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Chaos: Making a New Science

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  36,269 ratings  ·  1,299 reviews
A work of popular science in the tradition of Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan, this 20th-anniversary edition of James Gleick’s groundbreaking bestseller Chaos introduces a whole new readership to chaos theory, one of the most significant waves of scientific knowledge in our time. From Edward Lorenz’s discovery of the Butterfly Effect, to Mitchell Feigenbaum’s calculation of ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published December 1st 1988 by Penguin Group (first published October 29th 1987)
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Ashish Singh Not to the extent that you will miss the point. Having said that it is highly advised to google the terms described in the book, like 'fractal dimensi…moreNot to the extent that you will miss the point. Having said that it is highly advised to google the terms described in the book, like 'fractal dimensions' and 'strange attractor' to actually visualize the mind of the god !!!(less)
Emma At times math and physics are central to the book. The number of equations however is low and they are extremely simple. That is part of chaos: that s…moreAt times math and physics are central to the book. The number of equations however is low and they are extremely simple. That is part of chaos: that simplicity. The author does a good job in extracting what can be learned from the math and physics towards chaos without delving deep in the intrinsic depth of it. My own math and physics knowledge is 30 years old, and still I could grasp this. I did come out of it however with a desire to reread my old math and physics books, so interesting did it suddenly seem. Both subjects suddenly made more sense.(less)

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Riku Sayuj
Sep 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Chaos: The Tip of a Giant Iceberg

Gleick only gives an introduction about the actual science and beauty of Chaos. Instead he focusses on giving a poetic account of the scientists who first stumbled on it -- and their great surprise and their struggles form the narrative crux of the book.

While some may say this makes it a less informative book, for me this made it one of the most intriguing non-fiction books I have read. Gleick's way of telling the stories makes the reader share in the wonder and
Aug 17, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015
"The future is disorder."
― Tom Stoppard, Arcadia

“The unpredictable and the predetermined unfold together to make everything the way it is.”
― Tom Stoppard, Arcadia


Half of what draws me to physics, to theory, to Feynman and Fermat, to Wittgenstein and Weber, is the energy that boils beyond the theory. The force living just beyond the push. I'm not alone. Many of my favorite authors (Cormac McCarthy, Thomas Pynchon, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe) and musicians (Mahler, Beethoven, etc) all dance aroun
Mar 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I'm totally in love with this book. Like, totally.

Why? Because it GETS ME, MAN.

Just kidding. I'm not anthropomorphizing a breakthrough in science. Although, if I was, I'd DEFINITELY be cuddling with this stream of seemingly random information that keeps repeating in regular ways, forming order from seeming chaos.

Give me a seed and I will make you a universe. Or one hell of a trippy fractal.

I think I'll leave butterflies out of this.

Small changes affect great extrapolations.

Our physics generator
Dec 08, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: maths, science
I did study a bit of Physics in a past life, but you don't need to have a background in science to get something out of this book. It sounds terribly difficult, but really it isn't.

This book gives a wonderful explanation of the Butterfly Effect - one of those ideas in science that everyone thinks they know and understands, but that generally people have upside down and back to front.

I really do like popular science books, particularly if they are well written, relatively easy to follow and don'
Most of science as we know it, as it was made in the first place, and as we learned about it in school is linear. That is we have a problem, which was successfully translated into an equation where the outputs are obtained by multiplying the inputs by a certain factor, while keeping everything in the first degree. Now of course in real life, things are much difficult, in many cases there are parameters which appear in both sides of the equation, making it second degree, a famous example being fr ...more
Lis Carey
This book, over two decades old now, is one of the great classics of science popularization. It was a blockbuster bestseller at the time, and it's still well worth reading, a fascinating, enjoyable introduction to one of the most important scientific developments of our time--the birth of chaos theory.

One of the compelling features of the chaos story is that this scientific breakthrough wasn't a physics, mathematics, chemistry, astronomy, or biology breakthrough; it was all of them. A mathematic
Daniel Wright
Gosh, I was rather rude about this one, wasn't I? I'm moving the rating up a bit after my re-read (on audio) because it wasn't that bad, although I still think it's a bit overrated.
James Gleick's Chaos is possibly one of the most overrated books ever written. The first two pages are quite good, before rapidly declining to dullness and staying there. The content consists of a few badly written half-biographies, a few pretty pictures and v
Brad Lyerla
Feb 05, 2017 rated it it was ok
It’s a quick read, though in the end I did not like CHAOS much. It is a breezy history of two decades of mostly disconnected work done by a number of different researchers in widely divergent areas of science. In an apparent coincidence, a small number of unrelated people became interested in studying aperiodic, non-linear problems arising in various fields of science all at roughly the same time. Their research had not advanced very far by the time this book was written in the mid-80s.

Aug 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing
The greatest discoveries of the 20th Century physics include Relativity Theory, Quantum Theory and Chaos Theory. Of the three, the only one that we can see and play with is chaos. From the flight patterns of flocks of birds, to heart arrhythmia, to stock market fluctuation to the coast of Alaska, the underlying patterns can be revealed in this wonderful branch of science. There are newer books on the subject but none better for us lay people.
When reading science books, it's difficult to know whether what you're reading is current or not. Gleick's book was first published in 1987, so I imagine by now there have been many developments and modifications to the ideas and theories presented here. That being said, this felt like a good introduction to the early history of scientists' efforts to understand and explain nonlinear systems and the apparent chaotic behavior observed in natural and man-made systems.

If you haven't studied science
May 10, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: science
My interest in chaos theory and butterfly effect has been purely philosophical. I guess the idea of alternate reality always intrigues me. May be fueled by its implication in popular culture, movies, or books. First time, when I read Ray Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder", I was really moved by the idea how something very small might eventually affect something greater at later phases.

I also like two scenes from movies, one from "Mr. Nobody" that rain scene which washed away the address : https://w
Sep 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an interesting read. As much about the history of chaos theory and the scientists who pioneered it as the science itself. Contains the obligatory Jurassic Park references (in case you were worried).
Oct 25, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction

This book was a disappointment. The author spent too much time in repeating the same terminology and concepts like 'strange attractors' and 'sensitive dependence on initial conditions' and not enough time making it tangible by using real examples that would have made it more meaningful. For instance, what does chaos theory/nonlinear science mean for weather forecasting, predicting asset class returns, crime statistics, economic growth, timing of natural disasters? The author mentions these conce
Nov 08, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, physics
Not so much a new science as an old obsession of a few mystics... :(

Gleick gives an unorganized overview some fun mathematical concepts like fractals, strange attractors, and chaos theory.
But he exaggerates the importance of these topics, presenting them as a holistic revolution in physics, overthrowing reductionism, which just isn't the case.
The last chapter was incomprehensible hippie mysticism, then the book just ended leaving me wondering what the whole point was.

It seems to me like this boo
Jul 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
The kind of book that just blows your mind with how cool it all is, and why doesn't anyone teach science like THIS. Because of this book, and the many delights that have followed, I am a lover of popular science writing. And also, I've learned way more than I ever did in school. ...more
May 17, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4 Stars for Chaos: Making A New Science (audiobook) by James Gleik read by Rob Shapiro. I find it fascinating to see how science is progressing. Such a new idea is changing the way we look at the world.
Donna Woodwell
Dec 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
When this book came out in the late 80s, I remember eating in the college cafeteria while my physics teacher and fellow students chatted about this mysterious thing called "chaos theory." When I finally picked up my own copy, I wished I'd read it sooner.

The mathemetics of chaos (and order) has literally remade our moder world. From weather prediction to materials production to medicine, there's not a realm of technology that hasn't changed with our new understandings of the patterns that connec
Mar 15, 2022 rated it really liked it
Shelves: rwri16
For a ~34 year old popular science book, this held up surprisingly well. It avoided dating itself and was interesting throughout. I think anyone remotely curious in science and physics, and in particular topics like uncertainty, randomness, nonlinearities, etc. would enjoy.

I read the 20th anniversary edition. Another book rec name-dropped by someone (forget who) at #RWRI16.
Feb 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Awesome predictability of unpredictability, namely sensitive dependence on initial conditions. Wonderful bifurcations and pretty things abound... it'll make you realise why we'll never understand everything. ...more
Chip Huyen
Jun 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is how popular science books should be.
Mar 02, 2022 rated it liked it
**1/2 rounding up to 3.

Apparently this book made a big splash when it was first published. I remember the excitement around chaos theory and fractals at the time.

While I don't dislike history of science, it was not what I was expecting from this book. Thus I was disappointed that the focus was on a sequence of semi-biographies of the scientists as they discovered aspects of chaos. Admittedly it was rich in stories of key figures and their personalities, but lacking in a clear and concise explan
Jeff HansPetersen
Sep 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
I finally read the book that ought to have been required reading for freshman physics majors for the past 20 years! The other day when the radio announcer reported the length of the Florida coastline, I found myself wondering what length measuring stick was used. It is interesting to contemplate how much of the themes of this book have migrated into the modern cultural consciousness. Then, you may wind up contemplating how much of that migration was due to Jeff Goldblum's ham-fisted illustration ...more
Koen Crolla
Too heavy on human interest, too light on maths, and Gleick has read more Kuhn than is good for him. It's another journalist writing about mathematics, though this one anticipated the Wikipedia Age by two decades. While he does exhibit a fair degree of sloppiness (``unbounded'' is not a synonym for ``infinite'', ``infinite'' does not mean ``quite big''), Chaos actually isn't all that bad as a fairly shallow introduction to chaos theory. It's not what I was looking for, but exactly what I expecte ...more
May 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
I found it quite informative, especially in communicating what it would perhaps be like working in science at an exciting time. However there were many sections that bored me and aperiodic jumps in his focus that left me lost a bit.

All in all I can say I have a better grasp of what chaos is all about... but on a bit of reflection... well, no, not really. A good history I guess, I'm now all fired up to read textbooks on this stuff (:
Ami Iida
Feb 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
This document is a basic book on chaos fractal theory.

  I prefer both text and its Illustrated.
Aug 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow, this book was epic! Chaos can be a tricky concept, but author James Gleick writes in a very effective way; conveying complicated ideas in an easy-to-understand manner.
I can only imagine how difficult this book would have been to follow, if it was plagued by the long-winded and dry writing that befalls many science books... Thankfully, it does not. The author relates conceptually complicated ideas in an easily-accessible style.
Gleick conveys the importance of Chaos early on:
"The most p
Laura Braden
Jan 31, 2022 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2022
Fatou and Julia sets
Mar 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, non-fiction
“The only things that can ever be universal, in a sense, are scaling things.” That idea is at the heart of James Gleick’s book, and if you zoom in, there it is again!
Gleick is great at capturing the excitement of new discoveries, mainly be introducing the quirky contributors who wouldn’t shut up, play nice and stay in their lanes. These men and women crossed academic disciplines of math, physics. biology and meteorology (is that a thing? oh, sorry) because the seeming chaos they all encountere
Jul 02, 2011 rated it liked it
Although I truly enjoy the way James Gleick can take a complicated subject apart for the inexpert, I did not enjoy this book as much as I did The Information. I caught myself skipping, counting pages to the end of the chapter, even yawning and dropping off. Not a good sign for me.

Some chapters had me on the edge of my seat, or thinking "Ah ha! That's how that works." The overall sense that chaos has a sometimes deeply hidden pattern (that applies to all things) is interesting, but I didn't need
Mar 19, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A great introduction to new readers of the subject. If one is keeping up with physics for last decade or so, the content of Chaos doesn't offer anything new. With the introduction to chaos theory, Gleick gives a wide variety of historical anecdotes involving various scientists across borders and scientific disciplines who have observed the phenomenon but haven't been able to nail it.
Chaos brings these stories together and puts them under an umbrella. The narration becomes easier to follow and t
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James Gleick (born August 1, 1954) is an American author, journalist, and biographer, whose books explore the cultural ramifications of science and technology. Three of these books have been Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award finalists, and they have been translated into more than twenty languages.

Born in New York City, USA, Gleick attended Harvard College, graduating in 1976 with a degree in

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