Skip to main content

The Islands of Benoit Mandelbrot – Nina Samuel (Ed.) **

Benoit Mandelbrot was the poster-boy of chaos and fractals, in a sense literally as the graphic version of his Mandelbrot set occupied many an arty poster in its time. There’s no doubt Mandelbrot himself did lots of marvellous work from his analysis of cotton production to his ‘how far is at around the coastline of the UK’ and, yes, his remarkable set. But the trouble with the arty associations of that image means he tends to get dragged into a lot of stuff that is peripheral and verges on pseudo-science.
The antennae were raised by the subtitle of this book: ‘Fractals, chaos and the materiality of thinking.’ Is ‘materiality’ even a word?
It also doesn’t help that this book is a collection of articles. There is no narrative thrust – it’s not going anywhere. Allegedly the book shows how ‘images actually further knowledge.’ There is an element of truth in that idea, though it sounds rather like wishful thinking on the part of arty people who want to be scientific. But the approach taken – to use images found in the late Dr Mandelbrot’s office smacks of opportunism with no great interest in imparting wisdom.
One or two of the pieces are worth dipping into , particularly the one on ‘Nature in Mandelbrot’s Geometry’, but many of them are not worth wasting time on. Overall this is certainly not popular science. In fact it’s hard to see what it is, except self-indulgant.
Paperback:  
Review by Peter Spitz

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Dialogues - Clifford Johnson ***

The authors of science books are always trying to find new ways to get the message across to their audiences. In Dialogues, Clifford Johnson combines a very modern technique - the graphic novel or comic strip - with an approach that goes back to Ancient Greece - using a dialogue to add life to what might seem a dry message.

We have seen the comic strip approach trying to put across quite detailed science before in Mysteries of the Quantum Universe. As with that book, Dialogues manages to cover a fair amount of actual physics, but I still feel that the medium just wastes vast acres of page to say very little at all. This is brought home here because quite a lot of the sections of Dialogues start with several pages with no text on at all, just setting up the scenario.

As for using a discussion between two people to put a message across, Johnson makes the point that, for instance, Galileo's very readable masterpiece Two New Sciences is in the form of a dialogue (more accurately a discu…

Liam Drew - Four Way Interview

Liam Drew is a writer and former neurobiologist. he has a PhD in sensory biology from University College, London and spent 12 years researching schizophrenia, pain and the birth of new neurons in the adult mammalian brain. His writing has appeared in Nature, New Scientist, Slate and the Guardian. He lives in Kent with his wife and two daughters. His new book is I, Mammal.

Why science?

As hackneyed as it is to say, I think I owe my fascination with science to a great teacher – in my case, Ian West, my A-level biology teacher.  Before sixth form, I had a real passion for the elegance and logic of maths, from which a basic competence at science at school arose.  But I feel like I mainly enjoyed school science in the way a schoolkid enjoys being good at stuff, rather than it being a passion.

Ian was a revelation to me.  He was a stern and divisive character, but I loved the way he taught.  He began every lesson by providing us with a series of observations and fact, then, gradually, between …

A Galaxy of Her Own - Libby Jackson ****

This is an interesting book, even if it probably tries to be too many things to too many people. I wondered from the cover design whether it was a children's book, but the publisher's website (and the back of the book) resolutely refuse to categorise it as such. The back copy doesn't help by saying that it will 'inspire trailblazers and pioneers of all ages.' As I belong to the set 'all ages' I thought I'd give it a go.

Inside are featured the 'stories of fifty inspirational women who have been fundamental to the story of humans in space.' So, in some ways, A Galaxy of Her Own presents the other side of the coin to Angela Saini's excellent Inferior. But, inevitably, given the format, it can hardly provide the same level of discourse.

Despite that 'all ages' comment and the lack of children's book labelling we get a bit of a hint when we get to a bookplate page in the form of a Galaxy Pioneers security pass (with the rather worrying…