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Chaos: Making a New Science [Paperback]

James Gleick
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (128 customer reviews)

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Book Description

December 1, 1988 0140092501 978-0747404132 1st
James Gleick explains the theories behind the fascinating new science called chaos. Alongside relativity and quantum mechanics, it is being hailed as the twentieth century's third revolution. 8 pages of photos.

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

Gleick here adventurously attempts to describe the revolutionary science of "chaos," a challengingly abstract new look at nature in terms of nonlinear dynamics. "A ground-breaking book about what seems to be the future of physics," praised PW. Illustrated. 100,000 first printing; author tour.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; 1st edition (December 1, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140092501
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747404132
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (128 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #427,073 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
58 of 59 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Achieves its goal - even after 18 years July 12, 2005
When I first picked up Gleick's "Chaos" I was a little skeptical - could a book written in 1987 still work as an introduction to chaos and nonlinear dynamics, a field that has been evolving rapidly for the past eighteen years? Well, in a certain sense, it turns out it can.

The truth is that the focus of Gleick's book is not so much chaos itself as it is the people who first explored chaos theory and eventually managed to make it respectable and bring it into the mainstream. As the book's subtitle hints, Gleick is concerned mainly with how a 'new science' is 'made', not necessarily with the actual science or math involved. This was not quite what I was expecting from "Chaos", but it is actually an advantage for the book, since its age becomes somewhat irrelevant: although chaos theory itself has been growing and evolving dramatically in recent decades, "Chaos" deals only with its roots in the '60s, '70s and early '80s. On the other hand, I was hoping for more discussion of the science itself, rather than the personalities involved in its early development.

I was also not that taken with the style of Gleick's writing. His narrative tends to jump around rapidly, often spending only a few pages on some person or event before moving on to another, commonly with little in the way of connection or logical transition. This is fine for short articles in newspapers and magazines, but it doesn't work so well in a 300+ page book. The vast cast of characters (meteorologists, physicists, mathematicians, computer scientists, biologists, ecologists and many others) spins in and out of view, and it can be very difficult to get more than a general impression how the little pieces all fit together in the big picture.
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63 of 68 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Science Meets Nature August 1, 2004
Have you ever wondered why a leaf or tree is shaped the way it is? Can science explain the seemingly randomness of nature? This book will make your imagination run wild. Pure science meets Mother Nature. I would read from this book each night before I went to bed and then just dream about the possibilities. This is one of the most thought provoking books I have ever read. I grab this book off the shelf at least once a month and just thumb through it again to revisit some of the ideas. His explanation and discussions about nonlinear dynamics were very eye opening for me. The author also did a great job of providing a brief background of each scientific breakthrough along the way. This provided allot of additional and interesting facts that directly contributed to ones understanding.

You don't have to be a genius to comprehend and enjoy this book. Some of the reviews for this book complain about there not being enough math to support the theory. The lack of advanced math made this book even more enjoyable for me. The average person will appreciate this book just as much as anyone else.

This book also has some very nice full color illustrations. Nothing was spared for this book. You won't be disappointed.
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Order from Chaos September 29, 2007
We all know things that are not predictable. These can be everyday occurrences like the weather, or more specialised events (whether the stock market will go up or down). The unpredictable plays a large part in "normal life". Yet for some of these matters, there is a nagging feeling that if sufficient information were known, the unpredictable would indeed be able to be forecast with as much certainty as whether the sun will rise tomorrow. Thus James Gleick introduces the topic of `chaos' - there can be a "sensitive dependence on initial conditions". If we were to know the initial conditions in all their details, predictability would be brought within our grasp. Thus the flapping of the wings of a butterfly in China could result in rainfall in Indianapolis.

At times I was lost in the small detail, but the strength of this book is that it paints a big picture. The mathematics (and physics, and chemistry, and biology, and .....) is sometimes beyond me, but the overall story is that there is `chaos' all around. Some of the chaos is linked into classic Newtonian mechanics, but strangely enough, chaos almost has in itself an order and `predictability' about it.

The three of the most significant scientific theories of the 20th century are reckoned to be Einstein's General Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, and ...... Chaos Theory. Before opening this very historical account of the last mentioned, I knew nothing about the theory of chaos. Now I have an awareness of the subject, and how experimentation can play a part in mathematics. Experimentation and mathematics are not normally uttered in the same sentence.

Look for the big picture, and do not get lost in the people and places, which can be bewildering.
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40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Chaotic presentation. March 11, 2006
This book has been on my "to read" list for several years, so I looked forward to getting to read it. While it is written in an entertaining style, I cannot whole-heartedly recommend it. This is more a book about the people who made contributions to chaos theory (non-linear dynamics and Fractals) than a coherent presentation of these theories. This is not the book to get if you want to understand Chaos theories, as it has less depth than the average Scientific American article. After reading it, I got a general feeling for the subject, but it was something that I had to piece together from the narrative.

As an analogy, it is as if a book on the Battle of Gettysburg consisted of biographical sketches of two-dozen of the participants, each detailing their contributions, but without an overview of the battle as a whole. You would learn about the people who fought there and from the descriptions of their individual contributions, you could piece together an idea of the battle. A good historian takes this type of information and uses it to create a coherent picture. I expect the same from a science writer.

The book contains some illustrations of chaotic systems and fractals, but in my opinion not enough. There are only a few mathematical equations; again in my opinion this could have been beefed up (at least in an appendix). I came away with a feeling that Chaos theory is very important and has many applications in different fields of science, but I knew this already, which is why I read the book. I would have preferred more of a linear presentation rather than this somewhat chaotic one.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting book
the book is lovely. Its made for anyone to understand the subjects and ideas it has, it would be nicer if it included more math.
Published 18 days ago by Jeronimo Sainz
James Gleick (born 1954) is an American author, journalist and biographer who has written other books such as The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood, Genius: The Life and... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Steven H. Propp
5.0 out of 5 stars Science majors & Engineers
If you are not a science major then you do not have the background to appreciate this book. Not too much math but it explains a lot about experimental error and hidden... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Kent J. Nauman
4.0 out of 5 stars The new math that makes you think deeply about the world we live in...
The book was in a very good condition and it was a great deal for such book. The material seems interesting and I will use it for my upcoming grad-class.
Published 11 months ago by Jose Garcia
5.0 out of 5 stars My favorite!
This book is my favorite and I was so very excited when the seller had it to me in a matter of just a few time for a very special Christmas present! Read more
Published 18 months ago by Aquagoddess
5.0 out of 5 stars Still a consciousness-expanding introduction
Chaos, the concept, is often explained in terms of a butterfly flapping its wings in one part of the world, which sets off a long chain of consequences leading to rain falling in... Read more
Published 18 months ago by Ryan
2.0 out of 5 stars Not well organized
The book presents a lot of important ideas, but they are not well organized. The anecdotes about the earlier discoverers of this field are unnecessary and distracting. Read more
Published on May 21, 2012 by Lulu Cerne
5.0 out of 5 stars In-depth look at chaos
This book on complexity theory explains chaos concepts through the history of the discoveries. You not only learn about Strange Attractors and Bifrication, but also about the men... Read more
Published on April 3, 2012 by Luna Lindsey
5.0 out of 5 stars Recommend this seller
The product was in excellent condition and just as reported in description. Shipping was faster than I expected. This book was exactly what I expected. Read more
Published on March 6, 2012 by miah
5.0 out of 5 stars chaos is even clearer now with this book!
this book is precise, clear and completely understandable...we are using it in a college course, and the class agrees that this is the best of the books on CHAOS. Read more
Published on October 3, 2011 by million appell
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