This is a book about chaos. Not the chaos you have in your closet after three years of not cleaning it up but the mathematical chaos. And it is written with almost no equations at all, which makes it highly readable for non-mathematicians, but leaves the mathematicians somewhat hungry by not going deep enough. That was probably the intention, though – to provide interesting enough introduction that the hungry go on reading further on their own.
Also the book is some 20 years old and much have been done in the theory of chaos since – another reason to look for further reading – but it provides a very nice background of how people started to realize that in the nature there actually exist something “between deterministic and random” – something that can be deterministic and random (in a sense) at the same time. And it shows how we encounter this kind of stuff almost everywhere – problems with prediction of weather, movement of asteroinds, fluid dynamics, etc and how it took people from different areas of expertise to find out what it is.
What I also liked about this book was that since it is a popular math book, it takes various side trips, talkes about mathematicians, their lives, about non-mathematicians and their approach to math. It gives hope to an aspiring applied mathematician:
To criticize mathematics for its abstraction is to miss the point entirely. Abstraction is what makes mathematics work. If you concentrate too closely on too limited an application of a mathematical idea, you rob the mathematician of his most important tools: analogy, generality and simplicity. Mathematics is the ultimate in technology transfer…
However, technology transfer needs more than just the technology. Someone has to transfer it. So, while mathematicians should be encouraged to continue doing whatever it is that mathematicians do – whether or not the outside world can understand a word of it – it will remain just an art-form unless enough people are willing to make the effort to apply it to problems outside mathematics. The story of chaos is full of such people. They come from all subjects – physics, biology, engineering, chemistry, physiology, astronomy as well as mathematics. They are the true ‘applied mathematicians’ and they do what that phrase ought to mean. They take mathematics and they apply it.
PS. If God played dice, He’d win.