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The Self-Made Tapestry: Pattern Formation in Nature Paperback – October 18, 2001


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Seashells are often spirals, just like water going down the drain. There must be a connection, right? Our intuition scoffs at such a notion, but maybe they are related, writes Nature editor Philip Ball in The Self-Made Tapestry: Pattern Formation in Nature. This deep, beautiful exploration of the recurring patterns that we find both in the living and inanimate worlds will change how you think about everything from evolution to earthquakes. Not by any means a simple book, it is still completely engaging; even the occasional forays into mathematics and the abstractions of hydrodynamics are endurable, tucked as they are between Ball's bright prose and his hundreds of carefully selected illustrations.

When speaking of the living world, Ball seeks to go beyond the theory of natural selection, which explains why we see certain characteristics (height, shape, camouflage), to find mechanisms that can explain how such characteristics come to be. Again, this is no easy task, but for those willing to follow his discussion, the elegance of nature is laid out in zebras' stripes, ivy leaves, and butterfly wings. Moving on to find the same patterns at work in the clouds of Jupiter and the cracks in the San Andreas fault give strength to the feeling that there are self-composing structures that guide everything in the universe toward a kind of order. The Self-Made Tapestry is a challenging look at the biggest issues in science, and well worth a thorough read. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Most people?including most scientists?take it as a given that the appearance of complex patterns implies conscious planning on the part of an intelligent agent or, in the case of such patterns in the biological world, the stringent application of the forces of natural selection. Ball (Designing the Molecular World) challenges these assumptions directly, documenting the counterintuitive idea that the operation of simple physical laws often yields complex and beautiful, but wholly natural, patterns. Ball's range is quite impressive. He discusses pattern formation on the hides of zebras, giraffes and leopards; the creation of honeycombs by bees; the uncanny similarities between branching patterns in plants and mineral dendrites of magnesium oxide. Ball also demonstrates how the same physical laws can operate on dramatically different scales: the same pattern of wave propagation has been found both in newly fertilized frog eggs and in nascent spiral galaxies. Despite fascinating material such as that, Ball's text is highly technical and often abstruse?so much so that it may prove inaccessible to most nonscientists?other than the comprehensible captions on the more than 400 photographs and line drawings (24 in color), that is, which make this a book that's at least worthy browsing for general readers.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (October 18, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0198502435
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198502432
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 0.7 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #770,269 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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73 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Edelman TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 27, 2000
Format: Hardcover
From the very begiing of rational inquiry, a small number of philosophers and scientific researchers in different fields have asked a rather large question: What are the characteristics of the physical world that drive the creation of complex structures? This is a question that goes beyond simply asking why shells spiral, or why snowflakes have symmetry; it asks instead why do tree branches, root systems and the dendritic structures of nerve cells all share a common structure?
I've been curious about this question since my early grad school days, but for a long time the topic was thought at a minimum to be a rather eccentric one; many thought it simply unproductive, or even unscientific.
But the last twenty years has seen an explosion in the areas of complexity, chaos and other studies that go to the heart of asking why the world is structured (on a macroscopic scale) the way it is, and why there are so many parallels of structure between seemingly unrelated entities.
While there have been a great many books in recent years looking at that very question, "The Self-Made Tapestry" is this first really complete overview of the field and its history, and it's quite an accomplishment. Profusely illustrated, engagingly written, and marvelously clear, it's not only a wonderful reference book, it's marvelously entertaining to read as well.
If you've found yourself in recent times pouring over Glieck's "Chaos", or perhaps Stuart Kauffman's books on self-organization, or Waldrop's "Complexity", you'll delight in this book. It's a good reference for the academic, a fine introduction for the interested layman, and a treat for every interested reader.
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Joris on February 3, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I'm a theoretical biologist who has studied (some) of the subjects in this book. Although some of the details may sometimes be wrong, overall this book gives a superb introduction to the field. Pattern formation is one of the hot topics in biology now. This book assumes no previous knowledge, but it does require an intelligent reader who want to know- or someone who just likes to marvel at beatutiful pictures. I gave it to a lot of my friends to introduce them to `my' subject, and I certainly recommend it over any of the other `popular' approaches to pattern studies. JJW
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 20, 1999
Format: Hardcover
The topic of this book is basically why I'm interested in science. Having studied the physics and math related to the phenomena described in the book for quite a while, I must say that this book is a 'must' for anybody who wants to know more about nature. Never mind that on a few occasions some inaccuracies occur; this is a book that will make you wonder, and not many books can say that. The only niggle is that a book this good should not have been written in the overly-casual 'I' form; this is not a narrative, but a great scientific book. The style of writing should reflect that.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Joe Zika TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 5, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The Self-Made Tapestry: Pattern Formation in Nature written by Philip Ball gives us some answers to long-standing questions as to why there are patterns in designs in nature that reoccur in seemly unrelated objects.

Biologists are used to the idea that form follows function. The shape and structure of a biological entity whether it is a protein molecule, an organism, or the wind blowing ripples in a sand dune all have a purpose and a function. These are things I was curious about when I was studying in college, things that caught my attention as interrelated but how and why. Of course, things in my life became more complex, but these questions still always seemed to weigh in the back of my mind... A tree with limbs and a lightning bolt look similar and so too roots and nerves.

Well, "The Self-Made Tapestry" explains the why and how of why these similarities do exist. This book explains why these are not just coincidences. As nature weaves it tapestry through self-organization it employs no master plan it just applies simple local interactions between the component parts. The component parts impart a common self-organization to energy conservation allowing for typically universal patterns.

What I liked about this book is the author has put complex theories into non-technical language along with adequate illustrations show the reader how these patterns come about.

If you looking for a book on explains some of life's and nature's mysteries this is the book for you as it is highly readable and you begin to understand why things are as they are. The book reads like a textbook , the chapters build upon one another making for an accumulation of knowledge bases on a solid foundation from the start.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Michael Shea on August 3, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I hope some publisher will do the world a favor and keep this book in print. It's a classic that belongs on the shelf right next to D'Arcy Thompson's "On Growth and Form." This might seem strange for me to say, but if I were to design an educational curriculum for people learning my profession (oncology), this book would be mandatory. It is highly recommended for anyone interested in morphogenesis. If anyone knows where I can buy 10 or 20 unused copies, I'd appreciate hearing from you (wmshea@earthlink.net).
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