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A good history, a bad book about chaos
am 12. Januar 2015
The book is exactly what one of the reviews said: A good history. If you want to learn something about chaos, you will probably be disappointed. Gleick has a way of jumping around between topics that never satisfies the curiosity of the reader.
To give one example: In one chapter he starts out with a story of some scientist submitting results to a journal only to get rejected because his discovery -- Julia sets -- have been discovered 50 years before. Gleick then continuous with fractality of the Newton algorithm, goes over to Mandelbrot and his set, which he developed with the goal in mind of indexing Julia sets, and ends the chapter with several nice and interesting anecdotes about fractals and their discoverers. At the end of the chapter one neither knows one single thing about Julia sets (other than they are fractal), one does not know whether Mandelbrot succeeded (and there is a relation between the Mandelbrot set and the Julia sets), nor does one know how the story about the rejected manuscript ended.
To summarize: If you are interested only in scientists rather than in science, this book is good for you (it has all the famous names in it: Mandelbrot, Feigenbaum, Lorenz, Ruelle, Yorke, May, etc.). If you know NOTHING about chaos theory, then the book might give you something, too: The concepts are explained in a very superficial, non-mathematical way to give you enough material to talk about during cocktail parties. If you already know concepts like strange attractors, sensitive dependence on initial conditions, and fractality, this book might not be the right one for you (unless you are interested in the history behind these concepts).