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Simplexity: Why Simple Things Become Complex (and How Complex Things Can Be Made Simple)

Simplexity: Why Simple Things Become Complex (and How Complex Things Can Be Made Simple)

by Jeffrey KlugerJeffrey Kluger
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"Using real world examples, such as traffic flow, politics and baby linguistics, the author makes the theories of 'simplexity' accessible to the layperson...Kluger makes complex science seem simple."

"Kluger makes the modern world comprehensible...his astonishing discoveries require no exaggeration..[his] findings are likely to incite controversy, confirming his contention that explaining simplicity and complexity is never as straightforward as it seems."
--Publishers Weekly

" a study of human behavior, and the way we perceive things and events, and how our perception frequently causes us to make wrong assumptions and to perceive simplicity (or complexity) where it does not exist, The book is sure to be a deserved hit among the ever-growing Freakonomics crowd."

Why are the instruction manuals for cell phones incomprehensible Why is a truck driver's job as hard as a CEO's How can 10 percent of every medical dollar cure 90 percent of the world's disease Why do bad teams win so many games

Complexity, as any scientist will tell you, is a slippery idea. Things that seem complicated can be astoundingly simple; things that seem simple can be dizzyingly complex. A houseplant may be more intricate than a manufacturing plant. A colony of garden ants may be more complicated than a community of people. A sentence may be richer than a book, a couplet more complicated than a song.

These and other paradoxes are driving a whole new science--simplexity--that is redefining how we look at the world and using that new view to improve our lives in fields as diverse as economics, biology, cosmology, chemistry, psychology, politics, child development, the arts, and more. Seen through the lens of this surprising new science, the world becomes a delicate place filled with predictable patterns--patterns we often fail to see as we're time and again fooled by our instincts, by our fear, by the size of things, and even by their beauty.

In Simplexity, Time senior writer Jeffrey Kluger shows how a drinking straw can save thousands of lives; how a million cars can be on the streets but just a few hundred of them can lead to gridlock; how investors behave like atoms; how arithmetic governs abstract art and physics drives jazz; why swatting a TV indeed makes it work better. As simplexity moves from the research lab into popular consciousness it will challenge our models for modern living. Jeffrey Kluger adeptly translates newly evolving theory into a delightful theory of everything that will have you rethinking the rules of business, family, art--your world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781401303013
Publisher: Hachette Books
Publication date: 06/03/2008
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 1,205,082
Product dimensions: 5.72(w) x 8.48(h) x 1.04(d)
Age Range: 13 - 18 Years

About the Author

Jeffrey Kluger joined TIME Magazine in 1996, mainly writing science stories, and was named a senior writer in 1998. With astronaut Jim Lovell, he wrote Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13, on which the 1995 movie Apollo 13 movie was based. He's written several other books, most recently Splendid Solution, which is about Jonas Salk and the polio vaccine. Mr. Kluger and two other colleagues won the 2002 Overseas Press Club of America's Whitman Bassow Award for their "Global Warming" cover package (April 9, 2001), garnering first place for the best reporting in any medium on international environmental issues. Before joining TIME, Mr. Kluger was a staff writer for Discover Magazine and a writer and editor for the New York Times Business World Magazine, Family Circle, and Science Digest.

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Simplexity: Why Simple Things Become Complex (And How Complex Things Can Be Made Simple) 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 22 reviews.
jenevolves on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was disappointed that there was no delivery on the promise made by the front cover: "why simple things become complex (and how complex things can be made simple)". While some of the anecdotes are facinating, and begin to illustrate the complexity theories the author is trying to explain, the book falls short of its promise. When every chapter title is a question, and maybe half of those questions are actually answered, it's a bit of a let down. But if you can ignore the premise and read simply for the facinating insights into such varied topics as linguistics, electronics, business, medicine and more, then give this book a try.
Michael_P on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I had been looking forward to reading this book the moment I saw the title, and I can happily reply that I wasn't disappointed. While it didn't go into as much detail on some topics as I would have liked, it did give plenty examples of real-world instances to justify any short-comings it might have had in other sections.There is next to no practical advice on how to simplify complex issues or conditions, but that is not the purpose of this book. If you're looking for a How-To, you've come to the wrong place. Instead, Jeffrey Kluger examines the emerging science of complexity studies and gives informal case studies of what it is and the effects it could have in the future in fields as economics (stock exchange), catastrophy management (WTC and burning buildings), labor (skills, jobs, and pay-scale) , cosmology (radio astonomy), chemistry (vaccines), psychology (child development), and even politics (election strategies).Kluger discusses complex topics in a manner that is easily accessible to those who may not be familiar with a given topic, while maintaining the gravity of thought and work that experts in the field can appreciate. I would consider this book on par with [Freakanomics], except with a lot fewer statistics, and better and more succinct than [The Tipping Point].I'm looking forward to casually rereading this from time to time.
quilted_kat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An entertaining look at why the most complex things in life can be inherently simple, and vice versa. Each chapter looks at a different confusion of social structure, human nature, and economics. Kluger uses simple explanations of algorithms to explain the most complex cycles, and science to expand on the most simple-seeming concepts, while answering such universal questions as: why are there so many buttons on my remote when I just want to turn on the TV? And why is Jackson Pollock art?My only complaint is the complete lack of citations to back-up his facts. He does quote known experts within the body of the work, but doesn¿t provide endnotes or a bibliography.
kurvanas on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a simple book on a complex subject.While a very nifty concept, this book is really a series of anecdotes and stories which never quite seem to rise to the occassion or gel into something greater than the sum. Perhaps I'm being too harsh, expecting something more compelx. But, well, I was. At times the most exciting thing on the page was the italic X in the word Simplexity. Nice effect.How does a single bullet start a world war? was nice. So let's say this is a good read, just not a great read. It merely lacked depth and philosophy to become a powerful old quite boring tome of higher learning. As is it is a nice, easy, accessible overview of complex tings. Hmmmm. Maybe it works after all. Depends on the target audience.
thepogoman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Simplexity is essentially a popular science book about the field of complexity science. It was an odd book for me, and I am rather torn in how I view it. On the one hand, the various anecdotes and discussions of complexity/simplicity research are very interesting. Unfortunately, however, Kluger does not do a good job tying things together into an integrated whole. Each chapter begins with a set of questions about a general topic area, presents research relating to that topic, and then fails to provide any meaningful answer to those questions. Furthermore, the chapters are not connected. It is almost like reading a series of essays, but essays that end abruptly with no conclusions. I do not know if this was Kluger's journalistic style conflicting with my desire for a more academic treatment of the topic, but I was consistently left thinking, "that was very interesting, but so what?"In addition, the publisher has cross-categorized this book as science and business. I am not an executive, but I think that anyone who picked this up as a practical business guide would be sorely disappointed. It provides no conclusions and does not equip the reader to apply the content in any meaningful way.Finally, the editing took at distinct downturn toward the end of the book. I found many typos in the last few chapters which were distracting and detracted from the reading experience.
jonasreads on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Kluger provides many examples of the complexities that are entwined within the simplicities of life (and vice versa) -- from public health to social science to technology. These examples provide a great survey of the field. But the book could have been shorter, and I would have appreciated more examples from researchers and conditions outside the Sante Fe Institute.
davesmind on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In this book, Jeffrey Kluger makes a valiant effort to cover a number of those topics that fit under the umbrella of Complexity Science or Complex Systems. Kluger is the author of several books and is a senior science writer for Time Magazine. I thoroughly enjoyed his last book on Polio (The Splendid Solution), so I came in with high expectations here. He is unquestionably a skilled science writer. He produces a clear, fast paced writing style and conveys his fascination with the topics. I enjoyed each of his stories. And some of these, (like those on the science of art and music) provided some really deep insights. The book is in much the same vein as books like the Tipping Point, Blink, The Wisdom of Crowds, Freakonomics, and the Black Swan. It consists of a series of almost independent stories that are tied together with an underlying thread. And some of the stories mentioned here are also mentioned in those books. My primary difficulty with this book is that the binding thread appears very thin. Yes, all of the stories deal with problems that have various degrees of complexity¿. However, there is more to complexity theory than this and I am afraid that the typical reader may not see this. Many of the stories in the book come from his visit with scientists at the Sante Fe Institute (SFI) for complex systems in New Mexico. Since I work in this general area, I may be a bit biased. However, complexity theory has a number of beautiful mathematical tools (e.g., dynamical systems models) that tie together a wide range of problems. Yes, it may have been a good choice for this book to avoid most of the mathematical details of complexity theory. Nonetheless, in Kluger¿s book, it is difficult to see how these stories of complex systems might be bound together. In some cases, he even argues that classic examples of complex systems (e.g. stars), are really not all that complex (when compared to guppy). However, it is in examples like stars that complexity theory really shines (sorry). From a few rules of physics, fusion and gravity we get a complex structure that is a star ¿ full of complex dynamics and which die in remarkably complex ways (e.g., supernovae). And this is the heart of complexity theory: a few simple interactions can create impressive and sometimes beautiful complexity. But this criticism may be too harsh for a popular book. This is a fast paced, enjoyable read. It provides insights into a number of the `big¿ problems tackled by researchers around the world. And if you are fans of Blink, the Widsom of Crowds and Freakonomics, you will likely enjoy this.
WhitmelB on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Do you have a cell phone that has more capability than you can ever use and all the buttons to go with it? And has an incomprehensible 150 page manual to accompany it. Been in a traffic jam on an Interstate highway only to arrive at a point where suddenly there is no jam nor a reason for it to have occurred in the first place? Ever longed to give your TV a good swat to make it work as we used to do in the days of black and white?Jeffrey Kluger makes the modern world comprehensible, analyzing social and technological systems to reveal that `things that seem complicated can be preposterously simple; things that seem simple can be dizzyingly complex.¿ As he teaches us about new discoveries in the study of complexity he makes use of the famous bell curve (although he does not call it that) where the X axis is complexity and the Y axis the movement from chaos and instability (a room full of gas) to robust and stable (a lump of carbon.)In explaining the complexity of simple objects the author uses, among many others, the example of the simple wood pencil. These two paragraphs sum up the main thought of the book most accurately. The author recounts the harvesting of the wood, the mining of the bauxite for the aluminum sleeve, the carbon from the coal mine and the lab making the eraser - and behind each of these processes lies the making and using of the tools that allow those actions. He continues to delve even deeper into actions and accomplishments just as necessary to support the whole process; clothing, delivery systems accounting systems, etc. Mr. Kluger finishes his paragraph: ¿A vast industrial machine rises up, switches on, and at its far end , spits out ... a pencil, arguably oneof the most complicated objects in the world.¿I enjoyed this book immensely but it is not read quickly. As Jeffrey Kluger explains a concept you find yourself applying the thought to other situations you face in the day-to-day world and then nodding knowingly.
darwin.8u on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Lately, we've been getting a large amount of good writing on interesting topics. Memoirs have been interesting, but my recent favorites are new new journalism's microhistories and science/economics/business cross-over books.Simplexity sits on my bookshelf with Gladwell's Tipping Point and Blink, Levitt and Dubner's Freakonomics, Ariely's Predictibly Irrational & Taleb's the Black Swan.In someways Simplexity reminds me of Gleck's 1987 book Chaos (has it really been over 20 years?). I will avoid the cliched impulse to say the book was "overly complex" or "too simple." I will also avoid the already overused review of "Kluger has made a complicated subject simple."Kluger has, however, done what I would want him to do well. He has explored and illuminated a new theory and a new concept in such as way as to make me rethink several assumptions I've had about business, life, and the way things work. He's given voice to things I've always known or understood, but never quite realized I knew. Those quiet, simple truths often are the hardest to find.
indianajane on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was excited to receive a copy of this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program because I have enjoyed books like Freakonomics and The Tipping Point, but I felt like I was slogging through this book, and to be honest, I haven't yet managed to finish it. Jeffrey Kluger raises some interesting ideas, but so far nothing has been compelling enough to make me want to spend my valuable reading time finishing this book.
kaelirenee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In the tradition of Malcolm Gladwell's books (Tipping Point, etc), Simplexity uses vignettes to explain complex theories behind...well why things are so complex when they should be simple. The book, however, fails to hold the reader's attention in the same way the Gladwell's books do. Also, this book provides quite a bit of human nature and quite a bit of mathematical explanations. But neither of these is given enough print to fully flesh out the theory, examples, or to present a solution. The author doesn't even provide a bibliography so the reader can look deeper into certain issues. Some of the chapters cover topics that have always interested me, so I know right where to look on my bookshelf for more information. In short, as a crash course on Complexity theory, this is a good starting point. I just wish the author provided a next step. For books that consider human behavior more purely (as opposed to physicists and mathematicians giving our behavior equations), there are far better places to start.
eduscapes on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If you're a fan of Malcolm Gladwell's "Tipping Point," you'll enjoy Jeffrey Kluger's take on complexity and simplicity or as he calls it Simplexity. Like many other books focusing on popular topics such as connectivity, complexity, and chaos, Kluger uses examples and anecdotes to explain his thoughts on today's world. The book is well-written and easy to read. however it lacks concrete statements about his theories and scientific evidence to support his thoughts. I'd recommend Simplexity for those who enjoy light, pop business reading. If you're looking for something more thought provoking, read the works of Malcolm Gladwell.
smithwil on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
After reading some of the reviews, below, I understand why I was unable to stick with reading this to end. I've read some of the other works mentioned, and, while well written, this book simply did not hold my attention... especially when I have a book case with several other books I really want to get to. It was an easy read, but just did not maintain my interest. I'll be kind and say the problem was mine, and not the book.
cjcombs on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Jeffrey Kluger's Simplexity inspires to be a book in the genre of Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point or James Surowiecki's The Wisdom Crowds. Unfortunately, it falls just short of reaching this goal.Without a doubt, Kluger is a gifted writer. He has an excellent command of language, and he does well in creating a story. I believe most readers will find the different topics covered in Simplexity interesting. Kluger provides enough detail about each area without swamping us with too much information that would bog down the story-telling.The biggest flaw of the book is that it fails to produce an overarching framework to explain this simplicity arising from complexity, and vice-versa. The book lacks a take-home lesson, and at the end I did not feel I had learned some guiding notion or principle that I can apply to other natural or social phenomena.On the other hand, each of the case examples that Kluger describes is inherently interesting. In fact, Simplexity can be read as a series of independent chapters with no loss of enjoyment or information yield.So, yes - it is a fun book, especially if you enjoy authors like Gladwell. It simply lacks that Eureka moment where you feel you've learned something universal about complexity/simplicity.
kevinarthur on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was really disappointed by this book's lack of substance. I expected Kluger to get around to explaining some actual theory or scientific work going on at Murray Gell-Mann's Santa Fe Institute (which Kluger returns to again and again), but he never got beyond anecdotes and simplistic "storifying," if that's a word.This book might satisfy business readers looking for Malcolm Gladwell-esque science-lite stories, but readers looking for more substantial popular science will be disappointed.
oapostrophe on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I very much enjoyed this read and found the examples used fascinating. It inspires me to read further on the subject. lots of food for thought.
yggdrasil on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book has the makings of a great popular science read that goes beyond the basics - it just never quite delivers. It contains page after page of more or less engrossing anecdotes that illustrate the concept of complexity and what role complexity plays in life. Some of the ideas were quite interesting (some of the discussion on disease vectors and the interrelationship of biological and pseudo-biological systems; treating companies and cities as just another organism with a life cycle; complexity as a concept distinct from both chaos/fluid disorder and solidity/stable nonmovement) but most of the time, much was promised and little was delivered. It feels like the author thinks he is conveying some deeply profound statement about the nature of the universe, but really the pronouncements often fall flat. The structure of the book is too cutesy and gets in the way of its purpose - each chapter is subtitled "Confused by...." fear, expectation, whatever. The book promises some ways to use complexity to your advantage, but never delivers. This book is strongly reminiscent of Freakonomics in feel and writing style (which isn't a bad thing - I'm a trivia buff anyway, so that's right up my alley). Some of the negative aspects of this book can probably be explained by the fact that this is an ARC and not completely copy-edited. And the misleading subtitle that promises some how-to approaches may simply be the fault of some overeager marketing on the publisher's part. If it weren't for that subtitle (and specifically for that damning line of "how complex things can be made simple"), I would have enjoyed the book much more as an amusing collection of anecdotes illustrating the role of complexity in our lives and giving some stimulating food for thought. As it stands however, the book was a bit of a disappointment, but it's at least worth a skim or a comfortable afternoon reading at the beach. Just don't expect to come away with any really profound answers.
IamAleem on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was fairly exited to receive the ARC of this title but after going through It I can only say that I'm NOT too impressed with the content overall. There seems to be a a lot of similar popular science books out there dealing with irrational behaviorism these days. Mr Kluger shares some interesting and thought provoking observations on human nature but unless you are very easily amused, you will not find anything revolutionary in this body of work. IMHO recent works by 'Steven Johnson' and 'Malcolm Gladwell' would be far more worthy of your time."Simplexity: Why Simple Things Become Complex (and How Complex Things Can Be Made Simple)" presents a fairly decent set of sociology essays but its publication seems a little pointless to me.All in all this was an amusing collection of anecdotes but there is no ground breaking content here.
jericson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found Simplexity to somewhat underwhelming. Perhaps it fell victim to bad timing, because as I read, I found myself wishing it was a bit more like The Black Swan, which I read earlier this year. The anecdotes are interesting, but unlike Nassim Nicholas Taleb's book, there seemed little to tie the stories together except the concept of "Simplexity".A simple definition might be that simple things are sometimes more complicated than they appear and complex things often turn on very simple elements. For instance, the stock market is both complex (millions of transactions each day) and simple (a handful of traders have excess influence). In general, it seems to share many commonalities with the 80/20 rule: 80% of X is accounted for by 20% of Y. For instance, in this book 80% (or more) of the examples come from The Santa Fe Institute.Certainly, the examples are worthy of study. But the book needs something to bring order to chaos. It feels very much as if we are finding something important about the world, but we aren't quite sure what it is. Part of my frustration with this book stems from it's reliance on the narrative fallacy. As humans, we tend to believe we understand something when we are able to tell a story about it. This is why the business section always points to some external factor (oil, the president, international news, etc.) as the reason for stock market fluctuations. In reality, markets fluctuate mostly for internal reasons. Oil prices might have dropped and the market rose, but that is as likely to be a coincidence as not. A story fools us into thinking randomness can be explained.Now the stories are interesting and make you think. Every one of them seems to propel us to the idea that if we just found the secret of these complex systems, we'd have mastery over them. But history suggests that we won't master them all and our confidence will be revealed as arrogance.
detailmuse on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love twists on perspective, so was eager to read Simplexity, Jeffrey Kluger¿s exploration of the complex undersides of seemingly simple things.It¿s a great premise (and a terrific title!) but I was disappointed in the execution, which ends up with breadth, not depth, as though Kluger had 100 surprising and interesting facts that he wanted to write about if only he could find something to link them. And though his voice is conversational and readable, he derails onto tangents -- in almost every chapter, I needed to return to the chapter title and bullet to refresh myself about what concept he was developing. Yet even then, the titles and bullets didn¿t always adequately link the material -- like a novelist's not-quite-right metaphor -- and left a distracting discord. For similar content I¿d recommend Levitt/Dubner¿s ¿Freakonomics,¿ and highly recommend Gladwell¿s ¿Blink¿ and ¿The Tipping Point.¿
cymor on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What is simple? What is complex? The author dives into these topics while moving through a diverse group of subjects. He skips from traffic control to Apartheid with ease. Complexity science is still in it's infantcy, but the author gives a good overview of this new field.Much more interesting than you would expect, and well written.Even though it is targeted at the public, a detailed bibliography and footnotes would have been nice.
ty1997 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book never really came together for me. Complexity and simplexity are interesting topics, but overall this book didn't satisfy me or make me feel like I had gained a good insight on the topic.