My rating: 3 of 5 stars
At last, a somewhat respectable introduction to chaos for anyone not repulsed by a bit of math. Lorenz may not be as polished a writer as James Gleick, but his knowledge of the field, its mathematics, and its development is unrivaled.
The majority of the book is spent exploring several examples of chaotic systems in detail. The book is not necessarily packed with equations (those are saved for the appendices) but it does require some “mathematical maturity” (essentially, you must be able to read slowly and do some thinking as you go). Lorenz is not afraid to take his reader for a stroll through phase space and neither will he protect him or her from subtle jargon such as asymptotic orbits, homoclinities, and Lyapunov numbers. Though the toy examples used to explore these concepts mostly involve artificially idealized pinball machines and mogul-hopping sleds, Lorenz also includes fascinating looks at the chaotic elements of our own atmosphere, his area of specialty. I would have liked more detail on these “real-world” models, but there’s just one problem: we’re still not quite sure what those models should be. Meteorologists and climate scientists have been handed an unwieldy problem and Lorenz’s early insights into the “sensitive dependence” of our weather only reinforced the need for reserved expectations.
That said, I highly recommend skipping Chapter 4: Encounters with Chaos. Lorenz spends 50 pages giving a highly biased and shallow account of the history of chaos, concentrating mostly on his own contribution. For the history of chaos, James Gleick’s Chaos: Making a New Science is a much better account.