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Images Of A Complex World: The Art and Poetry of Chaos

by Robin Chapman & Julien Clinton Sprott
World Scientific, Hackensack, NJ, 2005
192 pp., with CD-ROM, illus. Trade, $58.00; paper, $34.00
ISBN: 981-256-400-4; ISBN: 981-256-401-2.

Reviewed by Rob Harle (Australia)


This is a lavishly illustrated coffee-table book that will appeal to a wide general audience. On each page the poetry of Robin Chapman is presented, together with high-colour fractal images and an insert by co-author Julien Clinton Sprott, explaining one aspect of Chaos theory, fractals or nonlinear complex systems.

Anyone new to these scientific disciplines will find Sprott’s explanations easy to read and considering the complexity of the mathematics involved with fractals, fairly easy to grasp. On the one hand, this is an educational book; on the other, it is intended to inspire the reader with the art and poetry of Chaos and nature. I was a little disappointed in respect of the latter for a number of reasons, which I will discuss shortly.

The book comes with a CD-ROM. It contains "1,000 images of chaos art from which slide shows can be generated and 100 high-resolution posters created"; also Chapman reads a selection of her poetry. There are seven chapters with the following titles: Dynamical Systems, Viewing Dynamics, Where It All Ends, Routes To Chaos, Images of Chaos, Chaos & Predictability, and Truth & Beauty. The book has a pathetic Index, a short rather incomplete list of suggested further reading and a really useful Appendix for "the mathematically inclined". There is also a quiz to test the reader’s understanding. Fantastic for under twelve year old, but I feel a trifle patronizing for educated adults.

The first reason for my disappointment is that Chapman’s poetry is "nice", almost to the extent of being saccharine sweet. There is no angst, no hint of nature being "red in tooth and claw", nor a hint of nature being chaotically tumultuous——tsunamis or cyclones are complex dynamical systems of special interest to Chaos theorists. Merely lovely, undemanding words about leaves, sunlight, sunflowers, and birds.

The second reason is that the colour of the fractals is almost garish, both in the book and on the screen. I’ve noticed this colour generation style as the default setting in many fractal creation programs. However, with sufficient care the fractals can be made to look a little more subtle and complex; in the case of this book, at least for some of the images could have been manipulated to embrace the hues of nature. Just because fractal images do not exist outside the computer is no reason not to have their colours analogous to those in the real world.

The third reason why Images of a Complex World: The Art and Poetry of Chaos let my expectations down a little is that I am yet to see a presentation where poetry and images juxtaposed on the one page really works. The poetry detracts from the images, and the images tends to "suck" the imagery out of, or at least compensate for, a lack of imagery contained in the poetry. If poetry needs images to support it, then it is poor poetry indeed, for if poetry is anything, it is about creating imagery in the reader’s mind. This latter comment does not refer at all to Chapman’s poetry as it is rich with gentle, nature imagery.

As previously mentioned, this book is an excellent introduction to Chaos Theory and fractals for all young readers or for older readers who have no prior knowledge of the weird and wonderful world of Julia Sets, Cellular Automata, and Strange Attractors.



Updated 1st February 2006

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