Short works

Books : reviews

Gary William Flake.
The Computational Beauty of Nature: computer explorations of fractals, chaos, complex systems, and adaptation.
MIT Press. 1998

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 2 September 2004

Flake covers the traditional subjects of fractals (snowflakes and Mandelbrots, L-systems, affine transformations), chaos (logistic map, bifurcations, strange attractors, controlling chaos), complex systems (cellular automata, social insects, flocks, self-organisation), neural networks, evolutionary algorithms, and more, from a computational perspective. But that doesn't mean just giving code samples for the various examples. Although plentiful C source code is provided (fortunately via an ftp address, not as interminable listings), Flake's text covers background, theory, theoretical computational aspects, a glossary, further reading, and the like.

I could almost recommend this as an introductory textbook. The material is certainly covered to such a level, and it is well written, well laid out, and lavishly illustrated with detailed diagrams. Yet it has one draw-back: the link to the technical literature is not there. The text, for example, introduces Langton's lambda-parameter, defines it, and discusses its properties (see section 15.3); the final bibliography (but no the chapter level further reading) includes a reference to the relevant paper; but there is no explicit link from the text to this particular reference.

Despite this single caveat, this is a nice book that covers a lot of material in an accessible manner, with a depth that adds real meat to the topic.