SFI External Professor and Science Board member Melanie Mitchell’s book Complexity: A Guided Tour (Oxford University Press, 2009) has been selected to receive the Phi Beta Kappa Society’s Book Award in Science.

The award recognizes outstanding contributions by scientists to the literature of science. Its purpose is to encourage literate and scholarly interpretations of the physical and biological sciences and mathematics and “to promote dialogue about important issues and ideas of our time in an environment of intellectual fellowship.”

Mitchell’s book offers an accessible, illustrated overview of the foundations of complexity research and recent developments in the field.

It begins with a review of the historical roots and visionaries of complexity science and its underlying concepts, in particular emergence – how large-scale complex, organized, and adaptive behaviors arise from myriad individuals or processes. It illustrates emergence at work in complex systems as diverse as neurobiology, ant colonies, and the Internet. It then outlines approaches, from a variety of disciplines, used by complexity scientists to comprehend complex adaptive systems and to identify general principles or laws that apply to all of them. Finally, it surveys promising developments in complex network theory, biological scaling, and cellular automata and suggests several major practical applications the field could potentially tackle, such as a better understanding of financial markets.

A review of the book in Nature said: “It has become fashionable in recent years to criticize complex systems science for generating too much hype and not offering enough practical insight. But insights into truly complex problems do not come easy. Mitchell’s welcome book makes it clear that this field is making steady, if slow, progress.”

Amazon.com selected Complexity as number three on its list of Top 10 science books of 2009.

Mitchell, a professor of computer science at Portland State University, is author or editor of five books and more than 70 scholarly papers in the fields of artificial intelligence, cognitive science, and complex systems.

See also: Phi Beta Kappa Society announcement

See also: Oxford University Press book summary