The Self-Made Tapestry: Pattern Formation in Nature

Philip Ball, Author Oxford University Press, USA $37.5 (312p) ISBN 978-0-19-850244-9
Most people--including most scientists--take it as a given that the appearance of complex patterns implies conscious planning on the part of an intelligent agent or, in the case of such patterns in the biological world, the stringent application of the forces of natural selection. Ball (Designing the Molecular World) challenges these assumptions directly, documenting the counterintuitive idea that the operation of simple physical laws often yields complex and beautiful, but wholly natural, patterns. Ball's range is quite impressive. He discusses pattern formation on the hides of zebras, giraffes and leopards; the creation of honeycombs by bees; the uncanny similarities between branching patterns in plants and mineral dendrites of magnesium oxide. Ball also demonstrates how the same physical laws can operate on dramatically different scales: the same pattern of wave propagation has been found both in newly fertilized frog eggs and in nascent spiral galaxies. Despite fascinating material such as that, Ball's text is highly technical and often abstruse--so much so that it may prove inaccessible to most nonscientists--other than the comprehensible captions on the more than 400 photographs and line drawings (24 in color), that is, which make this a book that's at least worthy browsing for general readers. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 01/04/1999
Release date: 01/01/1999
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 456 pages - 978-0-19-850243-2
Open Ebook - 292 pages - 978-0-19-158594-4
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