Nature’s Chaos by James Gleick & Eliot Porter - review by Dorian Savage

Dorian Savage

The Fractal Geometry of Christmas Trees

Nature’s Chaos

By

Scribner 125pp £14.95 order from our bookshop
 

 

The first thing to say is that this book exists only because the publisher is cashing in on the unexpected success of James Gleick’s Chaos: Making a New Science. This is the coffee table Chaos aimed at the Christmas market. Expect any day the appearance of Stephen Hawking’s Big Bang Microwave Cookbook. The second thing to say is that Nature’s Chaos is a total delight which deserves to be in at least five-million Christmas stockings.

The evangelists – I use the word advisedly – of chaos theory claim that it is the third great revolution in the physical sciences in the twentieth century, as significant as relativity and quantum mechanics. They may well be proved right. Chaos offers startling new ways of understanding life, the universe and everything, but it is also a remarkably accessible science, immediately visible in the everyday world.

While the physicists are examining mesons and muons careering about at ever greater speeds in ever vaster particle accelerators, the chaoticians are getting excited about turbulence in a spiral of cigarette smoke, dripping taps, and the weather. Anything, in fact, which is seemingly chaotic, and has thus been dismissed by

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