A CRUDE LOOK AT THE WHOLE by John H. Miller

A CRUDE LOOK AT THE WHOLE

The Science of Complex Systems in Business, Life, and Society
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

The world is complicated and getting more so. Or, as Miller (Economics and Social Sciences/Carnegie Mellon Univ.; co-author: Complex Adaptive Systems, 2007) puts it, more cheerfully, “complexity abounds.”

Yes, complexity does abound, for which reason scientists have given a great deal of attention to chaos, complex systems, networking, unintended consequences, and all the other pursuits that come into play when looking at things that have many moving parts. Take the stock market, for instance: even though the market is set to react at the merest hint of a trigger, investors hate uncertainty, which means that panicky behavior is almost built into the system, with "unfortunate feedback loops that [destine it] to fail." The author considers mere randomness as a central factor in complex systems, contending with which he memorably calls “discovery on rugged landscapes.” Every mountaineer knows that a clear view ahead does not mean an easy path, and that’s just so in the case of complex systems, be the task at hand planning airline schedules or evaluating investment possibilities. On that note, Miller praises the supply and demand diagram as “one of those rare and remarkable scientific illustrations that take a complex reality and summarize it in a simple, valuable way.” Competitive equilibrium, quorum levels that satisfice, decentralized decision-making: Miller offers a vigorous survey of the tools, techniques, and ideas underlying complex systems and their study. As he optimistically observes, though earlier generations of scholars despaired of finding order in all the chaos, “complexity is an aspect of nature that is amenable to scientific analysis, understanding, and perhaps even control.” Miller’s explication throughout is clear, though he’s dealing with some pretty arcane stuff, and it helps to have some background in economics, probability, and especially game theory—in short, to have prepared your own mental complex system to handle this thoroughly engaging variable.

A valuable companion to confusion, though it’s not without a few tangles of its own.

Pub Date: Jan. 5th, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-465-05569-2
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2015




SIMILAR BOOKS SUGGESTED BY OUR CRITICS:

NonfictionEMERGENCE by Steven Johnson
by Steven Johnson
NonfictionOUTLIERS by Malcolm Gladwell
by Malcolm Gladwell
NonfictionTHE UPSIDE OF IRRATIONALITY by Dan Ariely
by Dan Ariely