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Chaos: Making a New Science Paperback – October 7, 1997


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Paperback, October 7, 1997
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 380 pages
  • Publisher: Minerva; New Ed edition (October 7, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0749386061
  • ISBN-13: 978-1471131271
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (128 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,396,594 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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 http://around.com, and on Twitter he is @JamesGleick.

Customer Reviews

This is one of the finest books I have ever read.
Bruce Lawrence
Gleick does an excellent job of presenting the main concepts behind the science of Chaos by tracing it's development.
Pranab Majumder
The average person will appreciate this book just as much as anyone else.
Jason Enochs

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

58 of 59 people found the following review helpful By David Schaich on July 12, 2005
Format: Paperback
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 By Jason Enochs on August 1, 2004
Format: Paperback
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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110 of 123 people found the following review helpful By P. Lozar on September 2, 1999
Format: Paperback
I read this book when it was first published, and it was the beginning of a journey that led me to my present job (at a Santa Fe Institute spinoff company), so I must admit to feeling a debt of gratitude to Gleick! He writes engagingly about the people who founded "chaos theory" and explains their discoveries in easy-to-understand terms -- other "popular science" works (e.g., "Goedel, Escher, Bach") from the same era were beyond me mathematically, but I feel that Gleick gave me a clear and accurate sense of what the theory was all about. On the other hand, he seems to focus too much on the "who" and not the "what" of chaos theory, a habit that, unfortunately, has persisted in other authors' books on the subject -- granted, some amazing "characters" work in the field, but I think emphasizing their eccentricity detracts from the solid science they're doing and the real-life applicability of the theory. To me, the best overall introduction to this subject is Mitchell Waldrop's "Complexity"; Gleick deserves credit for piquing everyone's interest, but this book is, to my mind, only an appetizer.
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Mr P R Morgan on September 29, 2007
Format: Paperback
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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