduced to a simple pattern. In the 1960s, a small group of radical thinkers began to take that notion apart, placing new importance on the tiny experimental irregularities that scientists had long learned to ignore. Miniscule differences in data, they said, would eventually produce massive ones—and complex systems like the weather, economics, and human behavior suddenly became clearer and more beautiful than they had ever been before.
In this seminal work of scientific writing, James Gleick lays out a cutting edge field of science with enough grace and precision that any reader will be able to grasp the science behind the beautiful complexity of the world around us.

Editorial Reviews Review

Few writers distinguish themselves by their ability to write about complicated, even obscure topics clearly and engagingly. James Gleick, a former science writer for the New York Times, resides in this exclusive category. In Chaos, he takes on the job of depicting the first years of the study of chaos--the seemingly random patterns that characterize many natural phenomena.

This is not a purely technical book. Instead, it focuses as much on the scientists studying chaos as on the chaos itself. In the pages of Gleick's book, the reader meets dozens of extraordinary and eccentric people. For instance, Mitchell Feigenbaum, who constructed and regulated his life by a 26-hour clock and watched his waking hours come in and out of phase with those of his coworkers at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

As for chaos itself, Gleick does an outstanding job of explaining the thought processes and investigative techniques that researchers bring to bear on chaos problems. Rather than attempt to explain Julia sets, Lorenz attractors, and the Mandelbrot Set with gigantically complicated equations, Chaos relies on sketches, photographs, and Gleick's wonderful descriptive prose.

From Publishers Weekly

Science readers who have gone through relativity theory, quantum physics, Heisenbergian uncertainty, black holes and the world of quarks and virtual particles only to be stunned by recent Grand Unified Theories (GUTS) will welcome New York Times science writer Gleick's adventurous attempt to describe the revolutionary science of chaos. "Chaos" is what a handful of theorists steeped in math and computer know-how are calling their challengingly abstract new look at nature in terms of nonlinear dynamics. Gleick traces the ideas of these little-known pioneersincluding Mitchell Feigenbaum and his Butterfly Effect; Benoit Mandelbrot, whose "fractal" concept led to a new geometry of nature; and Joseph Ford who countered Einstein with "God plays dice with the universe. But they're loaded dice." Chaos is deep, even frightening in its holistic embrace of nature as paradoxically complex, wildly disorderly, random and yet stable in its infinite stream of "self-similarities." A ground-breaking book about what seems to be the future of physics. Illustrations. QPBC alternate.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 3031 KB
  • Print Length: 333 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 043429554X
  • Publisher: Open Road Media; Revised edition (March 22, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004Q3RRPI
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #46,868 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
62 of 66 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition with Audio/Video
(This review is based on the iBook version of Chaos: The Enhanced Edition, which I am assuming is identical to the Kindle edition)

In 1987 I got my Bachelors of Science in physics, Prozac was launched in the US, and James Gleick published Chaos. I don't think the middle one has any bearing on the other two. But the first and last are tentatively linked because, despite being completely jazzed on physics, I didn't read it.

Being a young physicist with a new-found appreciation of the universe and just how complex it is, I quickly found there was nothing thing quite so irritating as a popular science book. Just imagine, after three years of sweat and tears you begin to get a feel for the basics of your chosen subject, when some smart alec arts student comes along authoritatively sprouting stuff that you think you should understand, but don't - and all because they've read the latest best seller in the science charts.

Humiliating? Not even close!

But time and maturity help to break down the fragile arrogance of youth, so when I was asked to review the just-released enhanced e-edition of James Gleick's best-seller Chaos, I willingly agreed. And I'm glad I did.

For those who were too young, too disinterested or, like me, too arrogant to read the book when it first appeared, this is the story of how a group of scientists and mathematicians from very different backgrounds found a new way to describe the world. Traditionally, scientists had tried to understand natural phenomenon and systems as stable or almost-stable systems. And it was assumed that complex systems needed even more complex models and webs of equations in order to fully appreciate them.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Overview July 24, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I was prepared to hate this book, and it sat on my Kindle for about a year before I finally read it. I am an Electrical Engineer, a group not normally enamored with mathematicians, since Engineering is, almost by definition, the avoidance of pure math.

I ended up loving the book. Probably proof right there that Chaos exists.

While the book is certainly "technical", it is well within the range of anyone who is not afraid of math and willing to spend a little time considering what it says. I ended up spending about a week or so reading the book, a long time for me, because it takes time to digest some of the material and understand what it is saying.

A very good example is Gleick's discussion of a common mathematical formula x(next)=rx(1-x). This formula, where R is a constant governs many common phenomena, including biological populations. (r is a constant, and x represents a level of population from 0 to 1). Just looking at the equation, you would expect it to be fairly well behaved, probably some sort of exponential or sinusoidal looking function with a nice regular period to it. In fact, as Gleick suggests, if you spend a few minutes playing with the equation in a spreadsheet, you see that it is anything but a neat, orderly function. Depending on the starting conditions and the value of the constant (scaling function R) that you use, the graph takes on numerous random shapes.

In other words, even for populations with can be modeled with a simple formula, the math predicts that there will be occasional booms and crashes INDEPENDENT of any external influences. To put it another way, bald eagle populations might crash every once in a while, seemingly at random, whether anyone invents DDT or not- just because of the chaotic nature of how the universe works.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Chaos Theory made relevant January 22, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book really made me see why Chaos is relevant, and what makes it stand out among the many theories of the century. The theory's beauty and simplicity is especially appealing for those wishing to escape reductionism, and get a holistic view of the world and nature. This book gives life to the theory by mentioning stories of 'converts' to Chaos, and discussing its evolution in various disciplines.

I recommend this book for those looking for a non-technical book on Chaos Theory, and for those that have no clue what the theory is all about but want to understand its importance to the sciences and the world.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating - highly recommend! June 13, 2011
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Really simple review: A fascinating book - interested in it after reading Gleick's book on Isaac Newton (which was also great). A great choice or gift for anyone who enjoys any aspect of science since "chaos" affects everything... don't have to be a science buff to enjoy it, neither do you need to have a degree to understand it. Well-written and I can't wait for more books by James Gleick.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A classic February 20, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is the classic reference book that described the history and development of thought with regard to chaotic systems. This new edition, published in 2011 is pretty much the same as the original. Gleick makes the topic understanding, and discusses the ideas without resorting to incomprehensible mathematics.
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Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I have a paper copy from around 20 years, and this Kindle version surprised me
It includes an amazing variety of images (same as in the printed edition) including fractals and Mandelbrot-type draws
A good price offer combined with an interesting subject to me = success
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Good book on the history of Chaos theory
This book is a good high-level coverage of the history and motivation for Chaos theory, fractals, and earlier predecessors such as Koch Curve and Cantor set. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Victor J. Grazi
5.0 out of 5 stars Entropy's Stepchild.
Chaos, like String Theory, is a purely Mathematical Construct with applications for several different scientific disciplines. Read more
Published 4 months ago by LastRanger
5.0 out of 5 stars An essential volume - even if you haven't studied physics
Wonderful book. Gleick has redefined the history of science as a form of writing. And his prose is both clear and suspenseful.
Published 6 months ago by H. Segal
3.0 out of 5 stars Useful but bit long
Lot of useful things in this book, and good coverage of Chaos. But bit log winded and bit tricker to read.
Published 7 months ago by Amazon Customer
1.0 out of 5 stars Thanks for the $3 lesson
One plus to digital books. I can check them out at the library and do a word search for 'god' to see if this is really a book on science or a christian science book. Read more
Published 8 months ago by H. Yates
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended
Complex reading, but well worth the journey. It is refreshing to find a multi-faceted look into one of the major breakthroughs in contemporary thought.
Published 11 months ago by mbil22
5.0 out of 5 stars On the order of Chaos
I have had the hard cover of this book for a number of years. I love this book. The writer makes the concepts clear AND interesting which is, in general, a difficult task. Read more
Published 12 months ago by sandyhutch
5.0 out of 5 stars a new way of looking at old problems (and new)
If you think all is chaos you are generally right but, as this book points out, this thought is only the beginning. Read more
Published 14 months ago by robert thornton
5.0 out of 5 stars Chaos: Making a New Science
Chaos is around us everywhere in everything we do - and yet it evades our notice because it is not intuitively correct. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Roger K Howe
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting read - highly recommended
The world around us continues to become more complex, linear thinking can inhibit progress. This book describes another way of looking at things and will make you reconsider your... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Jim Adams
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More About the Author

James Gleick was born in New York and began his career in journalism, working as an editor and reporter for the New York Times. He covered science and technology there, chronicling the rise of the Internet as the Fast Forward columnist, and in 1993 founded an Internet startup company called The Pipeline. His books have been translated into more than twenty-five languages.

His home page is at, and on Twitter he is @JamesGleick.

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