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Patterns in Nature: Why the Natural World Looks the Way It Does

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Though at first glance the natural world may appear overwhelming in its diversity and complexity, there are regularities running through it, from the hexagons of a honeycomb to the spirals of a seashell and the branching veins of a leaf. Revealing the order at the foundation of the seemingly chaotic natural world, Patterns in Nature explores not only the math and science b Though at first glance the natural world may appear overwhelming in its diversity and complexity, there are regularities running through it, from the hexagons of a honeycomb to the spirals of a seashell and the branching veins of a leaf. Revealing the order at the foundation of the seemingly chaotic natural world, Patterns in Nature explores not only the math and science but also the beauty and artistry behind nature’s awe-inspiring designs. Unlike the patterns we create in technology, architecture, and art, natural patterns are formed spontaneously from the forces that act in the physical world. Very often the same types of pattern and form – spirals, stripes, branches, and fractals, say—recur in places that seem to have nothing in common, as when the markings of a zebra mimic the ripples in windblown sand. That’s because, as Patterns in Nature shows, at the most basic level these patterns can often be described using the same mathematical and physical principles: there is a surprising underlying unity in the kaleidoscope of the natural world. Richly illustrated with 250 color photographs and anchored by accessible and insightful chapters by esteemed science writer Philip Ball, Patterns in Nature reveals the organization at work in vast and ancient forests, powerful rivers, massing clouds, and coastlines carved out by the sea.   By exploring similarities such as those between a snail shell and the swirling stars of a galaxy, or the branches of a tree and those of a river network, this spectacular visual tour conveys the wonder, beauty, and richness of natural pattern formation.


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Though at first glance the natural world may appear overwhelming in its diversity and complexity, there are regularities running through it, from the hexagons of a honeycomb to the spirals of a seashell and the branching veins of a leaf. Revealing the order at the foundation of the seemingly chaotic natural world, Patterns in Nature explores not only the math and science b Though at first glance the natural world may appear overwhelming in its diversity and complexity, there are regularities running through it, from the hexagons of a honeycomb to the spirals of a seashell and the branching veins of a leaf. Revealing the order at the foundation of the seemingly chaotic natural world, Patterns in Nature explores not only the math and science but also the beauty and artistry behind nature’s awe-inspiring designs. Unlike the patterns we create in technology, architecture, and art, natural patterns are formed spontaneously from the forces that act in the physical world. Very often the same types of pattern and form – spirals, stripes, branches, and fractals, say—recur in places that seem to have nothing in common, as when the markings of a zebra mimic the ripples in windblown sand. That’s because, as Patterns in Nature shows, at the most basic level these patterns can often be described using the same mathematical and physical principles: there is a surprising underlying unity in the kaleidoscope of the natural world. Richly illustrated with 250 color photographs and anchored by accessible and insightful chapters by esteemed science writer Philip Ball, Patterns in Nature reveals the organization at work in vast and ancient forests, powerful rivers, massing clouds, and coastlines carved out by the sea.   By exploring similarities such as those between a snail shell and the swirling stars of a galaxy, or the branches of a tree and those of a river network, this spectacular visual tour conveys the wonder, beauty, and richness of natural pattern formation.

30 review for Patterns in Nature: Why the Natural World Looks the Way It Does

  1. 5 out of 5

    Trish

    This sure is a pretty book. For creatives and artists, it is positively inspirational. The book is mostly photographs of things which form patterns in nature, and the photographs are colorized to make the patterns stand out. My favorite pictures are fine grains on flat surfaces that form different patterns when disturbed by sound waves. The astonishing wave patterns have been named Chladni figures. The other thing I thought one of the coolest thing I've ever seen is a picture of Fingal's Cave on This sure is a pretty book. For creatives and artists, it is positively inspirational. The book is mostly photographs of things which form patterns in nature, and the photographs are colorized to make the patterns stand out. My favorite pictures are fine grains on flat surfaces that form different patterns when disturbed by sound waves. The astonishing wave patterns have been named Chladni figures. The other thing I thought one of the coolest thing I've ever seen is a picture of Fingal's Cave on the Isle of Staffa in Scotland. Cracks have formed highly regular six-sided posts of basalt. Something similar can be found at a place in California called Devil's Postpile: columnar cracks in the side of a hill. Unbelievably cool. There is a little commentary that goes along with the photos, but I found it inadequate. I'm sure there is a lot of science and math that should go along with understanding all the causes, etc., but I'd still like to see what's probably happening, for instance, when there are regular patterns on drying clay. No matter, I'll keep looking.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Tessa

    Wow, God created a stunningly beautiful world. This book is about 75% photographs with minimal text to explain both visible and invisible patterns (and make the occasional attack on intelligent design, but whatever). The pictures are high-quality and beautiful and this is a very pleasing book to look through.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

    This is a beautiful book. Though not as big as a traditional coffee table book, it is larger than most hardbacks, at about 10 ¼ inches tall and 9 inches wide, printed on glossy paper and about 280 pages long. It is divided into chapters on Symmetry, Fractals, Spirals, Flow and Chaos, Waves and Dunes, Bubbles and Foam, Arrays and Tiling, Cracks, and Spots and Stripes. Each chapter is introduced with five or six pages of descriptive text, followed by twenty or thirty pages of those amazing photogr This is a beautiful book. Though not as big as a traditional coffee table book, it is larger than most hardbacks, at about 10 ¼ inches tall and 9 inches wide, printed on glossy paper and about 280 pages long. It is divided into chapters on Symmetry, Fractals, Spirals, Flow and Chaos, Waves and Dunes, Bubbles and Foam, Arrays and Tiling, Cracks, and Spots and Stripes. Each chapter is introduced with five or six pages of descriptive text, followed by twenty or thirty pages of those amazing photographs. I was pleasantly surprised that the introductory text was well written; while not technical in nature, it was also not so dumbed down as to be useless. But oh those pictures. Time and again I found myself lingering over them. From microscopic details to mountain ranges they illuminate the subjects of the book and yet stand on their own as amazing images. The double spiral of a sunflower, the meander of a river, the intricate microscopic architecture of radiolarans, beehives, snowflakes, mineral crystals, and much more.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ed Erwin

    Beautiful pictures! I completely ignored the text, but I'm adding it to my "read" bookshelf anyway because I don't want to create a "looked at but didn't read" shelf. Beautiful pictures! I completely ignored the text, but I'm adding it to my "read" bookshelf anyway because I don't want to create a "looked at but didn't read" shelf.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Myra

    3.5 stars. Tweet-sized summary: it's about how and why patterns form in nature. The pictures in this book are stunning! Absolutely gorgeous. The prose is slightly less stunning and somewhat dull at times. Which was a shame. Still worth reading, but it would have been nice if the writing had been more engaging. 3.5 stars. Tweet-sized summary: it's about how and why patterns form in nature. The pictures in this book are stunning! Absolutely gorgeous. The prose is slightly less stunning and somewhat dull at times. Which was a shame. Still worth reading, but it would have been nice if the writing had been more engaging.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    The coffee table companion to Ball's earlier "Nature's Patterns" series. If I remember correctly, the earlier books had many more technical details and far fewer pictures. This book is 95% about the (gorgeous!) pictures, with a bit of well-chosen supporting text. The coffee table companion to Ball's earlier "Nature's Patterns" series. If I remember correctly, the earlier books had many more technical details and far fewer pictures. This book is 95% about the (gorgeous!) pictures, with a bit of well-chosen supporting text.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Laureano

    A fascinating book with gorgeous photographs. Spirals, cracks, stripes, and other patterns in nature can be expressed mathematically and result from the properties of physics and chemistry. The explanations went mostly over my head but left me with a sense of awe.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    So pretty! I didn't necessarily understand all the science behind symmetry, waves, spots and stripes etc, but I loved looking at the pictures. So pretty! I didn't necessarily understand all the science behind symmetry, waves, spots and stripes etc, but I loved looking at the pictures.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Cade

    This book is a flirt, a tease. It was almost really good, but every time it was just getting to the good part, it drew back again. The topics are very interesting in the way they combine multiple fascinating disciplines such as physics, math, and biology. However, ultimately the author seemed more determined to avoid intimidating an unsophisticated general audience than to try to really educate an interested one. Time and again he hinted at influences on how patterns emerged but then stopped sho This book is a flirt, a tease. It was almost really good, but every time it was just getting to the good part, it drew back again. The topics are very interesting in the way they combine multiple fascinating disciplines such as physics, math, and biology. However, ultimately the author seemed more determined to avoid intimidating an unsophisticated general audience than to try to really educate an interested one. Time and again he hinted at influences on how patterns emerged but then stopped short of actually explaining how and why those worked. Of fractals and the Mandelbrot set he writes: "It is traced out by an equation that takes one number and transforms it into another, which is then 'fed back' into the equation in an iterative process." He doesn't bother to write the equation. Similarly, of turbulence he writes: "It was later shown that this energy cascade obeys a mathematical law in which the amount of energy bound up in eddies of a particular size is related to that size via a rather simple equation." What's the equation since it is so simple? These equations alone would not drastically illuminate the subject but failing to print them when the context seems to beg for it feels symptomatic of the broader choice to eschew depth or detail that makes this book intriguing but unsatisfying.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Suzanne Livingston

    As a high school math and science teacher I chose this book to help me share more about patterns. Kids always ask, "What's this got to do with anything? Math sucks." I took this book apart and scanned every page storing these on my computer. When I need examples of algebra and geometry in nature that's a complete match for the equation we're studying . . . I pull up a photograph from these pages, make a digital slide, and challenge everyone to discuss the pattern. "Oh no, Miss, not another patte As a high school math and science teacher I chose this book to help me share more about patterns. Kids always ask, "What's this got to do with anything? Math sucks." I took this book apart and scanned every page storing these on my computer. When I need examples of algebra and geometry in nature that's a complete match for the equation we're studying . . . I pull up a photograph from these pages, make a digital slide, and challenge everyone to discuss the pattern. "Oh no, Miss, not another pattern." Yet it doesn't take long for engagement to take over and pull everyone into the discussion.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Rian Davis

    This book was very nice in its imagery. I really enjoyed looking at the patterns and it helped me with my own ideas for novels and mathematical designs. Philip Ball is a great author, and I've read some of his other books such as the Molecules: A Very Short Introduction and I find that he explains concepts very well. This book is more of a visual journey arranged in increasing complexity of the various patterns found in nature, as the title describes. By the end, I was full of amazement. This book was very nice in its imagery. I really enjoyed looking at the patterns and it helped me with my own ideas for novels and mathematical designs. Philip Ball is a great author, and I've read some of his other books such as the Molecules: A Very Short Introduction and I find that he explains concepts very well. This book is more of a visual journey arranged in increasing complexity of the various patterns found in nature, as the title describes. By the end, I was full of amazement.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Root_rambler

    This book was good! I grabbed it on my last trip to the library (when I was stocking up on books) on a whim. I might not have read it except now the libraries are closed indefinitely. It's full of pictures and I could definitely keep it around to reread about the different patterns. The last caption elaborated on whether nature is more beautiful than it needs to be "...some things in nature look the way they do simply because of the details of how they got to be that way: form becomes a frozen m This book was good! I grabbed it on my last trip to the library (when I was stocking up on books) on a whim. I might not have read it except now the libraries are closed indefinitely. It's full of pictures and I could definitely keep it around to reread about the different patterns. The last caption elaborated on whether nature is more beautiful than it needs to be "...some things in nature look the way they do simply because of the details of how they got to be that way: form becomes a frozen memory of growth." Form as a frozen memory of growth. I love it!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Tammy

    I came across this book due to my interests in biomimicry. The photographs are amazing and I found the similarities of patterns in nature intriguing. The text made it fall short of a full 5 star rating. The text was dry at the beginning of the book, gave less scientific explanations of pattern mechanisms at times than I would have liked, and included occasional jabs at intelligent design that were unnecessary. The text improved later in the book, or perhaps I just got accustomed to it. Overall, I came across this book due to my interests in biomimicry. The photographs are amazing and I found the similarities of patterns in nature intriguing. The text made it fall short of a full 5 star rating. The text was dry at the beginning of the book, gave less scientific explanations of pattern mechanisms at times than I would have liked, and included occasional jabs at intelligent design that were unnecessary. The text improved later in the book, or perhaps I just got accustomed to it. Overall, the photographs alone are enough to encourage anyone to pick up this book.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Crystal Swafford

    The photography is stunning. The content is well-organized and pleasantly presented. I found myself a little desirous of a slightly deeper dive into the math and science (mentioning the name of an equation but not presenting the equation). All of this is no problem really, but I found it difficult to get past the condemnation of the existence of God; it was unsettling to begin the book this way. Why not let the reader decide if the evidence of patterns indicate a higher power that designed natur The photography is stunning. The content is well-organized and pleasantly presented. I found myself a little desirous of a slightly deeper dive into the math and science (mentioning the name of an equation but not presenting the equation). All of this is no problem really, but I found it difficult to get past the condemnation of the existence of God; it was unsettling to begin the book this way. Why not let the reader decide if the evidence of patterns indicate a higher power that designed nature this way? It is just an unnecessary position to take in an otherwise lovely book.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Avinash Hindupur

    An absolutely stunning and gorgeous book which explores the patterns in nature. I would've loved to read more detailed reasons and explanations behind the patterns, but perhaps the book was intended to mesmerise rather than delve deep. The commentary accompanying each photograph talks enough to quench the casual curiosity. A perfect coffee table book :) An absolutely stunning and gorgeous book which explores the patterns in nature. I would've loved to read more detailed reasons and explanations behind the patterns, but perhaps the book was intended to mesmerise rather than delve deep. The commentary accompanying each photograph talks enough to quench the casual curiosity. A perfect coffee table book :)

  16. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    Reading this book by myself was very interesting. When my 4 year old son caught a glimpse, he was hooked. Had to go through the whole book again with him. Every page brought exclamations of "cool" and "wow". Now he says he wants to look through it every day. Reading this book by myself was very interesting. When my 4 year old son caught a glimpse, he was hooked. Had to go through the whole book again with him. Every page brought exclamations of "cool" and "wow". Now he says he wants to look through it every day.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Marili Martínez

    Book rich in textures a d hugh quality images ideal for inspiration.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Vince

    Ball's text is good, but what makes this book so exceptional are the copious wonderful photographs; micro through macro. Ball's text is good, but what makes this book so exceptional are the copious wonderful photographs; micro through macro.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Arielle

    This book wasn't exactly what I expected it to be but it was cool anyway and had awesome pictures! This book wasn't exactly what I expected it to be but it was cool anyway and had awesome pictures!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Giovanny Larrea

    good idea

  21. 5 out of 5

    Mawada Khaled

    Eye candy.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Machinery

    A quintessential coffee-table book with vivid photography. Nothing felt truly illuminating for me besides Turing's Morphogenesis. Overall this was like reading a high quality, short documentary. A quintessential coffee-table book with vivid photography. Nothing felt truly illuminating for me besides Turing's Morphogenesis. Overall this was like reading a high quality, short documentary.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Esther

    142 all of nature is waves 149 waves result when system switches between two states and involves feedback processes 80 logarithmic spiral results if cone rolls up; Archimedean spiral if rope rolls up 48 fractals- hierarchical repetition of same general form at decreasing scales 1 regularity and order pervade the natural world 166 surface tension and pressure of gas inside bubbles controls patterns in a bubble raft to minimalize the surface 170 junctions of bubbles are threefold and intersect at close 142 all of nature is waves 149 waves result when system switches between two states and involves feedback processes 80 logarithmic spiral results if cone rolls up; Archimedean spiral if rope rolls up 48 fractals- hierarchical repetition of same general form at decreasing scales 1 regularity and order pervade the natural world 166 surface tension and pressure of gas inside bubbles controls patterns in a bubble raft to minimalize the surface 170 junctions of bubbles are threefold and intersect at close to 120 degrees 228 cracks take paths that release the stress of the shrinking layer as effectively as possible forming polygonal shapes with angles of about 60-90 degrees- dry mud, glazes, paint chips- relieving stress caused by shrinkage at a surface

  24. 4 out of 5

    Judith

    I listed this under photography because of the stunning pictures, many of them in micro detail. Each chapter takes up a different pattern, exploring how it is produced by genes or chemical interactions, for example, and showing how the pattern appears not only in living things, but in crystals, river courses, lightning, etc. The text itself is interesting, but comparatively short. What I find of value is the listing of the different patterns across various life and non-life forms, including the I listed this under photography because of the stunning pictures, many of them in micro detail. Each chapter takes up a different pattern, exploring how it is produced by genes or chemical interactions, for example, and showing how the pattern appears not only in living things, but in crystals, river courses, lightning, etc. The text itself is interesting, but comparatively short. What I find of value is the listing of the different patterns across various life and non-life forms, including the cracking of dry earth. Pattern is all around us in nature; we just need a book like this to point it out and make comparisons and linkages. Take a look at this book if only for the photos!

  25. 4 out of 5

    planetkimi

    I think my experience with Patterns in Nature can really be summed up by "inaccurate expectations." I was expecting a more in-depth study of how and why patterns form, but really it is more like a coffee-table book full of beautiful and intriguing photographs preceded by a page or two of text. Several times I wished the relevant text were closer to the matching photographs - I found myself flipping backward and forward to see if there was an accompanying photo, or to remind myself of the story b I think my experience with Patterns in Nature can really be summed up by "inaccurate expectations." I was expecting a more in-depth study of how and why patterns form, but really it is more like a coffee-table book full of beautiful and intriguing photographs preceded by a page or two of text. Several times I wished the relevant text were closer to the matching photographs - I found myself flipping backward and forward to see if there was an accompanying photo, or to remind myself of the story behind a particular photo. It's an interesting and beautiful volume, just not what I was expecting.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sheila

    new 500.20118 BALL An absolutely stunning book, full of gorgeous photographs of varying patterns in everything from pollen to animals to landscapes. The explanatory text seemed well written, but I didn't have time to read much before my library demanded I return the book. I'll definitely be checking this out again. new 500.20118 BALL An absolutely stunning book, full of gorgeous photographs of varying patterns in everything from pollen to animals to landscapes. The explanatory text seemed well written, but I didn't have time to read much before my library demanded I return the book. I'll definitely be checking this out again.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Gloria

    While I did not read every print word in this book, this is one book that is 99% about the photos and not the words. Absolutely gorgeous photographs that were set up to highlight patterns and symmetry in nature. Topics include shells, insects, weather, animals, ocean life, mountains, plants, and just so much more. A true visual delight.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Alli P

    This book is a source of inspiration. It has hundreds of gorgeous pictures of patterns in the natural world. I enjoy displaying this book on a table and randomly leafing through the pages. This would make a great gift for creatives and naturalists.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Brenda

    The pictures are 100% amazing!!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Scott

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