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Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  2,944 ratings  ·  197 reviews
At the heart of the universe is a steady, insistent beat, the sound of cycles in sync. Along the tidal rivers of Malaysia, thousands of fireflies congregate and flash in unison; the moon spins in perfect resonance with its orbit around the earth; our hearts depend on the synchronous firing of ten thousand pacemaker cells. While the forces that synchronize the flashing of f ...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published March 5th 2003 by Hachette Books (first published 2003)
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Average rating 4.06  · 
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David Rubenstein
Mar 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, science
This is a very entertaining book. I enjoyed every chapter of the book. I was especially intrigued by the biological rhythms--fireflies and human sleep cycles. And I thoroughly enjoyed the step-by-step history of how the mathematics of coupled oscillators was worked out.

As previous reviewers have mentioned, the book could have been helped by additional charts and diagrams--and even perhaps some equations. It is difficult to imagine some of the patterns the author describes, without some concrete
kartik narayanan
Apr 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Sync is excellent book that delves into chaos theory and complexity theory amongst others and the practical applications in human endeavour. Though it does not explicitly put down any equations, it is not an easy read simply due to the topic as well as the mind-blowing nature of its revelations. I would highly recommend this book to readers looking for something a bit challenging in physics while keeping the subject down to earth.

I feel the addition of some equations would have made this book a
Nov 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
“For reasons we don’t yet understand, the tendency to synchronize is one of the most pervasive drives in the universe, extending from atoms to animals, from people to planets.” This fun and fascinating book, by a leading mathematician, examines sync, the “spontaneous emergence of order out of chaos.” It’s written in bite size chapters, each touching on every day realities we all encounter like sleep cycles.
“Sync also provides a crucial first step for what’s coming next in the study of complex
Sep 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A great multi-disciplinary introduction to the idea of complex systems obtaining order in a spontaneous way. It's funny that it seems like, at least to me, about half the reviews say they couldn't fully grasp all the ideas in the book while the other half claim it isn't technical enough. Some of the descriptions can be slightly hard to follow, but i think he does an outstanding job of helping the reader to visualize incredibly complex concepts. Personally, I'd rather the book be for the layman i ...more
Dec 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Probably the best book I've read this year. So many OMG moments ...more
Feb 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is a great multi-disciplinary science book!
The reader is introduced to phenomena from many disciplines.
These phenomena are well-modeled by similar mathematics using non-linear oscillators.
The book requires little math knowledge, but it helps.
I plan to write my own computer simulations for some of these phenomena, and will link them to this review when I'm finished! :)

I do have one heated criticism of this book:
Strogatz defends Josephson's regurgitation of the most certainly incorrect view t

I enjoyed this book every bit as much as Gleick's book on chaos. Strogatz is an excellent writer. Able to convey complex concepts of chaos and synchronicity to the general reader, this book is for anyone with interest in the topic. If you don't fully understand chaos from one perspective, don't worry. Storgatz provides many.

With discussions of his own work as well as the work of mentors, students, and others in the field, Strogatz addressed the broad application of sync in the world and univers
Otto Lehto
Jun 13, 2020 rated it liked it
So, what is this "Sync?" What is this book about? Good question! I'm still not sure, to be honest... Based on the synopsis, I was expecting it be more in the typical line of complexity theory, but I ended up learning more about things that I knew very little about, including the syncing habits of fire flies and the circadian rhythm of humans. I guarantee that this book contains some new information for every reader who is not called Steven H. Strogatz.

The central idea is that the phenomenon of
Jun 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A great discussion of the all-pervasiveness of synchrony born out of non-linearities in systems. The anecdotes and occasional words of advice made the book all the more fun to read. This book would be liked by people interested in dynamical systems, inter-connectedness of apparently disparate scientific fields, and having a unified scheme of understanding the universe.
Varad Deshmukh
Dec 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Steve Strogatz has gained popularity with his textbook, "Non-linear Dynamics and Chaos". I would say that his non-academic work, "Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order" is an equally smashing hit. "Sync" explores the idea of how spontaneous synchronization arises in the chaotic turbulent lives/non-lives of diverse entities. Why do fireflies synchronize their flashing in the dark or how do crickets chirp in unison? Why do we wake up at almost our usual time, even after an all-nighter? W ...more
Sep 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Wow. What a terrific book. You would think that heavy tome written my a mathematician would either be an incomprehensible melange of words, or a complete bore. This was both cogent and fascinating.

Although published over 15 years ago, it still feels fresh, despite a few detours about the "good old days" of running computer simulations on what we now would consider hopelessly outdated hardware.

The premise that order arises in nature from non-intelligent sources is a provocative one. The youtube v
The spectacle of synchrony in nature is one of those mysteries that strike a chord in us. Fireflies blinking on and off in unison. Schools of fish moving gracefully as if they were only one. Pacemaker cells in a heart working all together to make that heart beat. Menstrual cycles of female roommates and co-workers starting to match each other over time (yes, it's true!) And then there's the synchronization between things that aren't even alive: photons that align to form a laser beam; electrons ...more
Jan 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, pop-sci
This book is an interesting look at a number of phenomena that aren't as curious as the author makes them out to be.

The book focuses on instances of "spontaneous order-seeking" in nature. Cases where things start irregular, but tend towards an equilibrium which is ordered. Now, before you go jumping about the Second Law of Thermodynamics, he's claiming this for living systems, and at the macroscopic level -- he's talking about things like certain species of fireflies which spontaneously synchron
Nilesh Jasani
Apr 20, 2012 rated it liked it
Like many other books that try to prove that the world is not exactly linear/gaussian/causal that we learn in schools, this book too spans multiple fields, reveals surprising aspects of seemingly everyday life and shows the limits of normal scientific theories. But the book is no "The Black Swan", "Chaos (Gleick)", "Linked" or "The Tipping Point". Some of the key points are covered in the previous books. And the concept of "Sync" is not truly as encompassing as network effect, avalanche or chaos ...more
Mar 07, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I’d like to see an update

This book was quite good, don’t let my three stars make you think otherwise. I liked many parts of the book - the history of the study of coupled oscillators, the parts related to circadian rhythms, small-world networks, and some other biological systems. I really liked most of the book, and while I thought this book had good figures in it, I thought it could have benefited from additional figures and equations. Mostly Strogatz chooses to use prose (for a non-technical a
Charles Daney
Jun 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: general-science
Jul 25, 2021 rated it liked it
Comparing this to James Gleick's chaos, this is definitely a more technically-minded text. But Gleick just wrote in a much more magical way that invited me into the field.

I do love this book though for showing me how wide-sweeping the study of nonlinear dynamics is. Considering I am beginning to center my research around the paradigm, it's great to know that I can almost never be bored with the potential fields I can dive into. Sleep cycles, cardiac pulsations, etc. all seem like interesting sys
Karan Kurani
Jun 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Great insight into the phenomenon of sync and how hard it is to decipher non linear dynamic systems.

The part before the final couple of chapters is a slog to go through and not as interesting as the rest of the book.

Overall, a great read and recommended for people who want to read new things going on in the scientific world.
Anshuman Swain
Jul 12, 2022 rated it really liked it
Loved the author's easy to understand journeying through different aspects of sync - from fireflies to Josephson junctions.

Amidst all of the science, there was a brilliant touch of gripping memoirs and an excellent way to tell a story.
Paula Wang
Feb 17, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Strogatz uses great analogies to help regular readers understand the mathematical processes behind as chaos theory, complexity theory, as well as the beautiful way that sync underlies these phenomena in unexpected ways. However his most intriguing chapter is at the end, when he briefly talks about neural synchrony and postulates on the relationship between sync and human consciousness. As this book was written 18 years ago now, it leaves out many recent developments in sync. I wish there was an ...more
Feb 05, 2022 rated it it was ok
Threshold, influence and adjustment.

Freewill (The imprint left a mark too)
Nonlinearity (The whole is not equal to the sum of the parts)
\Lorenz Attractor
Topology (Shape)
Hypothalamus & Suprechiasmatic nuclei (Master of the clock)
Linear differential equations (The whole is exactly equal to the sum of the parts)
Nonlinear dynamics (Emergence. Handful of variables)
Statistical mechanics (Big sample size but not good with oscillation)
Internally desynchronized (Disconnection with cycle)
Sleep (
Roberto Rigolin F Lopes
Mar 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Strogatz goes around showing us synchronization everywhere. He means everywhere in the whole universe. From small fireflies to big moons. Atoms and humans are also mentioned. For example, superconductivity and water freezing are just synchronization of atoms. Hey, you will feel his passion for the subject throughout his book; he is madly in love. Sometimes even throwing mind-blowing ideas around fun explanations on how order arises from chaos.
May 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's all math, all physics and it's all the invisible waves around us to synchronize us.
In the book, the author mentioned about fashion. That is more like man made peer pressure. Humans like to be included. belong to some groups.
However with the non living thing like metronomes, it still reach sync after they were placed on the same unstable surface. Similar to the hanging Bridge in London that walkers all walk in the same pattern.
Some part is easy to read, while some more deeper physics or math
Dec 09, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I got to the 003s, I was a bit scared. They were all science, which I have struggled with since high school chemistry. I selected, after several minutes of debate, Sync because I thought it was about chaos theory, which I had seen in an episode of CSI: Original Flavor, which made it some what interesting to me. I am pretty sure that in some ways Sync is indeed about chaos theory. At least the author began discussing chaos theory about a third of the way through the book. But I don’t really ...more
Simon Eskildsen
May 29, 2018 rated it liked it
I found this book fairly fascinating. Strogatz has been in applied mathematics for decades, with special interest in quantum physics and biology. The former I skipped many chapters on (they were incredibly abstract and hard to understand, and it's not something I have a special interest in), but the latter was fascinating. The chapters are about how fireflies sync, crickets sync their chirping, the heart's pacemaker syncs all the cells, and many other biological processes that sync with little i ...more
Nov 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
I read this book on the advice of an old friend who studies neuroscience. I have occasion to deal with synchronization problems in my own life, so I thought it would be fun to read about the science of it. And it was!

If you've ever wondered about why your sleep patterns are they way they are, or why when you try to go to bed early you end up with terrible insomnia, or how fireflies all flash at the same time or the 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon, this is the book for you. It's the kind of book with su
Øivind Schøyen
Apr 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was a fascinating book. It is highly recommended for anyone interested. I particularly recommend the book to any young math students or high-school students aspiring to be scientist. The book gives glimpses into many different types of math that all give rise to complexity; it introduces some chaos theory, but mainly focuses on how emergent patterns arise out of dynamic processes. It has many exciting applications(sleep cycles, Mathematical sociology, networks, electronic grids, the brain, ...more
May 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book is eccelent. At the end of each chapter I found myself saying "wow", Strogatz has an engaging not too sciency writing style and frankly, it has made me appreciate math more.
Studying math I always felt that the deeper point of it was shrouded for me. I think if I had read this and realized how deeply math was interconnected with everything (I guess I knew that, but seeing how it works on the outer reaches of science really makes it clear) I probably would have done better at it. The boo
Jan 19, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: physics
For the most part though,it reminded me of James Gleicks' Chaos book in the way that the Sync story is conveyed with tales of maverick characters on the fringes of established science, making serendipitous discoveries that lay around waiting for someone to slot them into a framework.Within this there are numerous enlightening insights and quirky facts about the rhythm and harmonies that universally pervade the fabric of existence,which make it well worth the effort.
Although I did enjoy this bo
Derek Davis
Jul 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
(Strangely, the subtitle is slightly different in my Kindle edition. So is somethign slightly different? Dunno.)

After a shaky start full of "my gosh" and too many fireflies, Sync settles down in the second half to a serious scientific study of how almost everything across the scientific spectrum (physics, chemistry, biology) shows spontaneous development of synchronized order, usually after reaching a "tipping point" of coherence. Some of what's presented (especially in the earlier parts) may se
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Steven Strogatz is the Schurman Professor of applied mathematics at Cornell University. A renowned teacher and one of the world’s most highly cited mathematicians, he has been a frequent guest on National Public Radio’s Radiolab. Among his honors are MIT's highest teaching prize, membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a lifetime achievement award for communication of math to ...more

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“We're accustomed to thinking in terms of centralized control, clear chains of command, the straightforward logic of cause and effect. But in huge, interconnected systems, where every player ultimately affects every other, our standard ways of thinking fall apart. Simple pictures and verbal arguments are too feeble, too myopic. That's what plagues us in economics when we try to anticipate the effect of a tax cut or a change in interest rates, or in ecology, when a new pesticide backfires and produces dire, unintended consequences that propagate through the food chain.” 1 likes
“For reasons we don't yet understand, the tendency to synchronize is one of the most pervasive drives in the universe, extending from atoms to animals, from people to planets. Female friends or coworkers who spend a great deal of time together often find that their menstrual periods tend to start around the same day. Sperm swimming side by side en route to the egg beat their tails in unison, in a primordial display of synchronized swimming. Sometimes sync can be pernicious: Epilepsy is caused by millions of brain cells discharging in pathological lockstep, causing the rhythmic convulsions associated with seizures. Even lifeless things can synchronize. The astounding coherence of a laser beam comes from trillions of atoms pulsing in concert, all emitting photons of the same phase and frequency. Over the course of millennia, the incessant effects of the tides have locked the moon's spin to its orbit. It now turns on its axis at precisely the same rate as it circles the earth, which is why we always see the man in the moon and never its dark side.” 1 likes
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