For a quick overview of the fascinating unpredictability of complex systems, first read Per Bak's How Nature Works: The Science of Self-organized Criticality, then Thinking In Systems – A Primer by Donella Meadows. The latest primers I've found for the general reader are Deep Simplicity, John Gribbin and Diversity and Complexity by Scott E. Page.
Here's the full list.
- Bak, Per. How Nature Works: The Science of Self-Organized Criticality. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1996. (Essential reading. Enjoyable real-life examples, requirements for a good theory of complexity, and a clarifying statement on the confusion of terms in the popular press.)
- Buchanan, Mark. Nexus: The Groundbreaking Science of Networks. New York: W. W. Norton, 2002. (Especially relevant for the basic concepts governing the interdependent web of existence.)
- Camazine, Scott and others. Self-organization in Biological Systems. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001.
- Chaisson, Eric J. Cosmic Evolution: The Rise of Complexity in Nature. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001. (Don’t miss this one. An overview of self-organization working with natural selection at all levels of nature, including the Big Bang.)
- Gribbin, John. Deep Simplicity: Bringing Order to Chaos and Complexity. New York, Random House, 2004. (A must read: Finally the physicists are getting into the act and doing a great job of explaining with clarity the depth of information helpful in understanding complexity (networks and systems thinking) and why such understanding is essential, whatever your interests.
- *Holland, John H. Emergence: From Chaos to Order. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1998. (Another favorite. Includes amazing demonstrations of emergence in simple games and networks.)
- Kauffman, Stuart A. At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. (An exciting review of Kauffman’s testable, mechanistic theory of evolution derived from genomic modeling.)
- Meadows, Donella, Thinking In Systems--A Primer, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2008.
- Page, Scott E., Diversity and Complexity, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011.
- Prigogine, Ilya and Isabelle Stengers. Order Out of Chaos: Man’s New Dialogue with Nature. London: Heinemann, 1984. (The early classic on dissipative and adaptive systems that jump-started complexity studies.)
- Solé, Ricard and Brian Goodwin. Signs of Life: How Complexity Pervades Biology. New York: Basic Books, 2000. (Another must read. A good update on modern biology, including a clear summary of two theoretical mechanisms for the origin of life.
- Thuan, Trinh Xuan. Chaos and Harmony: Perspectives on Scientific Revolutions of the Twentieth Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. (One of my favorite authors. A beautifully written overview.)
- Wheatley, Margaret J. Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 1999. (Minimal but clear explanations of complexity principles are followed by practical advice on how to use the lessons learned in leadership and organizational management.)
—Cary Neeper, 2012