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Simplexity: Why Simple Things Become Complex (and How Complex Things Can Be Made Simple) Paperback – June 16, 2009

3.0 out of 5 stars 40 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Frustrated by the traffic on narrow bridges? Stunned by the number of buttons on a remote control? Saddened by the lack of basic medical care in the developing world? Kluger (Splendid Solutions) makes the modern world comprehensible, analyzing social and technological systems to reveal that things that seem complicated can be preposterously simple; things that seem simple can be dizzyingly complex. He compares cells to cities to stock markets, renders quarks and fractals accessible and draws parallels between Wal-Mart and AIDS clinics in Tanzania. Although Kluger is prone to hyperbole, his astonishing discoveries require no exaggeration: the book describes how even the most technologically advanced manufacturing plant is infinitely simpler than a humble houseplant with its microhydraulics and fine-tuned metabolism and dense schematic of nucleic acids—and baseball fans will be dismayed to discover that football is, in fact, the more complex of the two games: the possible number of starting configurations before the play even begins is... 31.4 billion. Kluger's findings are likely to incite controversy, confirming his contention that explaining simplicity and complexity is never as straightforward as it seems. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Review

Kluger makes the modern world comprehensible...[his] findings are likely to incite controversy, confirming his contention that explaining simplicity and complexity is never as straightforward as it seems.―Publishers Weekly

Simplexity...is a study of human behavior, and the way we perceive things and events, and how our perception frequently causes us to make wrong assumptions and to perceive simplicity (or complexity) where it does not exist. The book is sure to be a deserved hit among the ever-growing Freakonomics crowd."―Booklist

"A fascinating journey."―Library Journal --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion Books; Reprint edition (June 16, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1401309933
  • ISBN-13: 978-1401309930
  • ASIN: B002YNS18E
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,043,680 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book starts with a bang, and contains occasional flashes of brilliancy. The cover artwork, title, and premise are very appealing. Unfortunately this book doesn't live up to it's parenthetical subtitle of "how complex things can be made simple."

I picked this up at an airport for a good cross-country airplane read. Initially I was very happy with this purchase.

The first two chapters are very interesting, and propose some brilliant insights into human behavior. These insights, like all of the interesting facts in this book, are disappointingly unsupported by any bibliography or source references. Hopefully the publisher will consider adding a bibliography when the edition goes into paperback.

This book fizzles out around chapter 4. There are a few interesting tidbits of information in the sports-centric 6th chapter. But it never seems to pick up the momentum created in the first two chapters.

As a senior software developer I was keenly interested in reading chapter 9, which is technology centered. It's titled "Why are your cell phone and camera so absurdly complicated? Confused by Flexibility." This is where I expected Mr. Kluger to shine on the book's subtitle "How Complex Things Can Be Made Simple." In that respect this chapter was a complete let-down.

The chapter provides an overview of the development of TVs, cell phones, and software, with dips into washing machines and other gadgets. Ultimately it boils down to a list of complaints about the complexity in technology, and a suggestion that simplification will eventually come as a result of market forces.

My expectation was that some insights would be offered on HOW to make the technology simpler.
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Format: Hardcover
In a well-narrated and thought provoking book, Kluger raises some interesting questions about how we define or tend to view and experience complexity. Organized as a series of (essentially independent) 11 or so chapters, each one focuses on one aspect - herd mentality, instincts, equilibrium, payoffs, scale, objective, fear, silence, flexibility, false targets, and loveliness. A motivating title in the form of a paradox starts the discussion in each chapter. The titles (and the short sub title) alone are interesting enough to provoke one's imagination. The chapters that deal with instincts (analogy of fluid dynamics in traffic management and evacuation procedures) and scale (discussion on Kleiber's observations on animal mass, energy consumption and life spans) stood out the most.

Despite all the interesting discussions, the chapters are so autonomous, a common thread leading to some substantial conclusions is not apparent. Moreover, it is disappointing to see that the author does not provide a detailed citation list or a reading list for the more curious reader, despite the references to work done at Santa Fe Institute and some books. The chapters do full justice to the main title, though the sub-question in the parentheses of the title doesn't get the attention it deserves..

Overall, an entertaining book that introduces the reader to a very interesting research domain.
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Format: Hardcover
There are many agreements that I would have with other reviewers who found the book appealing enough to open its cover, but not deeply satisfying - indeed, slipping into the disappointing range the further along I read. I thought that it would reveal something to chew on, to elucidate complexity and simplicity and the relationship of the two, but other than its first chapter with its discussion of a complexity arc, it had no more to add than diluted observations of what happens in complex and non-complex settings. Interesting perhaps, especially in the context of each chapter's probing questions, but basically not much more than storytelling of contrarian conditions (ie, why did the unbeatable team get beat by the pushover). Nice antidotes, but I felt a sportswriter would reveal more and in doing so, be more entertaining to read.

It did succeed, however, in one major area: it got me to buy the book. The cover and table of contents, as Amazon allows, were intriguing enough to order it. It just didn't have the right stuff of Apollo 13 (the author's other noteworthy book).
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Format: Hardcover
Based on the second half of the sub-title (How Complex Things Can Be Made Simple), I was expecting a "how to" approach for finding the underlying simplicity in apparently complex environments. However, the book was more of a collection of articles that "report the news" versus a "how to" approach for practical application. "Freakonomics [Revised and Expanded]: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything" by Levitt & Dubner has a similar flow, but did a much better job of providing insights on the analytics and approaches used to substantiate the causal relationships they assert.

I did find the book enjoyable from an philosophical/entertainment point of view. If you agree with Claude Levi-Strauss' that, "The wise man doesn't give the right answers, he poses the right questions," then you should read the book. In my opinion the real value of the book is that it may open your mind to asking better questions about the nature of complex environments. I specifically enjoyed the chapter on Cell Phone/Camera complexity and believe it's a must read for any manager of software engineers. In addition, I have high hopes that the references to other books will provide the pragmatic material I'm seeking.

In summary, if your are looking for a thought provoking piece on the nature of simplicity and complexity you will enjoy the book, but if you are tasked with making complex environments simple and looking for guidance the book won't further your journey.
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