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Chaos: The Making of a New Science [Paperback]

James Gleick
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (83 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Jan. 26 1989 0140092501 978-0747404132 Reprint
Chaos records the birth of a new science. This new science offers a way of seeing order and pattern where formerly only the random, the erratic, the unpredictable—in short, the chaotic—had been observed.

Chaos is a history of discovery. It chronicles, in the words of the scientists themselves, their conflicts and frustrations, their emotions and moments of revelation. After reading Chaos, you will never look at the world in quite the same way again.


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Product Description

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Few writers distinguish themselves by their ability to write about complicated, even obscure topics clearly and engagingly. James Gleick, a former science writer for the New York Times, resides in this exclusive category. In Chaos, he takes on the job of depicting the first years of the study of chaos--the seemingly random patterns that characterize many natural phenomena.

This is not a purely technical book. Instead, it focuses as much on the scientists studying chaos as on the chaos itself. In the pages of Gleick's book, the reader meets dozens of extraordinary and eccentric people. For instance, Mitchell Feigenbaum, who constructed and regulated his life by a 26-hour clock and watched his waking hours come in and out of phase with those of his coworkers at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

As for chaos itself, Gleick does an outstanding job of explaining the thought processes and investigative techniques that researchers bring to bear on chaos problems. Rather than attempt to explain Julia sets, Lorenz attractors, and the Mandelbrot Set with gigantically complicated equations, Chaos relies on sketches, photographs, and Gleick's wonderful descriptive prose.

From Publishers Weekly

Gleick here adventurously attempts to describe the revolutionary science of "chaos," a challengingly abstract new look at nature in terms of nonlinear dynamics. "A ground-breaking book about what seems to be the future of physics," praised PW. Illustrated. 100,000 first printing; author tour.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars an excellent introduction May 27 2004
Format:Paperback
First, the plusses. The book reads easily, and Gleick is careful to explain all the concepts he introduces so that a layman reader will understand. There is a lot of history in this book, where Gleick first explains the person who made the discovery before he explains the discovery itself. These sections can be tedious to a reader interested in the science, not Edward Lorenz' personal habits, but it works well to steady the pace of the book, and to give the non-scientific reader a breather before diving into more scientific concepts.
You can't always have the best of both worlds, though, and so at times, a more scientifically or mathematically reader will be frustrated with the lack of detail concerning some of the interesting concepts developed here. For example, Gleick mentions fractional dimensionality, but fails to really explain it well, probably assuming that it is beyond most of his readers. This is probably a safe bet for layman readers, but left me very frustrated in places. Also, Gleick's writing (praised as "novelistic") gets overly melodramatic in places, and the reader gets the distinct impression that he's trying too hard to make this book accessible.
But even despite these flaws, this is an excellent introduction to chaos theory, and worth reading for scientists and laymen alike. This book makes you want to learn more about chaos theory, and does a good job at making chaos accessible. It was written over fifteen years ago, though, so a more recent book on chaos would be a good supplement.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent and exciting glimpse into chaos! May 16 2004
Format:Paperback
Chaos is a profound book. It provides you a new pair of glasses that changes completely how you look at this world. For anyone with even a little background in mathematics and physics, or rather a taste for science, this book provides a stimulating compilation on emergence of non-linear science. The story is written inbibing the usually unsung scientists as heroes of a vibrant saga of discovery, eccentricity and revolution of ideas!
Personally when I first read this book an year ago, I was able to comprehend that non-linear dynamics and chaos present a new set of tools to describe systems in all realms of science. The study of chaos contains key to understanding our nature better. Complexity is beautiful in form and patterns in chaos both awe and fascinate! An year later I am still trying to understand the technical details and mathematicals of chaos and nonlinear dynamics, but I feel an excitement for which I must thank Gleick! And not surprisingly, I have now moved to research with an open mind about possibilities in domains of nonlinearty.
Like I Ching said, "Before the beginning of great brilliance, there must be chaos". Maybe as Gleick claims, Chaos will be rated just below relativity and quantum mechanics as the key discoveries of last century!! Read it: it is fun!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Understandable and Enjoyable Jan. 10 2004
Format:Paperback
Drawing on examples form biology to astronomy, Gleick manages to make a complicated subject appealing to people from all scientific and mathematical backgrounds. I would not reccomend this book for the general layperson though, unless that person has a sincere scientific interest.
Gleick's logic is easy to follow and Appears complete. Though drawing from so many examples, I sometimes had the feeling that parts were repetitive. I did appreciate his thorough history of "Making a new science", it was written in a way such that I was able to keep the major players straight and made me appreciate their contributions. Sometimes the history of the idea is just as important and interesting as the idea itself, yet less written about.
The source notes are exhaustive and the index is complete. Make sure you read the prologue as Gleick prepares the reader for the material book and get his readers, at least me anyways!, excited to start dipping into his work. All in all I would say this book is a must-read and every working scientist and science student should have a basic background in chaos (aka nonlinear dynamics) in order to think more deeply and realistically about whatever subject they are studying, modelling or researching.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful Stuff March 7 2003
Format:Paperback
One day during my junior year, at the end of computer science, I was browsing one of the bookshelves above the printers. Andrew Merrill pointed out a slightly battered and rather thick paperback called Chaos, by James Gleick. It came highly recommended by Andrew, and a national bestseller to boot, so I took it home and read it.
Chaos has contributed greatly to my appreciation of physics and complex mathematics. Previous to reading the book, I knew only a little about the ideas behind chaos theory, and had less knowledge of the myriad of applications of very advanced mathematics. Chaos isn't a textbook. Through illustrations and thoughtfully prepared explanation, which reads smoothly like a novel, James Gleick seems to truly capture not only the essential core of Chaos Theory, but also the excitement and lives of some of the researchers who have contributed to the science.
It's an interesting read to any one of the myriad Catlin students going heavily into the sciences, like myself. But even those who feel strictly interested in the arts, history, or theater could find themselves intrigued by the book. I don't think that I would be stretching my own impressions if I asserted that Chaos is a powerful enough work to engender an interest in the sciences and advanced mathematics in even the least inclined. It also answers the inevitable questions, "what can I do with all this math?" and "where will all this studying take me?" The colorful and complete descriptions of scientists, research, programs of study, and industrial applications of chaos theory paint a tempting picture of the availability and opportunity for interesting careers in research.
In my opinion, far too little of real, advanced science is known about by the layman.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A Gem
This book by James Gleick is an eye opener on the real world out there. It tries to tell us-in a sort of indirect way-that we need not worry about 'chaos', 'cause therein lies the... Read more
Published 22 months ago by Paulo
4.0 out of 5 stars Chaos Scientists
The subject of the book is intriguing and fascinating. However, James Gleick seems torn here between writing a book about chaos and researching the lives of chaos scientists. Read more
Published on May 29 2012 by Anastasia Prozorova
2.0 out of 5 stars More history than science!
This book is more of an history book than a science book by volume. It drags on and on over the history of the scientists, however when it gets to explain the chaos characteristics... Read more
Published on Jan. 20 2004 by Luigi
4.0 out of 5 stars Chaos is good
Chaos is a great book, however for an under-achiever (not passed calculus) person, it can and will be difficult in some chapters. Read more
Published on Jan. 12 2004 by kceezie
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent work
I'm on the heels of 72 other reviewers so there's not much sense saying more. I found the book understandable and enjoyable. A rare combination where physics is concerned.
Published on Sept. 15 2003 by Jack Purcell
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent!!!
This book is an excellent book. It clearly explains the concepts and the history of chaos theory. This book shows the reader some very interesting and deep insights into the way... Read more
Published on July 14 2003 by "tjg_79"
5.0 out of 5 stars Strange attractors
This is good coda and accompaniement to Gleick's recent book on Isaac Newton and is a classic chestnut in this subject, the 'later career' of the mechanics, born to such exactitude... Read more
Published on July 1 2003 by John C. Landon
5.0 out of 5 stars Unraveling the science of nature...
The book provides insight into the science of complexity and chaos. The author presents the field in an easy to understand language and provides fascinating observations from real... Read more
Published on June 17 2003 by Anand Nair
4.0 out of 5 stars Easy but Stimulating
Please don't read this book and think you know very much about Chaos, but it is a fun read. I really like Gleik's writing. Read more
Published on May 27 2003 by Mike
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