Oxford University Press
January 7, 1999
Why do similar patterns and forms appear in nature in settings that seem to bear no relation to one another? The windblown ripples of desert sand follow a sinuous course that resembles the stripes of a zebra or a marine fish. In the trellis-like shells of microscopic sea creatures we see the same angles and intersections as for bubble walls in a foam. The forks of lightning mirror the branches of a river or a tree.
This book explains why these are not coincidences. Nature commonly weaves its tapestry by self-organization, employing no master plan or blueprint but instead simple, local interactions between its component parts – be they grains of sand, diffusing molecules or living cells. In the products of self-organization are typically universal patterns: spirals, spots, and stripes, branches, honeycombs. This book explains, in non-technical language, and with profuse illustrations, how nature’s patterns are made.
Philip Ball has been an editor of Nature since 1988, and has written many scientific articles on all topics for the popular press. His first book Designing the Molecular World won the American Association of Publishers award for books on chemistry.