Next in our review series is Chaos: The Amazing Science of the Unpredictable. Thanks again to our guest reviewer. This is fun.  


For want of a nail…


Chaos: The Amazing Science of the Unpredictable

(Gleick, James)
(Vintage, 1998)


“I'm now sitting by myself, uh, er, talking to myself. That's, that’s Chaos Theory.”

~Dr. Ian Malcom – Jurassic Park


Perhaps best known to the general public from the character Ian Malcom in the Jurassic Park movies, as well as the Butterfly Effect film series, Chaos Theory is much more subtle and complicated than this common perception would have us believe. James Gleick’s Chaos: The Amazing Science of the Unpredictable, begins with what we think we all know, the Butterfly Effect, from here he uses the basic concept of Chaos Theory, nonlinearity in systems and science, to delve more deeply into the fascinating exploration of what appear to be random points of data to make a beautiful line of order.

The work utilises this line of narrative to build from simple, and widely (mis)understood, areas through Geometry of Nature, Universality, Dynamical Systems Collective and the Inner Rhythms to build an easy to follow, yet difficult to comprehend view of a world where similar patterns occur everywhere from the microscopic to the cosmological.

The work almost defies the reader to bask in the grandeur of concepts such as Fractal Geometry and Emergence, where the aforementioned patterns occur and recur over different scales, interacting differently at each level and thus allowing complex systems to emerge from simple interactions.  A handshake, leads to a conversation to an emergent friendship. Random encounters alter systems

Whether applied to coast-lines, sponges, flock and herd behaviour or human interactions, the idea that a subtle and simple set of interactions can have huge and long-lasting implications that could not be accounted from the sum of their parts. While seemingly small events multiply, with unknown outcomes the possibility of unexpected events increases to the point where the same process and inputs can lead to a blizzard of beautiful, distinct and unique snowflakes.  

Though challenging, Gleick’s work allows us to appreciate the impact of the thousands of tiny actions can have on a system, whether these actions feed stability or instability is a complex unknown, what we do know however, is you may never look at that proffered hand the same way again.


Mr. E. Ruth