61 of 65 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gleick's Chaos remains well worth reading - the ebook enhancements add a little, but not much
(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...
Published on April 10, 2011 by Andrew David Maynard
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 3 months ago by Srinath Perera
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61 of 65 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gleick's Chaos remains well worth reading - the ebook enhancements add a little, but not much,
This review is from: Chaos: Making a New Science (Kindle AV Edition) (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. Yet to traditional science, an understanding of even the simplest of natural systems - clouds, air movements, the patterns made by ink drops in water, remained elusive. Little by little though, researchers from different backgrounds began to realize that complexity could stem from very simple equations, that complex and apparently chaotic systems showed "regular" behavior, and that utterly different systems - noise on telephone wires, dripping taps, heartbeats and many, many others - demonstrated remarkable similarities. No longer did it seem necessary to develop ever-more complex science to understand complex natural systems.
This represented a profound change in understanding in the science community - and one that wasn't necessarily welcomed with open arms.
I can't say I was over the moon about reading Chaos as an ebook rather than a conventional book. But reading on the iPad was OK (the audiovisual elements aren't available on the Kindle). Reading non-fiction, the experience becomes less important than the assimilation of knowledge to me, so the iPad served its purpose. And I must admit, the iBook interface on the iPad is pretty slick.
Of course, the supposed beauty of ebooks - and this one in particular - is the stuff that you just cannot do with a conventional book.
Chaos: The Enhanced Edition includes seven embedded videos that illustrate different aspects of chaotoc systems. And they start with an interview with James Gleick. These are interesting. It's kind of cute to click on them and see the mathematics being visualized. And Gleick's introduction is worth watching. But to be honest, I found they really didn't add to my experience in reading the book. I didn't want to take a 1 - 2 minute break to watch an animation in the middle of reading I discovered. And compared to reading, the rate of information transfer from a video seems glacial!
For me, the videos were an unnecessary distraction. But of course, to others, they may not be - and to give them credit, they were short, unobtrusive, and well done.
Overall, the Chaos ebook is well worth reading. The enhancements I can take or leave - others may appreciate them though. But the text still has the power to make you think, and force you to see the world another way, whether it's observing clouds, listening to a tap drip, or idly watching the way the bubbles swirl in your just-poured glass of beer.
(Reproduced from the review: James Gleick's Chaos - the enhanced edition, on [...])
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Overview,
This review is from: Chaos: Making a New Science (Kindle Edition)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. (I am not trying to defend DDT, just using it as an example).
I found this to be a startling revelation. It certainly goes against my engineering mindset, where things work the way they do, first time, every time, and randomness is really caused by some error or external force you don't quite understand. Chaos theory proposes that randomness is inherent in nature, and even the most carefully controlled conditions may result in unexpected results.
No doubt Gleick has just scratched the surface, and watered down the math to the point where an average person could have a glimpse of concepts that trained mathematicians spend their careers on. From that standpoint, the book is a success. I walked away with an understanding of what chaos really means, how it influences real-world events, and why those fractal images aren't just pretty pictures, but actually have real meaning.
The only criticisms I have of the book are its attempt to relate chaos and the works of philosophers (Goethe) and artists. While I am sure there is a high-level connection to be made, I found the comparisons tedious. Also, because the book is a very limited overview, it can get a little jumpy and choppy. It is really more of a series of essays than a complete narrative. Finally, in some cases I found the mathematical simplifications overdone, and it took a while to realize what Gleick was talking about simply because it was so oversimplified.
All that said, I enjoyed the book, learned something, and walked away with at least a slight understanding of what all the chaos fuss is about. If you are at all interested in how the world works, some of the ideas put forward will amaze you. And while chaos theory is very much about the math behind it, don't let is scare you off. If you understood the first chapter of your algebra book, you are well on your way.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating - highly recommend!,
This review is from: Chaos: Making a New Science (Kindle Edition)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.
5.0 out of 5 stars Entropy's Stepchild.,
This review is from: Chaos: Making a New Science (Kindle Edition)Chaos, like String Theory, is a purely Mathematical Construct with applications for several different scientific disciplines. Fortunately the reader doesn't have to be math-wiz to enjoy this amazing book (although the author does sneak a few equations here and there). Basically Chaos Theory studies the behavior of complex systems that are sensitive to their starting conditions; small changes can have a large effect on the outcome. (It's a little more complicated than that but also beyond the scope of this review). Journalist and science writer James Gleick has put it all together in this highly readable "biography" of the theory. The roots of Chaos go back to the early 20th century with some hints as far back as the late 19th century. Gleick traces the turbulent history of this new science and the people that made it happen. For as long as we've had Mathematicians and Physicist the two sciences have been butting heads and neither side wanted anything to do with Meteorology in general. Yet it was in an obscure Meteorological journal in the 1950s that we find one of the first papers that reference this chaotic side to Nature. For me, parts of this book were a tough read with some sections that were hard to get through. On the other hand there were other parts that went very fast, but whatever effort you put into reading this book is well worth it. While exploring Chaos's history the author introduces the reader to some unfamiliar concepts like: Strange Attractors, Nonlinear Fluid Dynamics and Phase Transitions. It turns out that Chaos has strong ties to Biology, Astronomy, Geology and, yes, even Meteorology. As a matter of fact just about any science you can think of that has a complex or nonlinear problem can be studied with Chaos applications. Some of the scientist mentioned in the text may be familiar to you while others are somewhat more obscure. One that stood out for me was Benoit Mandelbrot and his study of Fractals. The book has many illustrations of fractals, some of which are in full color. It's not just science that benefits from Chaos Theory but everyday life has elements to which the math can be applied; the stock market, population dynamics, medical research, wherever there are transitions from stability to chaotic conditions. When you look a pot of water on the stove, there is a point where it changes from orderly to turbulent and in that instant when it goes from just hot to boiling something strange is going on, something chaotic but understandable if you take the time to look a little deeper and just work it out. Chaos helps us see the hidden turmoil that lurks in the universe around us. The Second Law of Thermodynamics tells us the everything tends toward disorder, we call it Entropy. But is there an underlying order to that Chaos? How do we recognize it's calling card and once recognized, what do we do with it? Even today the research goes on and our understanding of many issues can change overnight. So hang on tight "It's gonna be a bumpy ride". I'm not sure how much I got out of this book but I did come away with plenty of food for thought.
I had no technical or formatting problems with this Kindle edition.
5.0 out of 5 stars An essential volume - even if you haven't studied physics,
This review is from: Chaos: Making a New Science (Kindle Edition)Wonderful book. Gleick has redefined the history of science as a form of writing. And his prose is both clear and suspenseful.
3.0 out of 5 stars Useful but bit long,
This review is from: Chaos: Making a New Science (Kindle Edition)Lot of useful things in this book, and good coverage of Chaos. But bit log winded and bit tricker to read.
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended,
This review is from: Chaos: Making a New Science (Kindle Edition)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.
5.0 out of 5 stars On the order of Chaos,
This review is from: Chaos: Making a New Science (Kindle Edition)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. This is about science and scientists and the search for truth even if it takes you out of the comfortably known. They are my heroes and this book is about the heroic.
5.0 out of 5 stars a new way of looking at old problems (and new),
This review is from: Chaos: Making a New Science (Kindle Edition)If you think all is chaos you are generally right but, as this book points out, this thought is only the beginning. This book is part history of the discovery and development of chaos theory which was developed from whole cloth. New ways of thinking and processing information. Remember that word "information" it may very well be the root of everything. Think black holes, John Wheeler and Susskind but most especially think while you read this book and htne move to Complexity. You'll be smarter but you won't have many people to talk to.
4.0 out of 5 stars Chaos Theory made relevant,
This review is from: Chaos: Making a New Science (Kindle Edition)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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Chaos: Making a New Science by James Gleick