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COMPLEXITY: THE EMERGING SCIENCE AT THE EDGE OF ORDER AND CHAOS 1st Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 94 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0671872342
ISBN-10: 0671872346
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Waldrop presents his narrative of the "science of complexity in high screenplay style, offering a cast of five main characters. In general, he makes the emerging nature of complexity theory accessible to the general reader. He dissipates his advantage, however, in order to depict the personalities of the scientists he discusses, using at least three of them-Stuart Kauffman, Brian Arthur and Chris Langton-to act as interdisciplinary infielders of sorts, who relay the theory itself through a long subplot on structuring and funding the Santa Fe Institute in the 1970s. Complexity theory most likely will receive other, more rigorous examinations than Waldrop's, but he provides a good grounding of what may indeed be the first flowering of a new science.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

The Santa Fe Institute is an interdisciplinary think tank that has attracted the services of an electric and brilliant group of scholars. Here, economists work with biologists and physical scientists to develop theories that, many hope, will reveal that while natural systems may operate "at the edge of chaos," they are in fact self-organized. Thus conceived, the so-called science of complexity could explain the mysteries of how life began and might even predict global economic trends. The picture that emerges from this book, though, is that while many separate scientific endeavors overlap, a true conceptual synthesis is still a long way away. Waldrop writes in a very readable, sometimes overly light and chatty style, but by focusing so strongly on individual efforts, he inadvertently supports the impression that what is called the unified science of complexity is conjectural and quite fragmented. While this book succeeds as a chronicle of the Santa Fe Institute, it does not fully convince the reader that complexity represents a scientific revolution. Optional for public libraries.
- 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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1st edition (January 15, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671872346
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671872342
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (94 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #39,176 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
a book about the mathematicians that developed complexity theory. My statement is more a warning than a complaint. Setting their results in a human and cultural context - as Waldrop does - makes an interesting read and a useful introduction to the field. And the field is promising; it looks at mathematical systems from the inside out, rather than the traditional outside in. Just don't buy the book expecting a guide to recreating even the simplest of systems mentioned.
Those who want to play with the mathematics itself will find other books more helpful. See, for example, Flake's book, "The Computational Beauty of Nature", which contains a description of Waldrop's frequently mentioned "boids" in enough detail that a reader can create similar systems. Flake also describes the details of many of the other systems alluded to in Waldrop's book, mercifully at the "how to do it"level, rather than the rigorous "theorem and proof" level. The two books fit well together.
Waldrop's writing style is clean, clear, literate, and unobtrusive. Read the book for what he says, rather than for how he says it. If you enjoy reading a technical book both for the what the author says - and for how he says it - try almost anything by John McPhee, particularly his loose series on the geology of North America.
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Format: Paperback
This is an overview of complexity theory, an off-shoot and heir apparent of chaos theory. Waldrop models his book very, very closely on Gleick's "Chaos: Making a New Science," which Waldrop (and his publisher) knows was a best-seller. As a result, he summarizes the key positions of complexity theory by way of telling the story of their creators.
The heroes of the story are Brian Arthur, an economist who created "lock-in" theory and refuses to go along with the fusty old Adam Smith school of economics that sees everything moving toward "equilibrium." Stuart Kauffman, a truly brilliant and dogged scientist, has a theory of "autocatalysis" that explains away the creationists' position that the emergence of life is too complicated to ever happen by random chance. John Holland provides a mathematical basis and creates computer models for self-emergent and self-organizing systems (including DNA). Christopher Langton is the founder of the "artificial life" branch of science, and Murray Gell-Mann is the Pulitzer-Prize-winning scientist who discovered quarks and now studies the complexities of fragile ecosystems such as the Brazilian rain forest.
All of these geniuses happily co-habitate and cross-pollinate their ideas at a rare and remarkable instituion, the Sante Fe Institute. The founding of the institute and its early days in the picturesque setting of an old New Mexico convent provide much of the drama and the local color in Waldrop's tale.
All told, however, the book moves much slower than it should and could.
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Format: Paperback
I work for a company that is commercializing some applications of complexity science, so I've read a heap of "popular" books on the subject. This is far and away the best: Waldrop gives some entertaining historical background on the Santa Fe Institute, but the "meat" of the book is complexity science and its implications, and his descriptions are clear, easy to understand, and accurate. He not only tells you what complexity science is but WHY you should care about it -- and by doing that, he goes far beyond most other popularizers. The book is a little dated now, but not seriously, and I still recommend it to people as the best general introduction to the subject. (For those wishing to delve a little deeper, Stuart Kauffman's "At Home in the Universe" goes more into the technical side of complexity science while still remaining very readable.)
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In one word, this book was awesome. Waldrop's account of the development of the science of complexity is both compelling and spell-binding. His historical account of the Sante Fe Institute and its members was an inspiring story. Written like a novel, this book was very simple to read and understand and very easy to follow. Even the casual reader could follow its simplifying explanations of the complicated theories invovled in the science of complexity. This book is also a great follow-on to James Gleick's "Chaos - Making a New Science". I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in complex adaptive systems theory, especially its applications in the realm of economics. Waldrop's work here is outstanding!!!
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The cover of the book says " If you liked Chaos, you will love complexity". I just finished reading the book, that validated the claim. While Chaos is written as story of discovery of a new science, Complexity excels as a saga of men who ventured into previously unchartered domains addressing for the first time issues like:
What is life? What is driving force that caused cells to appear from a primordal soup of all elements, when the probability of so happening is infinitesimal? What causes evolution? Do nice guys finish last? What makes evolution, coevolution, adaptation, extinction work? Why do we organize ourselves into families, cultures, nations?
Why do stock markets crash, boom? What controls the emergence of economies? Why can USSR go from one of strongest nations/economies to the state of divided helplessness in less than a few years?
Why are we here? What is life? Artificial Life? Are we still evolving? What is the cause of increasing complexity?
On mundane level: What is non-linearity? What is Chaos? If this science is all that important, why did we wait this long for recognizing it?
What are the paradigms in which sociology and physics settle into same patterns? How neural networks were born, brought up and mastered?
This novel/book is as much about these questions as it is about the scientists who engaged in unravelling many of these mysteries. It speaks about their failures and successes, their approach, ethic and driving force, their fears, fights and friendships. For most part it reads like a thriller, and by the time you are done, you find yourself searching for another book on Chaos, complexity, life at the edge of chaos, genetic algorithms, artificial intelligence. After just 358 pages, your imagination and knowledge of science leaps from Newton's linear models to the twentyfirst century stuff.
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