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 the 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 incredulity of each pioneer as he stumbled upon this hitherto unguessed truth of nature. Each stumbling step, each misguided attempt and every remonstration expected in such a new endeavor is traced out in loving detail and these scientists come alive as insecure dramers daring to step beyond the realms of the possible. Gleick makes heroes out of Mandelbrot Benoît and the others and weaves an otherworldly charm around their ideas. This made the book pure poetry for me.
The amazing pictures and illustrations and the quotes accompanying each chapter all add to the feeling of reading an art text book rather than a science book. And this ultimately was the real achievement of Gleick in writing Chaos – He manages to convey to us that this is the first foray of science into the realm of art – not just of explaining art but of being art.
But ultimately none of this is going to be the lasting impact of this book. The reading pleasure and the hero worship of these daredevils is transient after all. For me, the real impact is that it has changed the way I look at the ordinary everyday world – the leaves, the trees, the pebbles, the pattern on the peels of an orange – everything is strangely magnified and beautiful now. I see the poetry of constant motion and evolution everywhere and I can feel the science of Chaos intuitively as I take my long walks. I can see Strange Attractors and Fractals and unstable equilibriums in the most mundane places. And this is the greatest gift of the book.
PS. Don’t miss out on the exhaustive endnotes. They are indispensable.
- Chaos helps explain biology (diyscholar.wordpress.com)
- Why Peter Gleick is the “Milken Moment” for climate change (gigaom.com)
- 1001010010100101001010010 (educationpr.org)
- Where Do Gleick’s Apologists Draw the Line? (nofrakkingconsensus.com)
- Things I have read on the web (elizabethwillse.com)
- Full Spectrum 2012: 10 Books on Sensemaking for the TED Bookstore (brainpickings.org)
- Next on the reading list… (findwhatworks.wordpress.com)