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Customer Review

75 of 80 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gleick's Chaos remains well worth reading - the ebook enhancements add a little, but not much, April 10, 2011
This review is from: Chaos: Making a New Science (Enhanced Edition) (Kindle Edition with Audio/Video)
(This review is based on the iBook version of Chaos: The Enhanced Edition, which I am assuming is identical to the Kindle edition)

In 1987 I got my Bachelors of Science in physics, Prozac was launched in the US, and James Gleick published Chaos. I don't think the middle one has any bearing on the other two. But the first and last are tentatively linked because, despite being completely jazzed on physics, I didn't read it.

Being a young physicist with a new-found appreciation of the universe and just how complex it is, I quickly found there was nothing thing quite so irritating as a popular science book. Just imagine, after three years of sweat and tears you begin to get a feel for the basics of your chosen subject, when some smart alec arts student comes along authoritatively sprouting stuff that you think you should understand, but don't - and all because they've read the latest best seller in the science charts.

Humiliating? Not even close!

But time and maturity help to break down the fragile arrogance of youth, so when I was asked to review the just-released enhanced e-edition of James Gleick's best-seller Chaos, I willingly agreed. And I'm glad I did.

For those who were too young, too disinterested or, like me, too arrogant to read the book when it first appeared, this is the story of how a group of scientists and mathematicians from very different backgrounds found a new way to describe the world. Traditionally, scientists had tried to understand natural phenomenon and systems as stable or almost-stable systems. And it was assumed that complex systems needed even more complex models and webs of equations in order to fully appreciate them. Yet to traditional science, an understanding of even the simplest of natural systems - clouds, air movements, the patterns made by ink drops in water, remained elusive. Little by little though, researchers from different backgrounds began to realize that complexity could stem from very simple equations, that complex and apparently chaotic systems showed "regular" behavior, and that utterly different systems - noise on telephone wires, dripping taps, heartbeats and many, many others - demonstrated remarkable similarities. No longer did it seem necessary to develop ever-more complex science to understand complex natural systems.

This represented a profound change in understanding in the science community - and one that wasn't necessarily welcomed with open arms.

I can't say I was over the moon about reading Chaos as an ebook rather than a conventional book. But reading on the iPad was OK (the audiovisual elements aren't available on the Kindle). Reading non-fiction, the experience becomes less important than the assimilation of knowledge to me, so the iPad served its purpose. And I must admit, the iBook interface on the iPad is pretty slick.

Of course, the supposed beauty of ebooks - and this one in particular - is the stuff that you just cannot do with a conventional book.

Chaos: The Enhanced Edition includes seven embedded videos that illustrate different aspects of chaotoc systems. And they start with an interview with James Gleick. These are interesting. It's kind of cute to click on them and see the mathematics being visualized. And Gleick's introduction is worth watching. But to be honest, I found they really didn't add to my experience in reading the book. I didn't want to take a 1 - 2 minute break to watch an animation in the middle of reading I discovered. And compared to reading, the rate of information transfer from a video seems glacial!

For me, the videos were an unnecessary distraction. But of course, to others, they may not be - and to give them credit, they were short, unobtrusive, and well done.

Overall, the Chaos ebook is well worth reading. The enhancements I can take or leave - others may appreciate them though. But the text still has the power to make you think, and force you to see the world another way, whether it's observing clouds, listening to a tap drip, or idly watching the way the bubbles swirl in your just-poured glass of beer.

(Reproduced from the review: James Gleick's Chaos - the enhanced edition, on [...])
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 3, 2014 8:56:11 PM PDT
J-Mul says:
Thanks for a helpful review. I just finished JG's The Information and was very impressed. I was wondering if Chaos was still worth reading. Glad to hear that you think so.
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