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How Nature Works: The Science of Self-Organized Criticality
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How Nature Works: The Science of Self-Organized Criticality

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  237 ratings  ·  25 reviews
Self-organized criticality, the spontaneous development of systems to a critical state, is the first general theory of complex systems with a firm mathematical basis. This theory describes how many seemingly desperate aspects of the world, from stock market crashes to mass extinctions, avalanches to solar flares, all share a set of simple, easily described properties.
Hardcover, 212 pages
Published August 29th 1996 by Copernicus Books
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Jun 06, 2008 added it
Shelves: partially-read
Pretty good and light pop intro to self organized criticality. Not sure if i will finish it, cause I pretty much get the gist and there are no equations to look forward to. The first part of the book explained the concept of self organized criticality and then it was just like: and here's a power law and here's a power law and this is self organized critical and this is self organized critical. Not that I don't get excited about a power law: check this out: if you take a sample of language-- tod ...more
Feb 16, 2010 marked it as to-read
recommended by Murray Gel-Man
Apr 05, 2019 rated it liked it
An equilibrium of sensationalist overreach and hubris, punctuated by bursts of interesting ideas.
Peter Sullins
Jul 28, 2019 rated it did not like it
Not impressed. Cast of thousands who we don’t know & have never heard of (and will never hear of again). The breaking point for me was reading how disappointed Mr Bak was that his colleague in Venice had a nicer office. SOC is an important concept & needs a wider audience. This ain’t the guy or the book. Told my granddaughter to not waste her time reading it. ...more
Sep 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In its own terminology, I think this book is a huge and rare avalanche in the dynamics of scientific authorship.
Jul 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
A lot of great ideas and very well-written.
Charlie Bray
May 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Interesting preliminary dive into complexity science--cool how many disparate fields of the natural and social sciences it straddles. I was especially interested by the conclusions the author was able to arrive at, namely that a self-organized critical system (like traffic, macroevolution, or the economy) is not the best possible state of affairs but the best possible state of affairs that is dynamically achievable. This has some serious implications for our understanding of economics, at first ...more
Feb 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
For those interested in mathematics about random events this is one book not to miss. Everything in nature seems random. Even "law of physics" seems random in everyday observation and also in laboratories.

The central idea of the book is that the chance of happening small event is large and vice versa. It can be seen in various fields from sand-pile, earthquake prediction, astrophysics , economics , society, etc. The system thus remain in critical state, i.e. small imbalance can trigger an avala
Yates Buckley
May 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interesting romp across different areas of application of self-organised criticality, following the development of the field over the course of its early phase. There is also an interesting perspective that comes from a scientist that is working on the problem and describes how they handle the problems and the opportunities that you would not get from a third party.

However, the book's title overclaims, SOC cannot fully explain how nature works, and in some ways, I get the sense we don't complete
Dio Mavroyannis
Mar 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: wtr-pop-science
Very clear exposition of complex ideas. I especially enjoyed the last chapter where he presents his sales model. This is a book about power laws, where they are in nature and society, I can't imagine somebody being more open to wide audiences without being pedantic. Great read.
Alexander Aleksandrov
Apr 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a great introduction to self organized criticality, even though the book was written a while ago. Some of the math went over my head, but the author provided plenty of different examples from various fields to drill down the idea. Now I'm looking for SOC everywhere.
Oct 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Great book by a deep thinker. He has a childlike wonder at self organizing processes. Very much worth the read.
Nov 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Showcases a nature principle that can be applied to many different systems (like the economy)
Jan 11, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Già il titolo megalomane potrebbe mettere in guardia molti.
Per Bak è uno degli scopritori della "self-organized criticality". Si tratta della condizione di alcuni sistemi dinamici che, sotto costante sollecitazione esterna, raggiungono uno stato critico, cioè in cui esistono correlazioni tra eventi a tutte le scale incluse nel sistema, in particolare cascate di eventi che assumono talvolta le proporzioni di vere catastrofi. La cosa che distingue questo stato critico dagli stati critici già noti
Ooi Ghee Leng
Oct 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
Per Bak wrote a very approachable book considering that self-organized criticality (SOC) is not a familiar concept. The way he presented the text is fun, intuitive and enrapturing. However, I feel that Bak "whined" a bit too much on how the scientists are disregarding his work and how traditional science is brushing SOC aside. I believe that SOC itself is an interesting lens to look at phenomena we fail to understand before, but that kind of whining narrative kind of tone down the importance of ...more
Mar 23, 2009 rated it really liked it
Explores the area between chaos and equilibrium-- the
domain of living things.
Proposes "Self organized criticallity" as the process that
results in a signature type of statistics, the power laws.
Earthquakes, traffic flow, evolution, fingerprint formation,
are all examples.
This book goes well with Order Out of Chaos by Prigogene.

Some ambiguous examples, graphs and explanations, this is mostly
a hand waving book with little mathematical content, but lots
of computer simulations.
Roozbeh Daneshvar
May 01, 2013 rated it liked it
A major question on "why self-organized criticality?" was unanswered in this book (or maybe it was mentioned and I missed it). For me, this book was not a fun and yet informative book; I found it very limited to a narrow subject without expanding on the implications. I admit that the last page of the book was spectacular: for me it was worth the whole book; the few paragraphs in that single page answered many of my questions! (or maybe I wouldn't have enjoyed that last page of the book if I had ...more
Apr 23, 2013 rated it liked it
The author used excellent analogies, which enables readers to understand several concepts related to self-organized criticality (SOC). SOC impressed me in that this simple concept can be applied to a wide array of phenomena including landslides, volcanoes, evolution, brain activity, economic systems, and traffic jams. However, the author seems to have written the latter part of this book with less sincerity and devotion than the former part.
Dec 29, 2015 rated it liked it
Good read, although i'd gone to a better publisher. The central idea is great, although a bit over-drilled. It didn't need a book, and a few personal stories could've been lefy out.

All round, i liked it, and will serve me well in continuing my complexity ready moving on to Kauffman and Holland and Arthur, but a whole books was not necessary for the point to be made.

Terry Tsurugi
Mar 02, 2011 rated it liked it
Even though the author reveals much more of his personality, warts and all (beginning with that humble title), than you find in most science books, I found this book pretty boring. Even though the idea of self-organized criticality is interesting, I wasn't so intrigued by the examples used to illustrate this concept, especially the sand piles.
Apr 05, 2007 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
lip-lover recommendation
May 08, 2012 rated it liked it
The concept of self-organized criticality is very interesting, but ultimately this was a book about sand piles. Sand piles get boring after awhile.
Jan 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
An amazing work which shows the fractal nature of a VERY wide array of natural phenomena.
Alexi Parizeau
Jun 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The thesis is the pinnacle of simplicity, yet somehow this was controversial a few decades ago. Really enjoyed it!
Joshua Sandeman
rated it it was amazing
Mar 27, 2016
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