John Gribbin is a fairly successful writer of science, making difficult concepts clearer for the non-specialist reader. In mine opinion, here he has fulfilled that mandate. The basic subject in this book is the mathematics of the edge of chaos and how real simplicity, applied with feedback, can create chaos or trend towards chaos and in fact be attracted to that edge; the conclusion Gribbin draws, and his purpose in writing, is to show how the notions of simplicity and chaos can be applied to the formation and development of life. I am by no means capable of reviewing the quality of his mathematics, or the science involved, suffice it to say that i saw no glaring errors (and, at my level, i wouldn’t expect to!); what i can evaluate is his writing and his ability to convey the messages he intends to.
In these areas, then, i find that he does well. I was aware of the concept of chaos previously, hard not to be for anyone who reads anything at all modern in science, but i would not have been able to explain it, so i certainly didn’t understand it; that has changed: I could now explain (not using mine own words, or not all of them) to a low level, and therefore i understand to a low level. Chaos, at least in the technical, mathematical, sense of the word in which it is used here, can be caused by the continued application to an input of one or more simple rules, the result of which application provides the input for the next iteration. Certain rules, chosen wisely, cause the results to trend closer and closer to what are called attractors, and the resultant patterns, the trends or the attractors or both, mapped show this chaos. A rather chaotic explanation, now that i look at it, but i seem to have grasped the essentials of what he was saying, i think. I just haven’t put it nearly so eloquently or neatly.