Shapes: Nature's Patterns: A Tapestry in Three Parts Reprint Edition
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--Martin Kemp, Times Literary Supplement 19/03/2010
"Philip Ball gives us some very interesting food for thought."
--Mark Ronan, Standpoint 01/10/2009
"Ball has opened a welcome window on a little-understood but thought-provoking aspect of the making of the natural world."
--Alan Cane, Financial Times 06/04/2009
--The Economist 07/03/2009
About the Author
Philip Ball is a freelance writer and a consultant editor for Nature, where he previously worked as an editor for physical sciences. He is a regular commentator in the scientific and popular media on science and its interactions with art, history and culture. His ten books on scientific subjects include The Self-Made Tapestry: Pattern Formation in Nature, H2O: A Biography of Water, The Devil's Doctor: Paracelsus and the World of Renaissance Magic and Science, and Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads To Another, which won the 2005 Aventis Prize for Science Books. He was awarded the 2006 James T. Grady - James H. Stack award by the American Chemical Society for interpreting chemistry for the public. Philip studied chemistry at Oxford and holds a doctorate in physics from the University of Bristol. His latest book The Music Instinct published in February 2010.
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The book is clear, the topics covered are extensive, the explanations and arguments clear and easy to understand, the evidence incontrovertible, and the illustrations plentiful and to the point. The colour plates are well reproduced, but the black and white photographs are not very sharp. It's a great book to read and to follow up with the other 2 books of the trilogy - 'Flow' and "Branches'.
"If the phrases 'bicontinous periodic minimal surface' and 'reaction-diffusion process' make you break out in a cold sweat, this isn't a book for you. If your brain is still working and you're curious what daffodils and fingerprints, catalytic converters and leopard spots, or soap films and butterfly wings may have in common." -- A witty reviewer
Patterns are dominant in nature's dramatic disclosure, from the clouds hovering in the sky, to petals disposition in flowers. Where do the patterns we observe come from? Scientists have found that there is a pattern-forming tendency inherent in the basic structure and processes of nature, so that from a few simple themes, and the repetition of simple rules, endless beautiful compositions can evolve. From the patterns of spider's webs to the curl of a ram's horn, Philip Ball examines the genesis and antecedents of the shapes and forms we observe in physical and biological world. In the end, he concludes, nature is an opportunist. One of Ball's heroes, Sir D'Arcy Thompson, a pioneering mathematical biologist, remembered for his book, On Growth and Form, may have inspired him to write his book 'Forms', that contains a lot of fascinating detail about various physical, chemical and possible evolutionary processes at work.
He wonders why do honeycombs have a hexagonal shape? Why are the flowerets in a sunflower arranged in a clothoid or double spiral, a curve whose curvature grows with the distance from the origin? Most scientists would rather call on Charles Darwin to elucidate on these patterns as a random product of evolution, emerging from innumerable variations of possible shapes through natural selection. In the 18th century René de Réaumur, a French scientist, proved that the hexagon guarantee that worker bees fill the cells space efficiently while minimizing the total cellular wall area. In other words, hexagonal cells allow bees to focus on maximizing honey production and expend the least amount of energy making wax. Darwin used the beehive as an example of evolutionary progress, while Thompson argued for a less complicated physical explanation, arguing that natural selection need not be taken into consideration at all.
One of a trilogy of books exploring the analysis of patterns in nature, British writer and science populizer Philip Ball, examines how shapes from soap bubbles to honeycombs can evolve. He uncovers patterns in growth and forming in the four corners of the natural world, explaining how these patterns are formed. This book will make you take a closer look at nature with fresh eyes, and recognize amazing shapes and forms in places you would least expect. Ball is an inspired science writer, gifted to examine divergent natural phenomena and link different intellectual and academic perspectives of relative significance, weave them into a an orderly, logical, and aesthetically consistent tapestry that will marvel the professional and the lay reader alike. The writing is both fascinating and engaging, with nice informative illustrations.
Top international reviews
Some combustion, corrosion reactions and biochemical processes generate oscillations and wave patterns. Even for plants, there are distinct patterns in the arrangement of leaves around plant stems.
Spots and stripes are the most common marking patterns on animals. The patterns on butterflies and moths are extremely rich. The homes of social insects are marvellous; wasp nests are typically more varied than honeybee combs. The natural hexagonal pattern of honeycomb is fascinating; it lets the bees economize on wax. Living organisms seem to exhibit patterns for instance in the distribution of hairs on human skin and the spacing of feathers in birds.