(Gould, Stephen Jay) Mandelbrot, Benoit B.

Fractals: Form, Chance, and Dimension

  • First English language edition, first printing of the work that introduced Mandelbrot's revolutionary fractal mathematics to the world. Originally published in French in 1975 under the title Les objects fractals: forme, hasard et dimension; this edition is based on the text of the revised and expanded second French edition. This superb copy is from the library of evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould, with his posthumous bookplate to the verso of the front free endpaper. Gould (1941-2002), a Harvard zoologist and palaeontologist, developed the theory of punctuated equilibria, which states that evolution occurs in rapid bursts of speciation separated by long periods of stasis. This radical, and still controversial, concept upended the received wisdom that evolution is the slow, constant accumulation of genetic changes. Gould was also a staunch defender of evolutionary theory against political creationism and publicly contested the field of sociobiology, which he believed provided a pseudoscientific basis for discrimination. But he was best known to the general public as the beloved author of popular science books and essays, 300 of which were published in his long-running column in Natural History Magazine.

    Fractals reflect the repetitive geometric properties of certain aspects of nature, such as the nestled repeating patterns of Romanesco broccoli. Mandelbrot began investigating them at the IBM Research Center in the 1970s, where "His typical mode of operation was to apply fairly straightforward mathematics (typically from the theory of random processes) to areas that had barely seen the light of serious mathematics before" (Wolfram, "The Father of Fractals", the Wall Street Journal, November 22, 2012). When a colleague suggested writing a book based on his disparate mathematical investigations, "Mandelbrot ended up doing a great piece of science and identifying a much stronger and more fundamental idea-put simply, that there are some geometric shapes, which he called 'fractals,' that are equally 'rough' at all scales. No matter how close you look, they never get simpler, much as the section of a rocky coastline you can see at your feet looks just as jagged as the stretch you can see from space. This insight formed the core of his breakout 1975 book, Fractals. Before this book, Mandelbrot's work had been decidedly numerical, with simple graphs being about as visual as most of his papers got. But between his access to computer graphics at IBM and publishers with distinctly visual orientations, his book ended up filled with striking illustrations, with his theme presented in a highly geometric way. There was no book like it. It was a new paradigm, both in presentation and in the informal style of explanation it employed" (Wolfram).

  • San Francisco: W. H. Freeman and Company, 1977.

    Quarto. Original blue cloth blocked in silver, blue and white patterned endpapers. With the dust jacket. Frontispiece and illustrations throughout the text. An excellent, fresh copy in the jacket that is very lightly rubbed with some wear at the head of the spine panel and light creasing and short splits along the upper edge.

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