by Jeffrey Kluger
John Murray, HK$128
What is complex can be simple and that which seems uncomplicated can be ruled by intricate mechanisms. This is the premise of Simplexity, Jeffrey Kluger's neologism and title for his entertaining book. Kluger, a senior writer at Time magazine (and co-author, with astronaut Jim Lovell, of Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13, on which the Apollo 13 film was based), opens with a chapter delving into the difficulty of predicting stock markets, showing how investors sometimes behave like a roomful of gas molecules and at other times a school of fish or a lump of carbon. In the same vein Kluger explains why it is so hard to leave a burning building, giving the example of the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001. Apart from showing the stairs were designed for slimmer occupants than inhabit 21st-century America - some passages were just 1.13 metres wide - he underscores how we are hard-wired to dawdle during an emergency and, interestingly, when this can help save lives. Readers may feel edified having read the book, but theorists continue to argue among themselves about what is complex and what is simple.