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Showing 1-10 of 112 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 258 reviews
on June 4, 2016
This book describes the beginnings of an important theory that explains many patterns and behaviors observed in nature that are not usually discussed in traditional science classes even to this day. It's not an easy read but the book's content is well worth the effort especially to those interested in science and how nature "works".

I believe this book will be most rewarding to readers with knowledge of science at high-school & college levels, in particular readers that understand how equations/math are used in sciences to describe and predict the behavior of various systems/objects.

3-stars for the prose. Gleick's writing doesn't flow and is often hard to follow. I can't say it was enjoyable read, most of the time I felt that I had to "extract" what he is trying to say by rereading certain sections.

5-stars for the content, breadth, and depth. Gleick casts a wide net in describing how pieces of Chaos theory emerged from several scientific fields. He did a phenomenal job in researching the topic and immersing himself in technical details.

Several keywords to take away from this book are : Chaotic systems, Fractals and Self-Similar patterns, Butterfly effect, Nonlinear systems,Dynamic systems, Bifurcating systems, Attractor. One example of how fractals appear in landscapes: [...].
Chaos theory spawned several new subfields broadly can be labelled as Emergent Complexity.
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on October 17, 2016
an amaizng book. even for a non-science person like me, it was a great read. glecik has made the language so simple that i found each and every page interesting and understandable. this rates as one of the best books i have ever read in my iife. i have understood now the fact that most of the life we have lead or are leading, has to have a component of chaos in it, and it is alright not to fret over it.
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Even science converges in a chaotic way, nay? Well, here we have a bunch of mavericks creating a new branch of science; the struggle to ignite a paradigm shift is everywhere in this book. They saw regular irregularities in deterministic systems (locally unpredictable but globally stable) and built the intuition and mathematical tools to understand it. The adventure includes several paradoxes together with infinite food for thought. For example, a fractal plots infinity within a finite plan. What? We can see infinity!
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I was prepared to hate this book, and it sat on my Kindle for about a year before I finally read it. I am an Electrical Engineer, a group not normally enamored with mathematicians, since Engineering is, almost by definition, the avoidance of pure math.

I ended up loving the book. Probably proof right there that Chaos exists.

While the book is certainly "technical", it is well within the range of anyone who is not afraid of math and willing to spend a little time considering what it says. I ended up spending about a week or so reading the book, a long time for me, because it takes time to digest some of the material and understand what it is saying.

A very good example is Gleick's discussion of a common mathematical formula x(next)=rx(1-x). This formula, where R is a constant governs many common phenomena, including biological populations. (r is a constant, and x represents a level of population from 0 to 1). Just looking at the equation, you would expect it to be fairly well behaved, probably some sort of exponential or sinusoidal looking function with a nice regular period to it. In fact, as Gleick suggests, if you spend a few minutes playing with the equation in a spreadsheet, you see that it is anything but a neat, orderly function. Depending on the starting conditions and the value of the constant (scaling function R) that you use, the graph takes on numerous random shapes.

In other words, even for populations with can be modeled with a simple formula, the math predicts that there will be occasional booms and crashes INDEPENDENT of any external influences. To put it another way, bald eagle populations might crash every once in a while, seemingly at random, whether anyone invents DDT or not- just because of the chaotic nature of how the universe works. (I am not trying to defend DDT, just using it as an example).

I found this to be a startling revelation. It certainly goes against my engineering mindset, where things work the way they do, first time, every time, and randomness is really caused by some error or external force you don't quite understand. Chaos theory proposes that randomness is inherent in nature, and even the most carefully controlled conditions may result in unexpected results.

No doubt Gleick has just scratched the surface, and watered down the math to the point where an average person could have a glimpse of concepts that trained mathematicians spend their careers on. From that standpoint, the book is a success. I walked away with an understanding of what chaos really means, how it influences real-world events, and why those fractal images aren't just pretty pictures, but actually have real meaning.

The only criticisms I have of the book are its attempt to relate chaos and the works of philosophers (Goethe) and artists. While I am sure there is a high-level connection to be made, I found the comparisons tedious. Also, because the book is a very limited overview, it can get a little jumpy and choppy. It is really more of a series of essays than a complete narrative. Finally, in some cases I found the mathematical simplifications overdone, and it took a while to realize what Gleick was talking about simply because it was so oversimplified.

All that said, I enjoyed the book, learned something, and walked away with at least a slight understanding of what all the chaos fuss is about. If you are at all interested in how the world works, some of the ideas put forward will amaze you. And while chaos theory is very much about the math behind it, don't let is scare you off. If you understood the first chapter of your algebra book, you are well on your way.
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on October 13, 2014
Great read on the history of the emerging field of chaos theory as a loose multi-disciplinary field applicable to almost every discipline and yet adopted by no discipline as its own. The pioneers are as varied, free-thinking, maverick, and ostracized as the discipline itself. Approach this book from the standpoint of 'history of chaos science' rather than 'technical introduction to chaos theory,' as the work doesn't quite take upon itself to teach the reader the rigorous field of chaos theory even at an introductory level. It is a book for the lover of science for science sake and a qualitative introduction to chaos at that.
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on August 1, 2014
Not a bad account of the development of chaos theory, but jumps around quite a bit, while at the same time leaving out some of the key players in what is now pretty universally recognized as the science of complexity, and not just chaos. Particularly noticeable by its absence is any mention of the Santa Fe Institute, despite the participation of so many Nobel Prize recipients and other science giants in that institution.
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on December 1, 2013
Chaos, like String Theory, is a purely Mathematical Construct with applications for several different scientific disciplines. Fortunately the reader doesn't have to be math-wiz to enjoy this amazing book (although the author does sneak a few equations here and there). Basically Chaos Theory studies the behavior of complex systems that are sensitive to their starting conditions; small changes can have a large effect on the outcome. (It's a little more complicated than that but also beyond the scope of this review). Journalist and science writer James Gleick has put it all together in this highly readable "biography" of the theory. The roots of Chaos go back to the early 20th century with some hints as far back as the late 19th century. Gleick traces the turbulent history of this new science and the people that made it happen. For as long as we've had Mathematicians and Physicist the two sciences have been butting heads and neither side wanted anything to do with Meteorology in general. Yet it was in an obscure Meteorological journal in the 1950s that we find one of the first papers that reference this chaotic side to Nature. For me, parts of this book were a tough read with some sections that were hard to get through. On the other hand there were other parts that went very fast, but whatever effort you put into reading this book is well worth it. While exploring Chaos's history the author introduces the reader to some unfamiliar concepts like: Strange Attractors, Nonlinear Fluid Dynamics and Phase Transitions. It turns out that Chaos has strong ties to Biology, Astronomy, Geology and, yes, even Meteorology. As a matter of fact just about any science you can think of that has a complex or nonlinear problem can be studied with Chaos applications. Some of the scientist mentioned in the text may be familiar to you while others are somewhat more obscure. One that stood out for me was Benoit Mandelbrot and his study of Fractals. The book has many illustrations of fractals, some of which are in full color. It's not just science that benefits from Chaos Theory but everyday life has elements to which the math can be applied; the stock market, population dynamics, medical research, wherever there are transitions from stability to chaotic conditions. When you watch a pot of water on the stove, there is a point where it changes from orderly to turbulent and in that instant when it goes from just hot to boiling something strange is going on, something chaotic but understandable if you take the time to look a little deeper and just work it out. Chaos helps us see the hidden turmoil that lurks in the universe around us. The Second Law of Thermodynamics tells us the everything tends toward disorder, we call it Entropy. But is there an underlying order to that Chaos? How do we recognize it's calling card and once recognized, what do we do with it? Even today the research goes on and our understanding of many issues can change overnight. So hang on tight "It's gonna be a bumpy ride". I'm not sure how much I got out of this book but I did come away with plenty of food for thought.
I had no technical or formatting problems with this Kindle edition.

Last Ranger
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on June 22, 2014
My background is electrical engineering, and I really liked this book. It presented a very good history of chaos theory and its development from quirky art into a legitimate branch of science. It also gave interesting personal backgrounds of the pioneers in the field. However, I would have preferred if were written more like a textbook and illustrated with practical examples.

The book is a very good introduction to chaos theory for non-technical readers. It's well-written and easy to read. But it doesn't offer enough detailed information for those of us who really want to delve into this subject and learn more than just superficial facts. I would have given the book five stars if it had presented a bit less historical background and offered more technical information, especially pertaining to the most recent developments in the field.

On the positive side, the author was very good at pointing out that chaos is a natural and very necessary feature of our universe. As an engineer, I was taught almost nothing about chaos, other than it is very bad when it appears in electrical system, and so we were trained to eliminate it at all costs. This book shed a whole new positive light on it.
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on November 23, 2016
I first heard of this book about 15 years ago when a grad school professor mentioned this in his coral reef ecology class. He said it was a good layperson's intro to nonlinear dynamics. My first thought was that it must certainly be dated by now, plus my background is in marine chemistry, not physics. Although it took a couple of tries to get immersed in the book, I have to say he was right. Gleick covers the technical details in a way that makes them interesting, but he also covers the opinions and personalities in a way that makes this book so readable.
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on April 22, 2017
If you haven't read this yet, read it. Absolutely fascinating. It's one of my all-time favorites. Especially if you have a science background.
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