Books : reviews

Richard J. Bird.
Chaos and Life: complexity and order in evolution and thought.
Columbia University Press. 2003

rating : 6 : unfinishable
review : 24 May 2008

This started off feeling quite strange in style to me. But, hey, I've read many a strange book, so I was willing to persevere. Yet I began to have serious doubts on page 8, which includes the sentence:

As Ariel says in The Tempest, "I could count myself king of infinite space and yet be bounded in a nutshell."

So little space, so many errors. And such an easily checkable thing, too. (It reminds me of the Housman quote about three minutes' thought.) So, what hope for the rest? Yet I decided to carry on, at least for a while: everyone should allowed some leeway. But, with the strange elliptical rambling style, apparently approving references to homeopathy (p20: is it unreasonable to suppose that the shape of the drug's molecules could in some way become imprinted in the pattern of the water molecules?), worrying phrases like it is difficult to see how gradual changes could have been continuously advantageous to the organism that carried them (p33), and strawman arguments that seem to be ignoring swathes of developmental biology, I stopped after chapter 2.

Now, it may well be that these arguments are being raised only to be demolished in later chapters. But since they have been adequately demolished elsewhere, I don't propose to find out. Also, the hints of the central role of iteration looked promising, so, had I but world enough, and time, I might have ploughed on. But life is too short, and unread book piles too deep, to squander precious time on a fading hope.