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Chaos: Making a New Science Hardcover – 29 Oct 1987

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 363 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Australia; First Edition edition (29 Oct. 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670811785
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670811786
  • Product Dimensions: 16.3 x 3.3 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 993,446 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

James Gleick was an editor and reporter at the NEW YORK TIMES for ten years. He is the author of GENIUS, CHAOS, which was nominated for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, FASTER, and WHAT JUST HAPPENED. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By David Everitt on 29 May 2007
Format: Paperback
Chaos theory has become so embedded in popular culture that it is easy to overlook the remarkable impact it has had on our thinking.

The principal and now-familiar tenets state that small initial changes produce large end results and, at a point where things do not tend too much toward either order or disorder, they dance around in a state of 'chaos', following endless permutations within the limits of their boundaries, yet retaining a kind of fluid organisation which echoes many processes in the natural world, and enables some of them to be modelled.

Underpinning this are non-linear equations - seemingly simple (you can even try graphing the examples from the book in Excel) yet insoluble mathematical equations that, with the right input, generate an infinite and ever-changing series rather than a fixed result. Chaos theory also includes the fractal notion of self-similarity - that (for instance) the surface of a small broken rock resembles the face of a mountain, or zooming in on the Mandelbrot set again and again simply reveals endless permutations of similar patterns. Chaos explains how clouds or trees, although never identical, remain recognisable. It explores how dynamic systems, such as those seen in turbulence or the weather, are sustained.

James Gleick's book on the subject is an ideal starting point, combining a thorough overview with a great introduction to how this interdisciplinary branch of science came about.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mr. S. A. Siddiqi on 30 Oct. 2009
Format: Paperback
A book of intellect and complex mathematics, which at first begins with an understanding of the creater, Mandelbrot.

Used specifically for my dissertation, i found this literture very useful in gaining an insight into the mathematical theories which did not involve complex formulae or numbers.

Well written and a joy to read.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
this book is very nice particularly for the scientist and engineers.the writer has used strong language and need to be patient when you are reading this book. the only disadvantage is small font and not very good quality paper. however the book contain lot of information and good history of Chaos.
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0 of 4 people found the following review helpful By D. Warren on 2 Nov. 2009
Format: Paperback
Item was received promptly and the customer care given was second to none. Would certainly use this seller again.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 175 reviews
62 of 63 people found the following review helpful
Achieves its goal - even after 18 years 12 July 2005
By David Schaich - Published on
Format: Paperback
When I first picked up Gleick's "Chaos" I was a little skeptical - could a book written in 1987 still work as an introduction to chaos and nonlinear dynamics, a field that has been evolving rapidly for the past eighteen years? Well, in a certain sense, it turns out it can.

The truth is that the focus of Gleick's book is not so much chaos itself as it is the people who first explored chaos theory and eventually managed to make it respectable and bring it into the mainstream. As the book's subtitle hints, Gleick is concerned mainly with how a 'new science' is 'made', not necessarily with the actual science or math involved. This was not quite what I was expecting from "Chaos", but it is actually an advantage for the book, since its age becomes somewhat irrelevant: although chaos theory itself has been growing and evolving dramatically in recent decades, "Chaos" deals only with its roots in the '60s, '70s and early '80s. On the other hand, I was hoping for more discussion of the science itself, rather than the personalities involved in its early development.

I was also not that taken with the style of Gleick's writing. His narrative tends to jump around rapidly, often spending only a few pages on some person or event before moving on to another, commonly with little in the way of connection or logical transition. This is fine for short articles in newspapers and magazines, but it doesn't work so well in a 300+ page book. The vast cast of characters (meteorologists, physicists, mathematicians, computer scientists, biologists, ecologists and many others) spins in and out of view, and it can be very difficult to get more than a general impression how the little pieces all fit together in the big picture.

However, even though I'm complaining about the content and presentation, I'm still giving "Chaos" four stars. This is because "Chaos" managed to get me interested in and excited about nonlinear dynamics. Gleick was able to convey the sense of wonder and excitement that comes from looking at nature in a new way, through the lens of nonlinearity. He successfully presented the making of this new science as the greatest and most exciting scientific revolution since the development of quantum mechanics - with the difference that chaos is more accessible, more understandable, and applicable in a far wider range of fields.

In short, "Chaos" still achieves its goal 18 years after it was written. It gets the reader (this reader, at least) interested in and excited about nonlinear dynamics and eager to explore the topic in greater depth. Reading Gleick's book inspired me to pick up a copy of Robert Hilborn's "Chaos and Nonlinear Dynamics" from the library and take a more serious look at the science itself. "Chaos" should make a good read for anyone who knows little or nothing about chaos or nonlinear dynamics but is curious about the topic and interested in learning a bit about its early development.
86 of 90 people found the following review helpful
Another excellent book for non-experts 8 Dec. 2008
By Paul Stevenson - Published on
Format: Paperback
I am not a hard scientist, but I like to have some idea of what is going on in those fields. Books like this one are ideal for people such as me. This book tackles the fascinating field of Chaos Theory. It turns out that certain patterns recur over and over in many diverse areas of the universe, whether it is the patterning of galaxies in clusters or the price of cotton.

Specialists working in many fields independently discovered curious patterns, and eventually, starting mainly in the 1970's, they became aware of each others' work. This book takes physics as the field on which it focuses, but it mentions many others. Since some of these fields involve conscious human decision making (especially economics), I have begun to wonder whether I can find comparable patterns in languages, my own specialty.

There are many reviews of a previous printing of this book: Chaos: Making a New Science, so you can go there to check them out. Other books useful to non-specialists interested in the history of and current research in the hard sciences are The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality, A Briefer History of Time and Electric Universe: How Electricity Switched on the Modern World.
66 of 70 people found the following review helpful
Gleick's Chaos remains well worth reading - the ebook enhancements add a little, but not much 10 April 2011
By Andrew David Maynard - Published on
Format: 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 [...])
68 of 73 people found the following review helpful
Science Meets Nature 1 Aug. 2004
By Jason Enochs - Published on
Format: Paperback
Have you ever wondered why a leaf or tree is shaped the way it is? Can science explain the seemingly randomness of nature? This book will make your imagination run wild. Pure science meets Mother Nature. I would read from this book each night before I went to bed and then just dream about the possibilities. This is one of the most thought provoking books I have ever read. I grab this book off the shelf at least once a month and just thumb through it again to revisit some of the ideas. His explanation and discussions about nonlinear dynamics were very eye opening for me. The author also did a great job of providing a brief background of each scientific breakthrough along the way. This provided allot of additional and interesting facts that directly contributed to ones understanding.

You don't have to be a genius to comprehend and enjoy this book. Some of the reviews for this book complain about there not being enough math to support the theory. The lack of advanced math made this book even more enjoyable for me. The average person will appreciate this book just as much as anyone else.

This book also has some very nice full color illustrations. Nothing was spared for this book. You won't be disappointed.
110 of 123 people found the following review helpful
Fun, but not terribly deep 2 Sept. 1999
By P. Lozar - Published on
Format: Paperback
I read this book when it was first published, and it was the beginning of a journey that led me to my present job (at a Santa Fe Institute spinoff company), so I must admit to feeling a debt of gratitude to Gleick! He writes engagingly about the people who founded "chaos theory" and explains their discoveries in easy-to-understand terms -- other "popular science" works (e.g., "Goedel, Escher, Bach") from the same era were beyond me mathematically, but I feel that Gleick gave me a clear and accurate sense of what the theory was all about. On the other hand, he seems to focus too much on the "who" and not the "what" of chaos theory, a habit that, unfortunately, has persisted in other authors' books on the subject -- granted, some amazing "characters" work in the field, but I think emphasizing their eccentricity detracts from the solid science they're doing and the real-life applicability of the theory. To me, the best overall introduction to this subject is Mitchell Waldrop's "Complexity"; Gleick deserves credit for piquing everyone's interest, but this book is, to my mind, only an appetizer.
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