Books About Complexity and Emergence

I thought the market for complexity books had been saturated, but here’s another one: A Crude Look at the Whole  by John H. Miller. (WSJ  review here.)

The first wave of complexity books was in the mid 1990s:

The heyday of complexity books was just after 2000 (my own book appeared in 2005):

In just the past few years, we have

According to Ronald Bailey’s WSJ  review, Miller’s book covers familiar ground. Like my 2005 book, he argues that “societies are complex systems”; that social phenomena “emerge unpredictably from components”; that “simple parts interact in complex ways to create an emerging whole”. His examples of emergence from complexity are familiar from these earlier books: biological evolution, markets, the Internet, political protests. Bailey’s review is politely critical of the book; he says “it’s hard to see how complexity science is much help to current policy makers or citizens.” I disagree; I think that understanding complexity and emergence has incredible value, especially in understanding social systems. Maybe Miller’s book isn’t the first one you should read, but the long list of earlier books (and their strong sales) demonstrates that this research is helping lots of people.

3 thoughts on “Books About Complexity and Emergence

  1. Hello, this is great, thanks for the information! There is also the four-volume set on “Complexity in Organization Study,” which you are aware of I guess. I am in the middle of researching and writing a study on collaborative creativity and communication with a focus on organizing/organization and disorganizing/disorganization. And so your list and comments are interesting!

    Best, Gerald.

    1. Thanks! I limited my list to books that might appeal to a general readership. Except my own, it’s not really for the general reader…There are LOTS more books like mine, that are more for a scholarly audience.

  2. Keith I thought your ‘complexity approach’ to understanding creativity made a refreshing and welcome change. There is, however, an issue around ’emergence’ and ’emergent properties’ which is that the kind of popular complex systems theory your refer to (even that of Arther) does not attempt to properly explain it. Most accept it without being critical but once it is not then an explanation seems to escape those who promote it as an explanation for other things, like culture for example. It’s well worth digging out Jaegwon Kim’s papers on emergence. They won’t change your results, which is that novel ideas arise out of networks of conversations, but it does provide an explanation other than ’emergence is a mysterious property of complex systems’. The other issue I have with popular, even standard, complexity theory is the insistence that to be complex systems have to be large. Clearly they don’t, as the results of a conversation between two people shows. Conversations are unpredictable and uncertain events that have all the other characteristics of a so-called complex system. Lest it be forgotten, the rise in interest in complexity theory had all the characteristics of a fad at its heyday, and perhaps it still has.

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