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Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  2,605 ratings  ·  161 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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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
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
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
Mac Hull
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
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
Jun 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
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.
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
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
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

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
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
Ali Sattari
Feb 13, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: science
I barely understood half of it, the parts that didn't involve math!
It is a fascinating subject though and I have seen getting dismissed as coincidence or data fluke, but inspected closely it reveals some astonishing patterns about everyday phenomena.
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
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.
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
May 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who thinks it incredible that women living together have their periods at the same time
Recommended to Ariel by: RADIO LAB
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
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
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
Gary  Beauregard Bottomley
Jul 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
The book is not an easy listen. Be prepared for statements like "the coherence of the neurons in our brain are best thought of as solving a differential equation to determine the equilibrium solution involved in the non-linear system....".

The book covers many diverse topics, from why does the face of the moon always face towards us to how does a laser work. The author ties all of the topics together by showing how each of the constituent parts acts to produce the whole system.

Each of the differe
Sergey Antopolskiy
Nov 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
This must be the best pop-sci book I've read this year. The reason I liked it is simply because it is deep and well written. Author really dives into details of how a particular research was done and how a particular phenomenon works. He provides metaphors, which are helpful, if somewhat obscure at times (though this provided a rich source of laughter for me). Being a scientist myself, I found his analogies quite precise and revealing.

Books like this one are rare. Most pop-sci books are 80% pers
Sep 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This is a marvelous book! Strogatz has the gift to explain complex mathematical theories with simple and clear analogies. He gives us examples from biology, sociology, modern physics, cosmology, traffic science etc to prove chaos theory is not some abstract idea only useful to keep some pale eccentrics busy but is an intrinsic part what makes our universe tic!
His descriptions of the colorful people who laid the foundations of sync were very fun to read.
I will most certainly read his other work
Oct 13, 2014 rated it liked it
Though call, 3.45 I suppose.

Steven Strogatz seems a truly bright and interesting multidisciplinary thinker, often entertaining and witty.

It is pitiful Strogatz implications and intentions throughout the book are not clear. I can't seem to decide if there is scientific grounding in nature or if the 'stories' are just marvellous to us, humans. Unpleasant reading as a consequence. It is slightly corrected in the epilogue, enough for a shift in appreciation for him and the book.

To me it seems the b
Vivek Kotecha
Jul 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Highly recommend this book to anyone who understands that Scientific reductionism on it's own doesn't / won't completely explain the universe. That there is something else that explains why we are not just random atoms who happen to be randomly organized into beings of spectacular order and complexity. With this new perspective of complexity science, we can scientifically know why the whole can be greater than the sum total of it's parts.
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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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“Simulation is no substitute for math—it could never provide a proof—but if Peskin’s conjecture was false, this approach would save me a lot of time by revealing a counterexample. This sort of evidence is extremely valuable in math. When you’re trying to prove something, it helps to know it’s true. That gives you the confidence you need to keep searching for a rigorous proof. Programming” 1 likes
“Simulation is no substitute for math—it could never provide a proof—but if Peskin’s conjecture was false, this approach would save me a lot of time by revealing a counterexample. This sort of evidence is extremely valuable in math. When you’re trying to prove something, it helps to know it’s true. That gives you the confidence you need to keep searching for a rigorous” 1 likes
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