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Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos
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Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  1,903 ratings  ·  113 reviews
Why did the stock market crash more than 500 points on a single Monday in 1987? Why do ancient species often remain stable in the fossil record for millions of years and then suddenly disappear? In a world where nice guys often finish last, why do humans value trust and cooperation? At first glance these questions don't appear to have anything in common, but in fact every ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published September 1st 1993 by Simon Schuster (first published January 15th 1992)
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Average rating 4.06  · 
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 ·  1,903 ratings  ·  113 reviews

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Jul 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I cannot recall the last time I enjoyed a book of any kind this much.

There is a stark difference between the way a book like this was written in 1990 and the way such books are written just 25 years later. The author, then, had two assumptions: His reader did not know very much, and his reader was very intelligent. M. Mitchell Waldrop, subsequently, explains with brevity and sophistication every idea.

Today's equivalent, a catastrophe like The Upright Thinkers, assumes the opposite: Today's reade
Oct 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
This book tells the story of the people, places and events involved in the creation of the science of complexity. The story is told well and I found it difficult to put down. This is the only book that, upon finishing it, I have decided to re-read immediately... note: I am a geek quite enamored with fractals, chaos, and all things complex.
Jun 26, 2008 rated it did not like it
What can I say about this book? Complexity is one of my favorite topics - the world is made of individual agents reacting to limited local factors, and their interaction produces sophisticated emergent systems. Awesome.

And this book manages to make it seem like a boring administrative task.

Maybe I'm coming to this book too late. I've been seeing the world through complexity-colored glasses for years, so this book seemed plodding. Dull. No matter the discipline, Waldrop barely manages to capture
May 31, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one really
Skims over the science in favor of messianic praise for the rogue theorists who began the Santa Fe institute.

Reads like an article from Sports Illustrated or Rolling Stone. Skimmed through the second half, and decided not to finish it.

Not much substance, but an interesting story if you are interested in the history behind the Santa Fe Institute.
Jimmy Ele
May 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
One of those books that kicked a door open into a whole other realm of a science that I have been looking for my whole life. Emergence, Complex Adaptive Systems, Ecology, Chaos Theory, Simplicity, Neural Networks, Embryology, Cell growth, Evolution, Computer Programming, Immunology, Artificial Intelligence, Human Intelligence, Mathematics, Economies, Earthquakes, Power Laws, Statistics, Physics, Stocks, (and several other subjects I am leaving out due to not wanting to overdo the review) are tou ...more
Coop Williams
Feb 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A soft 4 stars, maybe 3.75 stars. Against my hopes, this book was much more storytelling than actual theory. So I skimmed a fair chunk. But Waldrop does do a fine job of putting the reader into the midst of exciting breakthroughs and intense brainstorming sessions. The scholastic culture portrayed in the book is so attractive, I toyed with going to an SFI workshop (it costs a few grand nowadays to attend). I loved the way these scientists from various fields (economics, physics, CS) exchanged id ...more
Nov 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is the story of the creation of the Santa Fe Institute and the personalities and thinking of the scientists who came together to explore disciplines that just might relate to their own. So we have mathematicians, physicists, biologists, computer programmers and analysts, chemists, astronomers, and many more giving workshops and lectures to one another to explore what lies between order and chaos. (A car key is simple. A car is complicated. A car in traffic is complex.) This book is about co ...more
Ade Bailey
Apr 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
I've shelved this under philosophy. May move it to a new bookshelf on complexity and emergence. It's a popular book, breezily written, made economics sexy to me, and helped me get a focus on my emerging attraction to complexity theory. It is mightily recommended.
Melissa Sherowski
Feb 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
this was my first introduction to Complexity Theory. good general overview but probably outdated by now. i read it in college....
Fred Rose
This is an old book, on my shelf, so finally skimmed it. It's really more a narrative of the people involved in creating the field of complexity economics. From that standpoint, it's a great story of how people interact and how ideas percolate. It's as relevant and true today as it was then. If you want to get a better understanding of what complexity economics is today, read some books by the people covered in this book, like Brian Arthur, or some of the work done at the Santa Fe Institute. I'm ...more
Nov 20, 2008 rated it really liked it
This book is what introduced me to the concepts of emergence and complexity theory. It's easy to read, and follows various scientists from disparate disciplines as they discover and investigate this oddly pervasive concept of complexity. Emergence and complexity theory have changed the way I look at the world, and this book sparked my interest to learn more. If you are curious about complexity theory, this book is a nice introduction.
Aug 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I read this many years ago when Chaos thoery was all the rage. The book came out in 1992, I probably read this in 1997. This lays out the case for Complexity and introduces the main players at teh Santa Fe Institute. I found this utterly fascinating.
Aug 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: complexity
A wonderful book that describes the founding of the Santa Fe Institute and the origins of complexity science. After reading it, my response was, "this is what I want to do."
Oct 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book was published 24 years before the date of this review. With a focus on complexity in nature (to include the cell, neural networks, natural selection and evolution, gene expression, and other topics), it is interesting to see how much we have progressed since then, and to see which "new" names in the book from 1992 are sage old guard today.

This is probably not a "beach read" for most people. However, the author, himself an accomplished scientific writer (to distinguish him from those w
Nov 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
If you want to look smart, carry this book with you onto a plane or into a park and start reading because wow that title is a mouth full!

I forget how I discovered this book. It was mentioned in another book (I believe Flash Boys by Michael Lewis), and I decided to request it from my library, and I am very glad that I did. This book covers a wide range of topics and how they intersect. Everything from Machine Learning to Artificial Life to Economic Theory. It is a story how the leaders of these f
Nov 11, 2015 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: fans of Gleick's "Chaos," philosophy majors, science geeks like me
Recommended to Bruce by: another library sale find
Shelves: science
The science of complexity is presented here as an emerging discipline, not to say the discipline of emergence -- oh, and adaptive behavior, nonlinear dynamics, and the unseen forces that drive ecosystems to the edge of chaos (which is not as bad as it sounds). Waldrop covers the development of the new paradigm by interconnecting professional biographies of the leading theorists with the establishment of their interdisciplinary Santa Fe Institute, a place devoted to the exploration of complexity. ...more
The title is somewhat misleading. I read this eons ago, but as I pack up things to give away, I may as well review those I remember or scribbled in. My reaction to pulling this one out of the box was "ugh, why didn't I give this away long ago?" What was supposed to be a general science introduction to the science of complexity is, in fact, the story of the people -- scientists and mathematicians -- who started the Sante Fe Institute. There was little science in this book. So if looking for infor ...more
May 04, 2019 rated it it was ok
I had to drop this book. It started out fine as a good story of how the Santa Fe Institute was founded and the initial players in this saga. Then, as more actors are being introduced, the book just becomes more and more monotonous. It’s all about this incredibly geeky scientists with megalomaniac ambitions to “understand the whole universe”, to unveil the secrets of the mind, the brain and life itself with their incredibly reductionistic theories. It is an old book already, so 90’s! and it shows ...more
Jul 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I read this when it was first published back in the early 90’s. Along with Gleick’s “Chaos” book, these books literally changed my life and almost lead to an academic career. Going a bit deeper than Gleick, this book reads almost like a thriller - chronicling the early beginnings of the Santa Fe Institute (SFI) and the emergence of complexity sciences. I loved the pacing of the book as well as the noble quest to unify seemingly different but related sciences. A great book that’s aged well. My in ...more
Jul 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If you're looking for a rigorous history of complexity theory, this isn't it.

This book is a love letter to academia, a romp through the early development of complexity theory at the Santa Fe Institute. An insight into the people who came together to share ideas from different disciplines and explore a new science.

If you already see the world as a network of complex systems and emergent behaviour, then this book may be too pop-science for you. If not, read it immediately. It will change the way
What a waste of time and potential this book was.
The book tries to deal with complexity science, a new, broad and ill-defined domain which attracted scientists with varying backgrounds: physics, economics, biology.
Instead of showing ideas in complexity it shows how certain scientists got on to this idea. This therefore reads mich more like a really bad biography of some obscure people than a science book.
Gerald Isaac
Aug 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Not the book I thought I was getting but still interesting.

I thought this was about complexity theory. It was about the personalities that created this field instead.
I suppose the area of study is too immature to have an actual book written purely about methods and findings. It hopes to be the history of what,perhaps, may be known some day.
Mike S
Jan 18, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The book has a lot of interesting information about complexity, but it spends a lot of time on the people involved, I would have liked it if the book was more to the point and spent far less time on biographies. The book would be far better at half the length. I'm sure there are better books on Complexity, I'll be looking for them.
Sep 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
An enjoyable and readable ramble through the development of complexity as a science. Focusing equally on the science, politics, organisations and character development. At times it was hard to see the bigger picture of how smaller events affected the wider science, and it was hard to see the concrete impacts of the field itself outside the small world of Santa Fe.
Jul 20, 2019 rated it did not like it
Disappointing; a biographical review of people involved in the early stage's of complexity's development rather than the theory itself, also US biased. A modern, and more accessible book is by Prof George Rzevski, including many practical applications - 'Managing Complexity'.
Lance Johnson
May 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a wonderful book. Truly, wonderful. I love the subject matter, the way the book is structured, and the author's style in delivery. The book follows a number of people whose paths intertwine to help encourage a shift in the style of scientific thinking away from linear reductionist thinking towards emergent properties in nonlinear dynamical systems. Each person's story is recounted in such a touching manner that you would almost think that it was fiction, crafted rather than chronicled. E ...more
Nathan Wisnoski
Jun 24, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: science, non-fiction
An interesting and well written history of the origins of the Santa Fe Institute and it’s key players in the 80s. However, the lofty philosophizing of the second half of the book was less compelling.
Mar 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Thanks Mr. Castro. It was pretty cool.
Oct 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
One of the best science books (written without equations) I've read in quite a while.
Aug 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Years before I studied anything related to complexity, systems, computational intelligence, or such, this book was a great influence and eye-opener for me.
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Complexity 1 14 Dec 30, 2007 01:43PM  

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