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83 of 86 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another excellent book for non-experts
I am not a hard scientist, but I like to have some idea of what is going on in those fields. Books like this one are ideal for people such as me. This book tackles the fascinating field of Chaos Theory. It turns out that certain patterns recur over and over in many diverse areas of the universe, whether it is the patterning of galaxies in clusters or the price of...
Published on December 8, 2008 by Paul Stevenson

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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars More about personalities than about the science
Gleick is an entertaining writer without question. However, in terms of actually teaching you what chaotic systems are, I began to long for a world-class explainer of difficult ideas such as the late, great Isaac Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke, or even contemporary authors such as Simon Singh. This book tells you everything about the people involved, and their rivalries, but...
Published 12 months ago by P. Nadkarni


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83 of 86 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another excellent book for non-experts, December 8, 2008
I am not a hard scientist, but I like to have some idea of what is going on in those fields. Books like this one are ideal for people such as me. This book tackles the fascinating field of Chaos Theory. It turns out that certain patterns recur over and over in many diverse areas of the universe, whether it is the patterning of galaxies in clusters or the price of cotton.

Specialists working in many fields independently discovered curious patterns, and eventually, starting mainly in the 1970's, they became aware of each others' work. This book takes physics as the field on which it focuses, but it mentions many others. Since some of these fields involve conscious human decision making (especially economics), I have begun to wonder whether I can find comparable patterns in languages, my own specialty.

There are many reviews of a previous printing of this book: Chaos: Making a New Science, so you can go there to check them out. Other books useful to non-specialists interested in the history of and current research in the hard sciences are The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality, A Briefer History of Time and Electric Universe: How Electricity Switched on the Modern World.
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64 of 68 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, April 10, 2011
(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 [...])
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An historical introduction to chaos theory, July 13, 2010
By 
This book is the first of its kind, which introduces a new branch of science, the chaos or chaos theory from the historical point of view. This theory is widely applied in the transdisciplinary field of meteorology, mathematics, physics, population biology, cell biology, philosophy, astrophysics, information theory, economics, finance, robotics, and other diverse fields. The author has done a tremendous job of putting this book together with very little mathematics. I found this book highly engaging.

A brief summary of the book is as follows: Chaos physics along with classical and quantum physics are required to fully describe physical reality. Physical laws described by differential equations correspond to deterministic systems. In quantum physics, the Schrödinger equation which describes the continuous time evolution of a system's wave function is deterministic. However, the relationship between a system's wave function and the observable properties of the system is non-deterministic (quantum physical phenomenon). The systems studied in chaos theory are deterministic. In general for a deterministic system, if the initial state of a system were known exactly, then the future state of such a system could be predicted. However, there are many dynamical systems such as weather forecasting that are highly sensitive to initial conditions. This sensitivity referred to as the butterfly effect which suggests that small differences in initial conditions (for example, rounding errors caused by limiting the number of decimals in numerical computation), yield different results, rendering long-term prediction impossible, hence they are called chaotic systems. In short these systems are deterministic; their future behavior is fully determined by their initial conditions, with no random elements involved. But that does not make it predictable, this behavior is known as deterministic chaos or chaos.

It is difficult to determine if a physical system is random or chaotic, because in practice no time series consists of pure 'signal.' There will always be some form of corrupting noise, even if it is present as round-off or truncation error. Thus any real time series, even if mostly deterministic, will contain some randomness. Methods that distinguishes deterministic and stochastic (a process having infinite progression with random variables) processes rely on the fact that a deterministic system always evolves in the same way from a given starting point. Thus, given a time series to test for determinism, one can: Pick a test state; search the time series for a similar or 'nearby' state; and compare their respective time evolutions. Define the error as the difference between the time evolution of the 'test' state and the time evolution of the nearby state. A deterministic system will have an error that either remains small (stable, regular solution) or increases exponentially with time (chaos). A stochastic system will have a randomly distributed error. Thus one can see that chaos is neither purely deterministic nor is it stochastic. Application of chaos into cosmology and quantum physical phenomenon illustrates that chaos theory is indeed an important feature of physical reality which requires further development of this field.

1. Does God Play Dice? The New Mathematics of Chaos
2. Chaos and Nonlinear Dynamics: An Introduction for Scientists and Engineers
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars More about personalities than about the science, August 11, 2013
By 
P. Nadkarni (Orange, CT United States) - See all my reviews
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Gleick is an entertaining writer without question. However, in terms of actually teaching you what chaotic systems are, I began to long for a world-class explainer of difficult ideas such as the late, great Isaac Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke, or even contemporary authors such as Simon Singh. This book tells you everything about the people involved, and their rivalries, but after reading the entire book, you would be hard pressed to define in a few sentences to someone else what a chaotic system is.

Going through Gleick's book ws somewhat like reading all about the history of Paella or Oysters Rockefeller- where it was made, how the dish traveled to different locales and how others tried to steal the recipe, etc. - everything except the two most important chunks of information, what the recipe actually contains and how the dish is made. I can only say that the decision to award this book a Pulitzer speaks volumes about the scientific literacy of the judges on the award panel.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worthwhile introduction, January 3, 2011
By 
turtlemonvh (Atlanta, Georgia USA) - See all my reviews
This book was recommended by my adviser during my PhD, and it was mt first real introduction to chaos theory. The book starts off very strong, and I really appreciated the author's willingness to tell some of the details of the creation of chaos theory that make this book read like a collection of stories of discoveries. My most significant complaint, however, is that the author's attempts to draw all these stories together into a cohesive narrative and lay them out in context of one another isn't particularly well done. It seems like the author went over some of the same information a few times in an attempt to bring things together, but for me the big picture view of the history of chaos remains a series of rather discretized discoveries, not a mounting wave of new ideas. Regardless, each of the individual accounts is well done and the book as a whole provides a worthwhile introduction to the topic and its history.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Overview, July 24, 2012
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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.
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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
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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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Chaotic dynamical systems arising in different fields, January 17, 2012
By 
Jordan Bell (Toronto, Canada) - See all my reviews
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This book is a narrative about scientists in different fields realizing that the dynamical systems that model many important phenomena are chaotic. Chaotic dynamical systems appear in ecology, economics, fluid dynamics, medicine, meteorology and physics, even if they model phenomena which are not directly related. Chaos is part of the mathematical field of dynamical systems rather than a new science, but studying its manifestations in so many disciplines gives us more intuition than we would have if we only analyzed it abstractly. Aside from doing actual experiments, we can do experiments on computers to further develop our intuition and to suggest experiments to perform or conjectures to prove.

By looking at phase space we see how the state of a system changes in time, and an important idea in this book is that we want to also look at how phase space changes as we change some parameter. This is where period doublings and generally bifurcations enter the story. To analyze the trajectory of a system in phase space, we use the Poincaré map, which is introduced in the chapter on strange attractors and turbulence. Another important idea introduced in the book is scaling and similarity across scales.

The book is a model of a well written popular science book. Writing the book as a narrative of chaos being discovered, resisted and accepted makes the book more exciting to read than just description and exposition. My only complaint is that I would like the author to have said more about the mathematical field of dynamical systems, of which chaos is a subset; chaos can only arise when we're studying a system whose state changes in time, and this is precisely what the subject of dynamical systems studies. At the end of the book, Gleick give several definitions of chaos from different scientists. My favorite is Roderick V. Jensen's: "The irregular, unpredictable behavior of deterministic, nonlinear dynamical systems."
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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
By 
Francesca "Bookishy" (La Pine, OR, United States) - See all my reviews
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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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Must read for non-scientists, February 16, 2011
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For the layperson to understand modern science and philosophy, some grounding in this subject of chaos is essential. One cannot do better than Gleick's book. First class.
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