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Complexity: Life at the Edge of Chaos Paperback – February 15, 2000

ISBN-13: 978-0226476551 ISBN-10: 0226476553 Edition: 2nd

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 242 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; 2nd edition (February 15, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226476553
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226476551
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #630,357 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Lewin presents an authoritative introduction to the scientific field of complexity theory.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Complexity has its roots in the work of many scientists from several disciplines and has only very recently, with the establishment of an institute in Santa Fe dedicated to its study, begun to come into focus as an analytical theory. Lewin's book is written as a kind of scientific travelog; he goes from the San Juan Basin of New Mexico to rural southwest England to the rain forests of Costa Rica in order to interview some of the key figures of complexity, whose independent works have contributed to the development of what could become a unified theory of the life sciences. Whether studying cellular automata or the evolution of life on earth, these scientists have found that order naturally seems to emerge within dynamic systems, often from the very brink of chaos. Lewin's far-ranging treatment of the subject is quite different from that of Michael Waldrop's Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos ( LJ 11/1/92), which remains pretty much centered at the Sante Fe Institute. Of the two, Lewin offers the most vivid and engaging discussion of complexity for general readers.
- Gregg Sapp, Montana State Univ. Libs., Bozeman
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Very worthwhile reading.
Atheen
To make the material too simple would leave the concepts incoherent-to provide too much would leave the reader behind.
Deborah S.
He could make a tour of a cannery become an interesting subject.
e s fishman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

49 of 51 people found the following review helpful By "smokey_joe" on January 28, 2001
Format: Paperback
The scope of complexity science is vast, encompassing many disciplines. This book focuses on how the new idea of complexity relates to biology by discussing the idea with many leading biologists of the day. Other reviewers were put off by the book's lack of definition of what complexity is, and the lack of resolution as to what terms such as "edge of chaos" mean. But that is exactly the point. These terms do not have clear definition today. Complexity is a very immature field, frequently pursued at the visceral level. It is hard to define what it *is*, but frequently easy to identify it where it exists. I can understand the other reviewers' concerns with the lack of definition, and can only suggest that because of the narrower focus (biology), this is an appropriate second book on complexity.
As a second book, narrowly focused on the question of complexity in biology, it is outstanding. Specifically, the question is one of how self-organization (complexity) relates to evolution and what this means for natural selection. Complexity is frequently talked up as the unifier of the sciences. Lewin takes a balanced approach, taking the time to talk to complexity theorists and understand their ideas, then talking to mainstream biologists to see how the ideas relate. His conclusion shows no inherent bias. Where other books on complexity show extreme (perhaps undue) enthusiasm, Roger Lewin's concusion is decidedly "wait and see". I found his insights to be on target and relevant.
I mentioned that this is a good second book. For an introduction to complexity, read John Holland's "Hidden Order". For a history of the Santa Fe Institute and some of the personalities there, read Mitchell Waldrop's "Complexity". Either or both of these would serve as an adequate introduction to this book.
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45 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 18, 2000
Format: Paperback
The science of complexity, a discipline unique to the computer age, was born of chaos and a growing sense that there is something amenable to scientific inquiry about complex systems that we are missing. Before we had the number crunching power of computers, complexity could not be explored because the many variables resulted in astronomical calculations.

In this revision of his book originally published in 1992, Roger Lewin explains what the science of complexity is all about through interviews with some of its most important practitioners (and critics) organized around some of the central ideas. As such this is both a fine introduction to the subject and an interesting read. Lewin includes 16 pages of photos of the scientists he interviewed captioned with a significant quote from each. He has added an afterword on the application of complexity science to business, and an appendix about John Holland, whom he dubs, "Mr. Emergence."

"Everything works toward an ecology" is an old dictum of mine. I have the sense that I came up with that myself, but I probably read it somewhere years ago. At any rate, what is being said here is that complex systems work toward a state of equilibrium near a transition phase, near "the edge of chaos." This equilibrium can be an ecology (Darwin's "tangled web"); indeed it can be the entire planet, as in the concept of Gaia in which "the Earth's biological and physical systems are tightly coupled in a giant homeostatic system" (quoting Stuart Kauffman on page 109).

A central idea is that "...large, interactive systems-dynamical systems-naturally evolve toward a critical state" (physicist Per Bak, quoted on page 61).
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book was my introduction to the field of complex adaptive systems. The concepts it contains changed the way I view the world. Roger Lewin mixes an overview of the subject (as it is emerging) with brief biographies of the pioneers in complexity theory. His writing makes it accessible -- and at the same time, a very enjoyable read. Of the introductory books on the topic, this one is the best.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Deborah S. on August 3, 2001
Format: Paperback
I am not a scientist. I am, however, interested in a wide variety of subjects and fascinated by complexity. I am not referring now to the book, or the subject but the expression in the real world of all that there is to know and understand. How can anyone live and not recognise at the deepest levels of their understanding that everything that exists does so in dependence on other things that exist and that this interdependence, because of the number of dynamic variables, cannot be described otherwise than a complex system. It is at this point that anyone who has read the book or who is a part of this book will protest that I have missed the point. I have not. This book isn't about a vague subjective comprehension of all things being related. It is much more scientific than that. I have started off this way because I am aware that in the hustle of everyday life-the place where most readers of books reside-the subject of the science of complexity is beyond even the periphery of what might occur to them as a topic to take an interest in, let alone find relevant. Having a general, non-expert appreciation for the immense complexity of which we are a part is an appropriate mindset to bring to any reading of the subject. The book is deserving of a wider appeal than for just new wave idea groupies.
I find Lewin strikes the right balance with his reader presenting difficult concepts with elegant clarity yet providing enough detail to challenge the reader. To make the material too simple would leave the concepts incoherent-to provide too much would leave the reader behind. He also presents a balanced view of the subject. There are detractors in the scientific community. They are heard from. Lewin develops various concepts directly related to complexity rather cleverly.
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