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Complexity: A Guided Tour

3.98 of 5 stars 3.98  ·  rating details  ·  769 ratings  ·  78 reviews
Complexity This book provides an intimate, highly readable tour of the sciences of complexity, which seek to explain how large-scale complex, organized, and adaptive behavior can emerge from simple interactions among myriad individuals. The author, a leading complex systems scientist, describes the history of ideas, current research, and future prospects in this vital scie ...more
Hardcover, 366 pages
Published May 28th 2009 by OUP USA (first published March 2nd 2009)
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Melanie Mitchell è una docente di talento. Lo dimostrò con la sua "Introduzione agli algoritmi genetici", che per efficacia batte anche la presentazione del suo inventore (John Holland).
Con questo testo Melanie colma una lacuna importante: un testo introduttivo e comprensivo alla disciplina che va sotto il nome di Complessità.
E come c'era da aspettarsi il risultato è ottimo. Il testo introduce prima elementi di teoria dell'informazione, computazione, evoluzione e genetica, e poi passa in rassegn
How does an ant colony organize itself? How does the immune system work? What is the similarity between the world wide web and your brain?

If you have pondered any of these questions, "Complexity: A Guided Tour" is just the book for you.1

Any computer scientist who graduated in the last ten or so years would have covered some of the topics in Melanie Mitchell's "Complexity: A Guided Tour", and would have probably wished that they had Ms. Mitchell as a lecturer!

Ms. Mitchell is clearly passionate
Robert Dormer
I actually brought this book by accident, thinking it was strictly about computation complexity theory. Instead, it turned out be about the newish science of Complexity Theory. What a happy accident - this is currently tied for most informative and interesting book I've read all year. The scope of this book is broad, and covers a plethora of topics - evolution, computational complexity, turing machines and definite procedures, molecular genetics, immunology, neurology, graph and network theory, ...more
Oct 27, 2009 Josiah rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2009
Not perfect, but generally awesome book overviewing fairly, clearly, and concisely a number of branches of science under the presumed goal of the title topic. As an "introduction", much of this was information I was already familiar with, but as it was well-presented and cogently organized, I'm confident I will return to this work as a reference. It is also a springboard, referencing countless studies and useful works that the interested reader could further pursue. And the ultimate conclusion t ...more
Michael Quinn
Complexity is a very broad subject that touches upon many scientific fields that hold a prominent place in the popular imagination: chaos, information theory, molecular biology, artificial intelligence. For that very reason, it makes a great popular science book, since there are a lot of topics to jump around in. At the same time, a reader might walk away without ever truly understanding what complexity is. That's OK, since the term still lacks a rigorous definition among most scientists.

Melanie Mitchell is an excellent writer and teacher. She explains things very clearly, providing enough detail to be informative without overwhelming readers who have limited prior knowledge of the subject. This is an extremely useful book for anyone who wants to become familiar with basic concepts in the study of complexity. Mitchell exemplifies the concepts by discussing the immune system, ant colonies, biological metabolism and genetic networks. I found the book informative and enjoyable.

I finished Melanie Mitchell's Complexity, a Guided Tour a few days ago, and it was pretty neat. Mitchell is studying complex systems, and common properties that a variety of complex systems demonstrate (for instance, scale-free behavior). She reviewed Hofstadter's approach to Gödelian incompleteness, and gave an excellent overview of many of the current approaches to genetics. The most surprising thing I learned from the book was that the model of genetic encoding of DNA which I had been taught ...more
One of the things I enjoyed most about Complexity was the author's description of how she entered the field and embarked upon research under the tutelage of Hofstadter. As a young research scientist at the start of my career, I found the description very encouraging and insightful.

I particularly liked the chapter that described her work in some detail- the iterative process of running 'codelets' on statements to extract meaningful relationships between elements and generate analogies.

The materi
As a non-fiction book, this is very well written - it's on the level of an undergrad, with few actual formulas and very little "jargon" (most of it is hidden in the footnotes for interested readers). Since the author often intersperses her own personal views and experiences working in the field the book feels more like listening to an excited relative explain his or her field at a party than a technical explanation at a conference.

I'm also impressed about the overall niceness of this book - for
Alex Goodall
I had a vague notion of what the topic of complexity was about, but lacked a unifying concept of what was and was not in scope.

I now have a more in DEPTH vague notion of the topic, but still lack a unifying concept. However, I'm relaxed about that now because it seems there IS no such unifying concept (yet).

Highly recommended book that touches on so many interesting topics. Looking at them through the lens of complexity makes them even more interesting. (Computation, genetics, the immune system,
Bastian Greshake
If you have a background in biology or computer science you might find that you already much of the stuff that is discussed in this book, but as it's 'a guided tour' and not 'the expert's compendium to complexity' that's more than okay. If you want to learn about the investigation of complexity without having too much knowledge about it you will get a great overview that is pretty easy to understand imho.

For me it was a quick, fun read that put the different topics together quite nicely. And se
J Scott Shipman
I read Dr. Mitchell's excellent Complexity, A Guided Tour last December (2010). Mitchell does a splendid job of explaining the sciences of complexity. She does a thorough job defining/describing the background and history of complexity in life and computer programs. Her treatment of the "New Science of Networks" was the most revealing and instructive for me.

Dr. Mitchell concludes this excellent volume with admission that complexity is in "early stages," and requires "an adventurous intellectual
Richard Williams
first half or so is good, up to her phd thesis explanation. best put that chapter into an appendix and rewrite the rest.

apparently popular science is best written either as a cumulation story or as independent chapters that tie together in the end. the cumulation story would be introduction, then more info, then big point you want to make after most everyone is up to speed. the issue is how to provide background information without loosing people and boring the knowledgeable at the same. what ti
A joy

This book manages to strike a great balance between depth and accessibility. It is not as shallow as a more journalistic approach might have been, but it still presents its intricate topic in an easy to comprehend manner. Even someone as science-illiterate as me could get through this book just fine.

In fact, it was a page turner. Despite the staggering amount of complex topics discussed (a selection: chaos theory, information theory, thermodynamics, Godel's theorem, Turing machines, evolut
Andrew Martin
Seminary Coop purchase (the best source for random philosophy of science books, hands down).

clear and readable to be sure. the genetic algorithm and cellular automata chapters were legit fascinating. but on the whole, somewhat disappointing. i was probably at three stars until the last page when James Gleick was quoted and I remembered just how good ¨The Information" was. Far too many chapters here read like barely-fleshed out versions of the initial skeleton of draft 1 notes and topics (Ch 16 e
Dana Kraft
I enjoyed the subject matter in this book even if some of it dragged a bit. The early chapters were best in my opinion. The couple of main lessons learned for me were the idea that reductionism is a bit of a fools errand. You can't always understand something just by breaking it down to its individual components. The second is the concept that a system includes (and may be defined by) it's ability to gather and process information. I also kept thinking about how some of these theories or concept ...more
In Complexity: A Guided Tour, Melanie Mitchell describes bits and pieces of the emerging field presently being called “complex systems science.” “Complexity” relates to how our brain networks operate, how ants work together to accomplish their tasks, how the immune system fights off disease, and has countless other real-world applications as well which are only beginning to be understood.
Overlapping concepts and recurring basic elements arising from different disciplines such as the above includ
Keith Swenson
The Science of Complexity is arguably one of the most important fields of study today because it is struggling to explain many emergent phenomena around us using a new tool of computation. As you can imagine, these are not simple topics to understand, but Melanie Mitchell does a marvelous job of of making these difficult topics understandable.

Why is this subject important? Want to know how the brain works? It is a complex network of neurons, and thought is an emergent phenomenon. Want to know ho
Chris Aldrich
This is handily one of the best, most interesting, and (to me at least) the most useful popularly written science books I've yet to come across. Most popular science books usually bore me to tears and end up being only pedantic for their historical backgrounds, but this one is very succinct with some interesting viewpoints (some of which I agree with and some of which my intuition says are terribly wrong) on the overall structure presented.

For those interested in a general and easily readable h
Maurizio Codogno
(se vuoi una mia recensione più seria di questo libro, va' su Galileo, !)

La complessità è una cosa complicata. Fin qui non ci piove. Ma lo è forse ancora più di quanto si pensi: anche se esiste la Teoria della Complessità, se si chiede a due ricercatori in questo campo di definirla si otterranno con ogni probabilità almeno due risposte diverse. Melanie Mitchell, probabilmente nota ai fan di Douglas Hofstadter visto che è stata una sua studentessa, ha racc
This book, by an ex-student of the master-communicator Douglas Hofstadter who is now herself a distinguished professor, is a wonderful introduction to the concept of complexity that is playing an important role in present-day science. Mitchell takes a historical perspective, linking a broad range of developments in the 19th and early 20th centuries to current concerns. At times, especially when she delves into her own field of computer science, it's pretty tough going; at others, where she deals ...more
Fungus Gnat
In this book, Mitchell undertakes, as she puts it, to “give a guided tour, flavored with my own perspectives, of some of the core ideas of the sciences of complexity—where they come from and where they are going.” When I was going to college and graduate school, the “sciences of complexity” did not even exist yet, so, even though I’ve been vaguely aware of research on networks and so forth, this book usefully encapsulates a whole area of science that is basically new to me.

Actually, “usefully en
The beginning and end of COMPLEXITY: A GUIDED TOUR were interesting, accessible, and worthwhile.

The middle was not as interesting and - for me, with weak math and technical background - not really accessible.

Mitchell does a decent job of conveying both the objective importance of complexity as a field of study/research, and she described how she got interested and was pulled in to the work. Then she launches into a series of chapters that give examples of case studies in complexity as it current
Dmitry Pirozhkov
The book is just too elementary. This book may be interesting for a bright high school student: it mentions a great deal of topics (briefly), provides some insights, and highlights unexpected ways of thinking (citing groundbreaking work when appropriate). However, it's useless when you want to actually understand something about complexity. "Complexity: A Guided Tour" is a spectacular but superficial introduction, nothing more. For example, it doesn't pay enough attention to models. Some standar ...more
J Scott Shipman
I read Dr. Mitchell's excellent Complexity, A Guided Tour last December (2010). Mitchell does a splendid job of explaining the sciences of complexity. She does a thorough job defining/describing the background and history of complexity in life and computer programs. Her treatment of the "New Science of Networks" was the most revealing and instructive for me.

Dr. Mitchell concludes this excellent volume with admission that complexity is in "early stages," and requires "an adventurous intellectual
"Analogously, you could, without too much difficulty, design a Turing machine M that counted the 1s in its input, and then run M on the code for a second Turing machine M'. M would simply count the 1s in M"s code. Of course, the Universal Turing Machine U could have the code for M in the "program" part of its tape, have the code for M' in the "input" part of its tape, and run M on M'. Just to be perverse... ."

That sums it up.
Betsy Dion
If you can overlook a handful of ignorant and naive statements about the relationship between science and religion, then the rest of this book is gold. As our world and our technology become more and more complex and interconnected, the field of complexity science attempts to develop ways to analyze and explain our complex systems. The author gives a brief overview of the various branches of complexity science, and gives simple examples and applications. Having some background in math or science ...more
Bill Graham
Melanie Mitchel's book on complexity science is one of the clearest explanations of the subject that I've read. This is a relatively new field explored by deeply intellectual people who seem incapable of explaining this important topic to the real world. But, Dr. Mitchell pulls together much of the thinking and produces clarity. The subject of complex systems, as lofty as it sounds, explains a lot about how Nature works. Particularly, how things are interconnected. This new science provides guid ...more
This book is entertaining enough as a layman's guide to complexity theory (or theories as might be better stated), but toward the high end of lay-person friendliness. It is best read by somebody not affraid of a bit of mathematical jargon. Given a willingness to get over that, this book will take you on a tour through a wider range of disciplines than you might expect. Chaos, information theory, evolution to name a few.

The author has a refereshing moment of honesty at the end, making an admissio
While anyone following the current scientific conversation may already be familiar with most of the ideas presented in the book (e.g. small-world networks, information theory, cellular automata), Mitchell succeeds in creating a compelling narrative to connect them. Each generation must find a cohesive way to synthesize what previous generations have done in order to move forward, and Complexity provides this grounding for upcoming researchers in complex systems. I personally picked up this boo ...more
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“Whew, this might be getting a bit confusing. I hope you are following me so far. This is the point in every Theory of Computation course at which students either throw up their hands and say "I can't get my mind around this stuff!" or clap their hands and say "I love this stuff!"

Needless to say, I was the second kind of student, even though I shared the confusion of the first.”
“This statement is not provable.” Think about it for a minute. It’s a strange statement, since it talks about itself—in fact, it asserts that it is not provable. Let’s call this statement “Statement A.” Now, suppose Statement A could indeed be proved. But then it would be false (since it states that it cannot be proved). That would mean a false statement could be proved—arithmetic would be inconsistent. Okay, let’s assume the opposite, that Statement A cannot be proved. That would mean that Statement A is true (because it asserts that it cannot be proved), but then there is a true statement that cannot be proved—arithmetic would be incomplete. Ergo, arithmetic is either inconsistent or incomplete.” 0 likes
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