Dazzling colour images illuminate this award-winning story of game-changing scientific theory.
James Gleick’s chronicle, written in 1987, reveals a fascinating world of fractals, strange attractors and smooth noodle maps. He captures the astonished determination of its pioneers and explores its exciting and sometimes startling impact on our quest for knowledge. Today it is understood that chaos is not opposed but integral to the two other revolutionary theories of the 20th century – relativity and quantum mechanics. Moreover, it is now known that chaos has a hand, not just in the workings of the world we inhabit, but in the wider universe: the sun, black holes, and even the big bang. As well as Gleick’s 2008 afterword, this edition features colour illustrations that visualise the intricate beauty of chaos theory.
‘Beautifully lucid … Gleick has a novelist’s touch for describing his scientists and their settings, an eye for the apt analogy, and a sense of the dramatic and the poetic’
‘Where chaos begins, classical science stops.’ This sentence, from the prologue to Gleick’s enthralling book, conveys the dramatic impact of a theory that initially appeared to subvert the very laws of nature. Those laws were predicated on a degree of ‘special ignorance’ about the disorder inherent in every aspect of our world – from Earth’s atmosphere to the human heart. They assumed that Newton’s rules of motion provided ‘a bridge of mathematical certainty’, and that in any system – be it cotton prices, a waterwheel or a measles epidemic – small disturbances had minor effects.
These ideas were first challenged in the 1960s by the meteorologist Edward Lorenz and his game-changing experiments. His weather simulators revealed the existence of ostensibly erratic patterns, infinitely varied but operating within specific parameters. What’s more, these patterns were enormously sensitive to subtle changes in input; a phenomenon popularly known as the Butterfly Effect. The early chaoticists, whose ideas were greeted variously with exhilaration, laughter and animosity, pushed towards a new paradigm that embraced the complex ‘orderly disorder’ in the collective behaviour of every entity and substance known to mankind.
‘Reading it gave me the sensation that someone had just found the light switch’
James Gleick was born in New York City in 1954, graduated from Harvard College in 1976, and worked for ten years as an editor and reporter for The New York Times. His first book, Chaos, was a National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize finalist. His other books include the best-selling biographies Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman and Isaac Newton, both shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize, and The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood. In 1989–90 he was the McGraw Distinguished Lecturer at Princeton University. He is active on the boards of the Authors Guild and the Key West Literary Seminar.
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Review by experi-ate on 18th Oct 2015
"Stunning. The dawn of a new science told through the lives of its founders. The illustrations are gorgeous and serve to totally engross the reader. This is certainly a book I will return to and reread..." [read more]