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A little chaotic
on 21 November 2001
It should be noted from the beginning that this is not a "Layman's guide to Chaos theory ". It is in fact a "Once upon a time" account of the birth and development of this fascinating science. The problem is, who this book is trying to fascinate.
The first half is certainly handled well, with Gleick balancing the building up of Chaos Theory with the lives and characters of its pioneers. It does however prelude what is to come in the book: At times, though the language is clear, the concepts become obscured, especially as the author tries to keep things broad and general.
It gets worse in the second half of the book, as it becomes less and less clear who the author is talking to: People with a background in Chaos theory, or people who know nothing about it? The first group would find nothing interesting here apart from happy memoirs, while the second would be left scratching their heads as they go over and over the same paragraphs, trying to decipher the deeper meanings.
As an Introduction to Chaos, the book suffers from over-generalisations and fast pace: Gleick seems happy to glide from the surface of tough concept to the surface of tougher concept and then get poetic with the conclusions, before an ordinary reader realises that there were actually any conclusions to be made. In his own comments the author even "winks" to those in the know, providing "inside jokes" that only the people he has interviewed would probably get. The rest of us outsiders are left baffled and frustrated.
However, as a documentation of Chaos, the book is decent. Well-researched and well-planned, if you already know the specifics of Chaos theory, you 'll enjoy reading a general review of how this breakthrough way of thinking came to be, survived "persecution" and eventually influenced everything it touched.