Most helpful positive review
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Technologically informed and beautifully written
on 23 November 2001
This is really appealing science writing, all the more impressive for constructing its own place from pieces of an awful lot of different disciplines and discourses. Particularly note-worthy are the book's grounding in intellectual history (eg the explicit links between Jane Jacobs' ideas on cities and Warren Weaver's Rockefeller Foundation prospectus for studies of organized complexity) and its excellent insights into how to design systems that become self-organizing on the web (slashdot, etc). It's also full of wonderful throwaways delivered with the sort of tone that just makes you think that this is a nice person to have tell you things.
The book's main drawbacks, it seems to me, are an unwillingness to differentiate between spontaneous emergence and emergence in evolved systems (such as ant colonies) and a perhaps-related lack of discussion of the history of the concept of the superorgansim in ecology, where it originates. But though these make it incomplete, they don't undermine its insights into designing systems for emergence, which are, I think, the heart of the book. A minor drawback is a slight reluctance to push at the political aspects of the work -- to look at the ideologies built into rules of emergence in something like Sim City.
Given these caveats, I must admit that an honest rating would be 4 stars; but since the only review posted so far gives it an unfair-to-my-mind one star I've tried to boost the average. This second guessing of the software running Amazon is probably against Johnson's principles - I should behave with a straight-forward ant-like honesty and expect the right average star rating to come out regardless. But what the hell.