Beemer (dr_tectonic) wrote,

Reading List - Chaos and Complexity

I got a random email from some engineering undergrad who's interested in chaos and complexity, found my resume online, and wanted some reading suggestions.

It spurred me to go through my bookshelf and write short summaries of all the books I have on the subject (well, except for the couple very mathematical ones that I haven't actually managed to read), and then I thought, what the heck, I'll make it into a blog post.

Chaotic systems are deterministic (not random), but still unpredictable. They're noisy and random-seeming, but there's hidden order lurking inside.

Does God Play Dice? by Ian Stewart (Pop-sci) -- A nice introduction to chaos (and fractals). Has a surprising number of graphs and numbers for something so approachable.

Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos by Steven Strogatz (textbook) -- Probably the best textbook on chaos out there. It's hard for me to say much about this book, since by the time I took the class in grad school that used it as a textbook, most of the ideas were old hat to me, but I still think it's really good.

Order within Chaos by Berge, Pomeau, and Vidal (textbook) -- This is the book we used as a textbook in my undergraduate chaos class at MIT, but it's only okay. I mean, it's competent, but I think much better books have been written since.

Turbulent Mirror by Briggs and Peat (pop-sci) -- It's kind of light-weight, but I'm very fond of this introduction to order, chaos, and the transitions between them. Slightly philosophical, in a good way; wanders toward complexity territory. I can't find my copy.

Complexity and Complex Systems
Synergy, emergence, feedback, edge of chaos. Complex behavior generated by simple systems.

Complexity by M. Mitchell Waldrop (Pop-sci) -- Mostly the tale of the genesis of the Santa Fe Institute; lots of stories about various famous people and their discoveries. Well-written. The book that got me interested in the subject in the first place.

Complexity by Roger Lewin (Pop-sci) -- Sort of the sister to Waldrop's book. Has mostly the same description, but is a different book. Also good.

Complexification by John Casti (Pop-sci) -- Bleah. A real mish-mash of various subjects relating to chaos and complexity. Kind of overly pleased with itself, and many of the analogies and explanations feel overly dumbed-down. I was disappointed.

Order Out of Chaos by Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers (heavy-duty science) -- Prigogine is one of the founders of the field. This book (from 1984) covers a lot of ground in both chaos and complexity, but it's a bit of a slog, especially the philosophy-of-science bits.

Sync by Steven Strogatz (Pop-sci) -- It's supposed to be about different ways that order emerges from chaos, but mostly it's a hodge-podge of systems that exhibit synchronization. Each chapter is individually interesting, but they don't really cohere together, because there doesn't seem to be a single underlying mechanism to discuss.

Complex Systems Dynamics by Gerard Weisbuch (heavy-duty science) -- A good book with a misleading title. It's really about cellular automata, neural networks, simulated annealing, and related subjects. A fine technical reference on those subjects.

Hierarchy Theory by Valerie Ahl and T.F.H. Allen (hard to categorize) -- This is a condensation of a great book by Allen & Starr of the same name. It's about how to address systems that are composed of subsystems. That sounds dumb, but there are a bunch of really important ideas in here. Intriguing example: you can observe the U.S.-Canada border, without any a priori suspicion that it's there, by observing the flow of letters between various post offices in Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario.

Introduction to Percolation Theory by Stauffer and Aharony (textbook) -- Percolation theory is relevant to a number of complexity topics, like cellular automata, phase transitions, fractals, and so on. This is a good introductory textbook and reference to that very restricted subject.

Fearful Symmetry by Steward and Golubitskly (pop-sci) -- Billed as the sequel to Does God Play Dice. All about naturally-occurring patterns and symmetry. Not as compelling as the first book, but still quite good.

Network Theory
This is a topic that's starting to emerge as people figure out ways of dealing with networks that aren't either totally regular or totally random. Lots of interesting stuff having to do with the small-world phenomenon, power laws, long-tail effects, etc.

Linked by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi (Pop-sci) -- The first book I read on network theory; I enjoyed it a lot. I think it's a really good introduction.

Six Degrees by Duncan Watts (Pop-sci) -- Same as Linked, but the second book I read. I can't remember anymore which of them says what. There's a lot of overlap, but it's still worth reading both of them if you can.

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell (Pop-sci) -- Basically about how ideas (and other things) propagate through social systems. Overlaps a number of topics. Interesting, but written from a fairly business-y perspective, which can get tiresome.
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