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Design in Nature: How the Constructal Law Governs Evolution in Biology, Physics, Technology, and Social Organization 1st Edition

65 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0385534611
ISBN-10: 0385534612
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

When lightning flashes in the sky, showing off its characteristic pattern of zigzagging veins, it’s not hard to see its resemblance to branching trees or waterway tributaries. It’s also easy to assume those similarities are purely visual because these patterns occur in such different realms of nature. Yet according to veteran mechanical engineer and Duke University professor Bejan, these recurring shapes and structures obey a fundamental principle of physics known as the constructal law. Put simply, this law asserts that all things that live or move, from ants and animal herds to rivers and electric currents, persist and evolve according to their ability to facilitate flow. In this lucidly written overview of the constructal law, Bejan, with journalist Zane, describes all the circumstances and ways this law operates in the world, including blood vessels and man-made cooling systems. The authors’ language is never too abstract for the lay reader to easily grasp, and the insights offered here present a revolutionary, unifying vision of nature that could impact all branches of science. --Carl Hays


"Fascinating...By reframing things as flow systems, they reveal how function determines form in everything from corporate hierarchies to Canada geese."--Nature

"Interesting....brings a useful new perspective to ubiquitous natural phenomena"--New Scientist

"[I] found myself immediately sucked in....The Constructal Law is important because it not only describes the patterns of change in the world within and around us, but it allows us to predict how the configuration of those patterns will evolve over time."--Forbes

"Provocative, witty, well written....makes a strong case"--Charlotte Observer

"Brilliant. He effectively illustrates complex ideas for a general audience, provides real-world examples, and includes scholarly notes and references. A landmark publication."--Library Journal

"Lucidly written....a revolutionary, unifying vision of nature that could impact all branches of science"--Booklist

"Filled with fascinating observations and brainteasers....gracefully written"--Macleans

"Presents complex ideas in an understandable context....source of food for thought....interesting....excellent reflection on the history of science."--Winnipeg Free Press

“DESIGN IN NATURE is an elegant exposition of a unifying principle so simple that it demystifies our comprehension of the "flow" of the universe.  An absorbing and thoughtful account of why nature is designed that way it is; Bejan engages the reader from the very first sentence to last word.”
--Donald Johanson, Founding Director of the Institute of Human Origins and noted discoverer of "Lucy"

“Why do riverbeds, blood vessels, and lightning bolts all look alike? It’s not a coincidence. This extraordinary book proposes a law of nature whose power is matched only by its simplicity. Everything you lay your eyes on will blow your mind with fresh interpretation.”
David Eagleman, The New York Times bestselling author of INCOGNITO and SUM, and Director of the Laboratory for Perception and Action at the Baylor College of Medicine

“After reading this deeply inspiring and liberating book, you will never look at the world—the whole world—the same again. It not only helps us to better understand the natural environment, but it has profound implications for how we all need to act if we want to sustain success. This perspective is not just for scientists—it helps to reframe agendas for entrepreneurs, business executives, educators, and policy makers. Go with the flow!”
John Hagel, co-author of The Power of Pull, and Co-Chairman of the Deloitte Center for the Edge

“Bejan masterfully unifies—under a deep common law—physics, chemistry, biology, and even part of the social sciences. His treatment of natural design, flow systems, and complex order as spontaneously arising from flow optimization is novel, powerful, and highly plausible.”
Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, author of What Darwin Got Wrong, and Professor of Cognitive Science at the University of Arizona

“The most amazing thing about life is that it exists at all. The second most amazing thing about life is that living things seem to be so very good at it. In his bold new book Bejan asks why, and his answer cuts to the very core of what life is—organized flows of heat, electricity, matter, and energy. From this deceptively simple idea, Bejan takes us on an incredible expedition through life’s vast scope, from tiniest cell to organism to societies to ecosystems to the entire planet. It is a bracing journey.”
J. Scott Turner, author of The Tinkerer’s Accomplice, and Professor of Biology at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse

“With wide-ranging examples and the iconic pictures to go with them, Bejan illustrates that nature is inherently an outstanding designer of flow configurations, which raises philosophic issues beyond the remit of thermodynamics. Is the distinction between animate and inanimate blurred by their common constructal design? These and many more issues are raised by Bejan’s distinguished and original work, fittingly presented in Design in Nature.”
Jeffery Lewins, Deputy Praelector at Magdalene College at Cambridge University

“A most stimulating thought principle, framed in a nice and lively personal story. What I really find most exciting is the exceptionally broad perspective that Bejan adopts for developing his concepts. Design in Nature is a fascinating read.”
Ewald Weibel, Professor Emeritus of Anatomy at the University of Berne

“Thought provoking! Thermodynamics may determine where you’re going; here’s a rule that tells how you get there. And so simple—the more efficient the pathway, the more likely is its persistence, whatever the mechanism behind that persistence. This is science at its biggest and boldest.”
Steven Vogel, author of Cats’ Paws and Catapults, and James B. Duke Professor of Biology at Duke University

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1st edition (January 24, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385534612
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385534611
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #324,429 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

87 of 94 people found the following review helpful By photon458 on April 13, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I really wanted to like this book, with its emphasis on natural design and flow.

The first problem is an introduction that runs on for 26 pages positing constructal law as a universal all-unifying theory, while indulging in generous helpings of self praise and describing past scientists as having stumbled around blindly in preconstructal ignorance.

Dr.Bejan has leveraged his considerable knowledge of mechanical engineering and thermodynamics into regions of science that are not so familiar to him. His descriptions of a tree's function being nothing more than a facilitator of water flow, and the leg length of an athlete being the sole determinate of sprinting performance are both highly simplistic and ill informed.

And that's just the beginning, as constructal law is then forced into strange relationships with all manner of things, sometimes with illustrations that seem to contradict the descriptions. Repetition is rampant in the manner of a high pressure sales job.

I award Dr. Bejan two stars for having caused me to weigh his arguments carefully. His constructal law does seem to have some legitimate applications, but I remain highly skeptical of the universality he so strongly argues for in this book.
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37 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Charig on July 27, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The book is illustrated with figures and diagrams and documented reasonably. But the theory being presented is of questionable novelty and verity.

Forty years ago my car pool decided we could probably model a traffic jam on fluid dynamics (as it turned out they did at that time), and everyone has noted the similarities between branching in disparate natural phenomena, so the idea is not all that novel.

And is it real? Throughout the book I was looking for some explanation of just how branching of lightning (say) is connected with the branching of waterways (say), and I never quite got it. And why call it "constructal"? What does that mean?

The case would be more convincing if there were fewer errors. Bejan says riverbeds evolve to increase the flow efficiency, but in lowlands rivers develop meanders which greatly increase the length of the course, which introduces much more friction and reduces efficiency. Icebergs do not orient themselves perpendicular to the wind, but parallel to it. Trees do not exist to transport water from ground to air, but to make more of themselves - the only thing any living organism exists for.

Figure 21 is a good example of Bejan's muddling: it is a graph intended to show that flight speed increases with the size of the object, whether natural or man-made, and gives a trend line to show the correlation. This idea is wrong to begin with: a hummingbird flies much faster than a crow that weighs hundreds of times as much, and a jet fighter flies three times as fast as a commercial jet that weights ten times more.
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51 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Book Fanatic TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 29, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is simply a great book. The author makes a bold claim about a unifying design principle in nature. When I hear claims like this I'm very skeptical but in this case the author makes a very powerful case. He paints an incredibly beautiful way to see the evolving nature of the entire earth under one simply law of physics he calls the "Constructual Law". He unites inanimate and animate matter and draws predictions and parallels between the massive polar currents, a single fish, the internet, social organization, a tree, a forest, a brain, a river basin, and on and on.

This sounds ridiculous and I would consider it ridiculous if I were you reading my review. Therefore you owe it to yourself if you are a thinking person to read this book. I love books about big ideas and this is about as big as they come. I don't know if he is right and I would love to read critical arguments in other books, but the fact he is proposing this idea right or wrong is important. You will probably never look at the world in quite the same way after reading this book. I don't think I ever will.

Apparently this idea has been discussed over the last 15 years in professional journals and the author is now trying to describe it for the general reader.

Right or wrong this is a must read if you care about big ideas. Two thumbs enthusiastically way, way up for this book.
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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful By markoinpanama on February 23, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Previous reviewers have eloquently described Design in Nature, so I will only second their appreciation not only for the book, but the new branch of science that it brings to the larger world beyond the scientific journals.

When two atoms interact, they create a flow. When groups of atoms, say a stream of water, flows down a beach, the resistance of the sand causes the water to push the sand around to crate a changing, evolving pattern, or "design" that seeks to make the flow more efficient. We have all seen it in action. The entire physical world is governed by such evolving flows, from the structure of the universe to the flow of information on post-it notes. This is the Constructal Law.

It is said that important new theories take a generation to become established, until a new crop of students has grown up with it and the old guard have died off. But this evolution of idea-flows is not linear - rather it proceeds by tectonic shifts. Indeed, 70 years ago, 99.9% of geologists were convinced that the continents were fixed and immovable, as assumed for hundreds of years. Alfred Wegner knew different and his theory of continental drift made predictions that were so powerfully correct that today plate tectonics is understood by everyone as a simple fact of life.

I believe that in 50 years (optimistically for myself...) we will look back at the insights of Dr. Bejan in the same light. He has formulated an idea that makes concrete predictions which are born out by experiment and observation and which conform with all understood laws of physics. But we are at the beginning, like Galileo with his first telescope.

The Constructal Law opens a window on our understanding of the nature of physical reality that will energize your mental model as it has mine.
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