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Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order [Hardcover]

Steven H. Strogatz
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (92 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 5, 2003 0786868449 978-0786868445 1st
At the heart of the universe is a steady, insistent beat, the sound of cycles in sync. Along the tidal rivers of Malaysia, thousands of fireflies congregate and flash in unison; the moon spins in perfect resonance with its orbit around the earth; our hearts depend on the synchronous firing of ten thousand pacemaker cells. While the forces that synchronize the flashing of fireflies may seem to have nothing to do with our heart cells, there is in fact a deep connection.

Synchrony is a science in its infancy, and Strogatz is a pioneer in this new frontier in which mathematicians and physicists attempt to pinpoint just how spontaneous order emerges from chaos. From underground caves in Texas where a French scientist spent six months alone tracking his sleep-wake cycle, to the home of a Dutch physicist who in 1665 discovered two of his pendulum clocks swinging in perfect time, this fascinating book spans disciplines, continents, and centuries. Engagingly written for readers of books such as Chaos and The Elegant Universe, Sync is a tour-de-force of nonfiction writing.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Strogatz is a Cornell mathematician and pioneer of the science of synchrony, which brings mathematics, physics and biology to bear on the mystery of how spontaneous order occurs at every level of the cosmos, from the nucleus on up. In this eminently accessible and entertaining book, Strogatz explores the mysterious synchrony achieved by fireflies that flash in unison by the thousands, and the question of what makes our own body clocks synchronize with night and day and even with one another. He explores the sync of inanimate objects, inadvertently discovered by Christiaan Huygens in 1665 when he observed that his two pendulum clocks would swing in unison when they were within a certain distance of each other. A case of spontaneous synchrony occurred on the 2000 opening of the Millennium footbridge in London when hundreds of pedestrians caused the bridge to undulate erratically as they unconsciously adjusted their pace to the bridge's swaying-it was closed two days later. Strogatz explores synchrony in chaos systems, at the quantum level, in small-world networks as exemplified by the parlor game "six degrees of Kevin Bacon" and in human behavior involving fads, mobs and the herd mentality of stock traders. The author traces how the isolated and often accidental discoveries of researchers are beginning to gel into the science of synchrony, and he amply illustrates how the laws of mathematics underlie the universe's uncanny capacity for spontaneous order.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

The nonlinear dynamics of complex systems has been a most hip career field in recent decades. Publishers like to tap its professional popularity for a general audience--James Glieck's Chaos (1987) precipitated a trend leading up to such recent offerings as Albert-Laszlo Barabasi's Linked (2002). Strogatz nods to both predecessors in his tour of synchrony, which simply means ordered behavior through time, for example, the beat of a heart. Living things' exhibition of synchrony called forth the field of mathematical biology, whose principal figures and ideas occupy the first part of Strogatz's book; the second part delves into synchronic behavior of inanimate matter, such as superconductivity. Writing accessibly for the nonmathematical, Strogatz explains how "coupled oscillators" are central to synchrony; presents their ubiquity, from fireflies to vehicular traffic; and accents the personalities who make synchrony a creative frontier of science (or who went over to the dark side--paranormal research--such as Nobelist Brian Josephson). With a personable narrative voice, Strogatz delivers the goods for followers of complexity theory. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 338 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion; 1st edition (March 5, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786868449
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786868445
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (92 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #327,857 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Steven Strogatz is the Schurman Professor of applied mathematics at Cornell University. A renowned teacher and one of the world's most highly cited mathematicians, he has been a frequent guest on National Public Radio's Radiolab. Among his honors are MIT's highest teaching prize, membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a lifetime achievement award for communication of math to the general public, awarded by the four major American mathematical societies. He also wrote a popular New York Times online column, "The Elements of Math," which formed the basis for his new book, The Joy of x. He lives in Ithaca, New York with his wife and two daughters.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
136 of 151 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great treatise on synchronization and natural order March 15, 2003
Format:Hardcover
"Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order" is a dissertation on synchronization and its place in the universe. Standard entropy theory has always indicated that a system that is orderly will, over time, move to a position of less and less organization. However, that is not always consistent with observations in real life. Steven Strogatz does an inspired job of describing how synchronization exists in such small areas as fireflies and plant leaves to much larger concepts of the universe and the asteroid belt in our solar system.
One of the more fascinating sections of the book deals with synchronization in human beings. It covers current research in areas such as sleep rhythms, circadian rhythms, the tendency for women to match menstrual cycles over time, body temperature rhythms, and various other normal cycles of the human experience.
This is a very academically oriented text that many with only a passing interest in such things might find too detailed and scientific for their likes. On the other hand, for those with a keen interest in the cycles of the natural world and current research into this emerging field this is one of the foremost texts on the subject. It is a highly recommended read for anyone with a desire to learn about how natural tendencies toward synchronization move us to spontaneous order.
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157 of 177 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A "Must Read" book! March 5, 2003
Format:Hardcover
Review of Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order, by Steven Strogatz
Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, IEEE Senior Member and author of over 3500 articles.
Two thumbs up! This entertaining and informative book is one of the few I would read twice. You know those lists of books you'd want to have if you were stranded on a desert island? Sync made my list.
While Sync is fact-filled, it's far from dry. Throughout the text, Strogatz made me laugh out loud-reminding me very much of the engaging, "can't put it down" writing style used by Bill Bryson (author of Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail and The Lost Continent).
Strogatz takes a complex topic, and explains it in a way that even folks with no innate interest in the topic will find enjoyable. I learned quite a bit about how and why everything from atoms to planets will suddenly act in unison-or not do so. My newly-gained understanding of the relationship between sleep cycles and body temperature cycles has already helped me make some positive changes. Then there's the explanation of traffic....
Not once did Strogatz use an intimidating equation-or any equation at all. Instead, he treats the reader to rich metaphors, analogies, and examples. And instead of dry history on how sync got where it is today, Strogatz shares the frustrations, peculiarities, and human drama of the people behind the developments. Strogatz keeps a pace that is more in line with a Tom Clancy novel than a book focused on a science topic.
The ending made me go back to the beginning-to the dedication, actually. I never cared about dedications, before. However this one really meant something to me after I read Sync. Strogatz dedicated Sync to his departed friend Art Winfree, without whom Strogatz would never have taken his fabulous journey and without whom such a marvelous book would not have been possible.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting read, but ... August 1, 2009
Format:Paperback
I enjoyed this book. The author does an excellent job of bringing the subject to life, following the history of the research and using clever analogies to gently guide the reader through the significant ideas of sync. Artfully woven in are stories that introduce us to the personalities of those who have made contributions to the field. I often get bored by such biographical details in books, but Strogatz did an excellent job with it -- the book is a surprisingly lively read. You really get from this book a sense of how researchers struggle and collaborate to solve problems in fits and starts, and how exciting it is when those rare breakthroughs are achieved.

So I definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes pop science, but there were a couple of things I wish Strogatz had done differently. First, there were many times when, after reading a key paragraph and grokking what it meant, I thought "why didn't he give us a diagram showing ...?" There are a few diagrams in the book, but not many -- perhaps one fifth of what I personally feel was warranted.

The other disappointment -- and in all fairness I have felt this way about many other books as well -- I wish the author had not tried so hard to shield us from the math. I'm pretty sure publishers consider explicit formulas the "kiss of death" for such books, but hey, couldn't you squirrel off in the appendix a section or two about "The Math of Sync" for those who are not allergic? Just a sample -- something to give the idea. As it is, I feel like I got the aroma of the soup but didn't actually get to taste it.

Still, it's a good read, and I congratulate the author.
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131 of 154 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Strogatz beats Wolfram 10-0 March 31, 2003
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
When you have a flight to catch early in the morning, you'd like to sleep early in the evening. You go to bed but you stay awake until your usual bedtime. When you stay up for a late party, you'd like to sleep in until noon. But you wake up tired and can't fall back asleep. Why can't you sleep for as long as you need to? Why can't you fall asleep when you want to? The culprit is a small cluster of neurons right at the bottom of your brain.
These cells have the amazing power to synchronize their activity to each other and to the cycle of day and night. Their combined effect is to regulate your bodily functions along a fixed 24-hour cycle. Your body temperature, hormone secretions, and a myriad other functions are regulated by this internal clock. And so is your sleep-wake cycle. Your day contains two "forbidden zones," for most people around 10 am and 10 pm, when your brain dictates that you can hardly fall asleep. Slightly after lunch your brain says it's a good time for a nap, as so many cultures discovered on their own. Between 3:00 and 6:00 am, it's so hard to stay awake that shift workers call this time the "zombie zone". Most catastrophic accidents that depend on human error, like Three Miles Island and Chernobyl, occur at this time.

For all of their importance in helping people sleep well and avoid accidents, understanding the neural clock is among the most difficult problems facing science today. It requires understanding how thousands of cells, connected together in complicated ways, manage to coordinate their behavior. New mathematical concepts have been developed over the last few decades to tackle this kind of problem. Synchronization is exhibited by stock markets, brains, and many other things we'd love to understand better.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars The tendency of some things to synchronize without a single...
The book starts by describing the synchronized flashing of fireflies. This would be simple to synchronize if there were a single firefly that every other firefly watched and... Read more
Published 15 days ago by Jordan Bell
5.0 out of 5 stars Challenging and fascinating
This book formed the basis of a discussion group consisting of eight two-hour sessions. The members of our discussion group were mostly accomplished seniors retired from... Read more
Published 2 months ago by B. Case
3.0 out of 5 stars A bit hard to get through
The ideas were interesting, but the book was slow going. The author spends too much time on long build-ups and personal reminisces.
Published 2 months ago by Sharon
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read about the what, how, and even why every group of...
I read this book in two days--could hardly put it down. It's well written, even with a little humor. Very understandable regardless of your professional background. Read more
Published 2 months ago by gare
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating book. Couldn't put it down!
I'd been told this was more of a math book than anything else. And while it does get a little technical at times, it doesn't distract from the stories of animate and inanimate... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Craig Bardenheuer
1.0 out of 5 stars The audiobook is really bad but didn't find much in the book either
The author is fascinated about fireflies, and it's mentioned throughout the book. There is little else in the book other than brief mention of other systems. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Taufiq Habib
1.0 out of 5 stars The kind of tripe you would expect from a book that has the thesis...
This Strogatz is clearly some species of leftist. His book is typical of the genre, and by that I mean that there is an abundance of anthropomorphosization of inanimate objects in... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Femme Vitale
5.0 out of 5 stars Super interesting topic explained in an easy to understand format
I read the sample of this book on my kindle, and was instantly hooked and had to buy the entire work. Read more
Published 6 months ago by DTM7bc
4.0 out of 5 stars The title is misleading
I actually picked up this book expecting something about "Sync", as in "linked between various media devices and how it will improve life and pave the future of Apple... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting enough book but a bit too full of its own importance
The book is readable and generally quite interesting.

I have no doubt that the author is an highly talented and well respected researcher, and that the concept of sync... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Amazon Customer
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