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Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos Paperback – 1 Sep 1993


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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Pocket Books (1 Sept. 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671872346
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671872342
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.8 x 21.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 215,088 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"The New York Times Book Review" Lucidly shows physicists, biologists, computer scientists and economists swapping metaphors and reveling in the sense that epochal discoveries are just around the corner....[Waldrop] has a special talent for relaying the exhilaration of moments of intellectual insight.

About the Author

M. Mitchell Waldrop has his doctorate in elementary particle physics and is the author of "Man-Made Minds." He spent ten years as a senior writer for "Science" magazine, where he is now a contributing correspondent.

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First Sentence
This is a book about the science of complexity-a subject that's still so new and so wide-ranging that nobody knows quite how to define it, or even where its boundaries lie. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Primoz Peterlin on 20 Dec. 2000
Format: Paperback
I bought this book back in 1994, when it was released as a paperback in the UK. I liked it tremendously, and although I let a dozen friends or so borrow it from me to read, I was keeping its track very meticulously in order to get it back every time. Complexity is one of those books that easily gets lost if you are not careful, you know.
In short, the book is a chronicle of at the time seemingly unrelated ideas that finally led to forming of the Santa Fe Institute in 1984, and the people who created them: the economist Brian Arthur and his lock-in theory of "increasing returns" (better known to engineers as "positive feedback"); Stuart Kaufmann and his "autocatalytic" models for evolving biological systems; John Holland and his genetic algorithms and genetic programming; Christopher Langton and his "artificial life"; Doyne Farmer with all his experience with chaos theory; and of course the "founding fathers" of the Santa Fe Institute: George Cowan, Kenneth Arrow, and two Nobel-prize winners, Murray Gell-Mann and Philip Anderson.
With a PhD in Physics, MA in Journalism and over ten years of service as a senior science writer for one of the world's most prestigious science journals - Science - M. Mitchell Waldrop seems like a role-model science writer. Complexity is his second book, being predecessed by Man Made Minds, a survey of artificial intelligence. This book, however, bears much greater resemblance in style with James Gleick's bestseller Chaos than with his own previous work.
Some "historical distance" allows us also a somewhat more critical view on the complexity theory itself.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Emily S. Ryall on 7 Jun. 2007
Format: Paperback
Don't ask me why I picked up this book - it just happened to be in the library next to some Philosophy of Science books that I was looking at. I had no idea what complexitity theory was but after reading it I am enthralled by its appeal to shed some light on the workings of our world. If it were a tv show it would be a documentary as it is pretty much an account of the inception and development of the Santa Fe institute in the US. And it is this documentary style of writing that makes something that could be incredibly dry absolutely riviting. It is an insight into the lives and minds of those scientists, economists and computer programmers who were at the forefront of a scientific revolution in the 1970s to the early 1990s. This revolution occured exactly because a couple of like-minded and driven guys saw that academics working in completely separate fields were studying different phenonena but understanding their underlying mechanisms in the same way and using similar metaphors to explain their findings. This is one of the few times where separate disciplines were contained in the same department and therefore they had (have) a much better chance in coming up with the elusive unifying theory that overcomes the limitations of simple reductionism and yet is more stable than pure chaos - hence the sub title 'edge of chaos'.

It is one of those books that is readable yet highly enlightening and historically interesting. I just regret the fact I've now finished it...
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By The Flying Dutchman on 11 Sept. 2002
Format: Paperback
I bought this book in August 2002. Although edited in 1992, the book is still an excellent introduction to the subject of Complexity Theory. It takes a discoursive style, centered around the lives and thoughts of key individuals (Brian Arthur, Stuart Kauffman, John Holland, etc.) as main representatives of this relatively new "strain" of scientific and economic thought.
An interesting feat of the book is its broad inter-disciplinary approach including physics, economics, biochemistry, neurology/psychology and information sciences.
Definitely money well spent!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Dr. H. A. Jones TOP 500 REVIEWER on 11 Jan. 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Complexity by M. Mitchell Waldrop, Simon and Schuster, USA, 1992; Penguin, UK, 1994, 384 ff.

The way the world works
By Howard A. Jones

Mitchell Waldrop qualified initially with a PhD in particle physics but since then has pursued a career in science journalism. This book is essentially anecdotal and biographical. It described the formation in 1984 and history over the following decade of the Santa Fe Institute, an organization devoted to a study of complex systems in whatever field they may occur. Many of its principals, whose biographies are briefly described here in the context of the Institute, worked previously at the nuclear facility of Los Alamos.

The author makes it clear in the opening chapter that "complexity" is a subject that is relevant to most aspects of life, from economics to ecology, and from politics to particle physics. It's about `the incessant urge of complex systems to organize themselves into patterns'. Biologists have turned to the spontaneous emergence of complexity as their way of countering scientifically the arguments of creationism and "intelligent design" in the natural world. The innate quest for complexity that is built into atoms and molecules is used to explain the emergence of polymers like proteins and nucleic acids from the simple building blocks of amino acids, bases and sugars which, in turn, arise from even simpler molecules and their constituent atoms, obviating the need for divine intervention.

Complexity theory explains how chaotic systems often reach a "tipping point" such that a further small change in the system can produce huge consequences.
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