David Orrell is a mathematician and author of popular science books. He studied mathematics at the University of Alberta, and obtained his doctorate from Oxford University on the prediction of nonlinear systems. His work in applied mathematics and complex systems research has since led him to diverse areas such as weather forecasting, economics, and cancer biology. His work has been featured in New Scientist, World Finance, the Financial Times, BBC Radio, and CBC TV.
For more information about David Orrell, visit www.davidorrell.com
Truth or Beauty: Science and the Quest for Order
Oxford University Press, October 2012 (Canada)
Yale University Press, November 2012 (US)
Yale University Press, January 2013 (UK)
In this sweeping book, applied mathematician and popular author David Orrell questions the promises and pitfalls of associating beauty with truth, showing how ideas of mathematical elegance have inspired—and have sometimes misled—scientists attempting to understand nature.
Orrell shows how the ancient Greeks constructed a concept of the world based on musical harmony; later thinkers replaced this model with a program, based on Newton's "rational mechanics,"to reduce the universe to a few simple equations. He then turns to current physical theories, such as supersymmetric string theory—again influenced by deep aesthetic principles. The book sheds new light on historical investigations and also recent research, including the examinations ongoing at the Large Hadron Collider. Finally, broadening his discussion to other fields of research, including economics, architecture, and health, Orrell questions whether these aesthetic principles reflect an accurate way to explain and understand the structure of our world.
"In this fascinating book, the mathematician David Orrell argues that [the] wish to find cosmic order has been motivated as much by an aesthetic impulse as by a quest for truth. . . . Orrell is an engaging and witty writer, adept at explaining often complicated theories in clear language, and never allowing the detail to overwhelm his narrative." The Sunday Times
"Truth or Beauty gives a well-written, historically informed argument that science has gone off the rails ... The question Orrell is addressing is an important and topical one." Peter Woit, author of Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Search for Unity in Physical Law
"A lively and engaging work ... The range of topics Orrell brings to bear is impressive, and I always wanted to keep turning the pages." Robert Smith, University of Alberta
"A graceful and insightful history of the Pythagorean impulse to model the world in mathematical terms. Orrell analyses Western scientific culture's quest for order and links it to an essentially religious conception of beauty." Margaret Wertheim, author of Pythagoras' Trousers and Physics on the Fringe
"If science is the search for truth, we'd better understand what is this truth that we seek. As David Orrell pointedly argues in this well-written and accessible book, modern science runs the danger of being blinded by an overarching aesthetic prejudice—traceable back to Ancient Greece—that truth is necessarily wedded to beauty. Quite the opposite, the more we learn about the natural world, the more we are forced to accept a different kind of aesthetic based on the imperfect and the asymmetric, and no less beautiful for it." Marcelo Gleiser, author of A Tear at the Edge of Creation, Appleton Prof. of Natural Philosophy, Dartmouth College
"When Beauty is Not Truth." The Chronicle of Higher Education. January 28, 2013.
Illustrated by Borin Van Loon
Totem Books, 2011 (North America)
Icon Books, 2011 (UK)
"All things are measured by money," said Aristotle.
Today, it seems, all things are measured by economists. The so-called "dismal science" has never been more popular—or, given its failure to predict or prevent the recent financial crisis, more controversial.
But what are the findings of economics? Is it really a science? And how can it help our lives?
Introducing Economics traces the history of the subject from the ancient Greeks to the present day. David Orrell and Borin Van Loon bring the contributions of great economists such as Adam Smith, Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes, and Milton Friedman alive, and delve into ideas from new areas such as ecological and complexity economics that are revolutionizing the field.
Economyths: Ten Ways Economics Gets It Wrong
John Wiley and Sons, 2010 (North America)
Icon Books, 2010 (UK)
From the inability of wealth to make us happier, to our catastrophic blindness to the credit crunch, Economyths reveals ten ways in which economics has failed us all.
Forecasters predicted a prosperous year in 2008 for financial markets—in one influential survey the average prediction was for an eleven percent gain. But by the end of the year, the Standard and Poor's 500 index—a key economic barometer—was down 38 percent, and major economies were plunging into recession. Even the Queen asked—"Why did no one see it coming?"
An even bigger casualty was the credibility of economics, which for decades has claimed that the economy is a rational, stable, efficient machine, governed by well-understood laws.
Mathematician David Orrell traces the history of this idea from its roots in ancient Greece to the financial centres of London and New York, shows how it is mistaken, and proposes new alternatives. "Economyths" explains how the economy is the result of complex and unpredictable processes; how risk models go astray; why the economy is not rational or fair; why no woman (until 2009) had ever won the Nobel Prize for economics; why financial crashes are less Black Swans than part of the landscape; and, finally, how new ideas in mathematics, psychology, and environmentalism are helping to reinvent economics.
Finalist, National Business Book Award (Canada)
"When I saw this book I was rather excited, because I loved Freakonomics and I rather hoped this was going to be more of the same. It wasn't. It was so much more. This is without doubt the best book I've read this year, and probably one of the most important books I've ever read ... This ought to be a real game changer of a book. Read it." popularscience.co.uk
"Consistently interesting and enjoyable reading ... A wide audience including many non-economists could benefit from reading it." International Journal of Social Economics
"A must read for understanding the roots of the financial crisis, the severe limitations of the field of economics and what needs to be done to improve our ability to avoid future crises." Spyros Makridakis, author of Dance With Chance: Making Luck Work for You
"Orrell takes on the efficient market hypothesis ... equilibrium theory ... problems of risk modelling ... and unsustainable assumptions about rationality, fairness, limitless growth, and so forth. His tone is engagingly curious, drawing on biology and psychology, and his historical view spans more than merely the past few decades. Finally Orrell recommends an interdisciplinary approach to a 'new economics', in which ethics and complexity theory might have a say." Guardian (UK)
Invoking history, physics, biology, climatology and his background in complex systems to debunk neoclassical economics, Orrell makes a plea for an unorthodox economics, one drawing on ethics and environmentalism as well as emerging areas of mathematics like non-linear dynamics and network theory." Canadian Business
"The author dissects ten fundamental misunderstandings ... He manages to convincingly explain the relevance of these myths and make them understandable, even for laymen, in a wider context." Handelsblatt (Germany)
The Earth—Gaia—is alive, and we are killing it. It's not a sentiment that would normally trouble oil company PR expert Sandra, even while taking an eco-tourist trip in Venezuela with her sister Anne. But when Anne suddenly and tragically dies of a mysterious illness, and her body goes missing, Sandra and her colleague, investigative journalist Frank, begin a different kind of journey.
Travelling from a jungle paradise to the slums of Caracas, they encounter corrupt police forces, extreme environmentalists, holistic scientists, and an Earth-worshipping religious cult, led by Angel, whom the authorities claim was killed in a mass-suicide pact but whose influence lives on. As Sandra and Frank move from grief to an unexpected love, they are caught up in a race against a horrible prophecy that they seem powerless to avert. For whatever befalls the Earth, befalls the sons and daughters of the Earth...
The Other Side of the Coin: The Emerging Vision of Economics and Our Place in the World
Key Porter, 2008
Economics is in the middle of a revolution. Neoclassical economics—the type most taught and practiced today—was based on the science of the nineteenth century, and is beginning to show its age. A new economic theory, or theories, are now being fashioned, inspired by sciences such as complexity, fractals, and network theory. Most of these ideas first developed in the 1960s, but are only now filtering through to the world of money and finance. The Other Side of the Coin finds new and surprising connections between these disparate fields, and shows that each forms a separate strand in a larger pattern, which is slowly inverting our ideas about money, value, and the purpose of society. A mix of history, science, mythology, and personal anecdote, it will change the way you see the economy and our place in the world.
"[A] bold and timely manifesto ... Orrell analyzes the mysterious mechanics of a system that involves us all, and describes a positive alternative. Readers with an interest in world affairs, and the sign posts of hope, will add The Other Side of the Coin to their must-read lists." Quill & Quire
"This book is an important look at where the neoclassicists go wrong, and an accessible primer on modern alternative economic theories." The Walrus
"[A] well-crafted and thoughtful work ... incorporates a breathtaking range of subjects that link together mathematics, science, the arts and economics." Winnipeg Free Press
"This is an important book, not least for the fact that it may stimulate discussion about what really works and what doesn't in an unregulated economy ... Focusing on mathematical concepts leads us from tired cliches of right- and left-wing agendas that limit such debates." Edmonton Journal
"The Other Side of the Coin is making the case for complexity to a discipline that desperately needs it." Ottawa Xpress
"Orrell's look to the global economy's future is insightful and comprehensive." Calgary Inc. Magazine
Apollo's Arrow: The Science of Prediction and the Future of Everything
The national bestseller that takes a new look at looking at the future.
From seers to scientists, mystics to meterologists, there have always been people who claim to know what will happen in the future. The Oracle at Delphi, Pythagoras, Newton, and the stock analyst on the business report have all endeavoured to look forward in time. But even with recent technological advances and the help of computers and satellites, are we any better at predicting the future now than in the distant past? How can scientists claim to predict future climate events when even three-day forecasts prove a serious challenge? In Apollo's Arrow, David Orrell looks at the history of prognostication to show how scientists (and charlatans) have tried to forecast the future, then breaks down the mathematics of what really goes into a predictive model. A compelling, elegantly written history of our future that addresses some of the most important issues of our time.
N° 6 on Maclean's national bestseller list
Finalist, Canadian Science Writers' Association Book Award
"Not since the time of the medieval astrologers has so much effort been put by so many into predicting the future. From economics to healthcare to climatology, the science of forecasting is everywhere—and so is the hype and hucksterism. David Orrell is one of the few experts able and willing to reveal the truth about what we can and cannot know about the future." Robert A.J. Matthews, author of 25 Big Ideas: The Science That's Changing Our World
"An impressive and wide-ranging discussion of the importance and the difficulties of predicting future events...written in a clear, accessible style.... My own prediction is that readers will enjoy this book and will come away with lots to think about." Jeffrey S. Rosenthal, author of Struck by Lightning: The Curious World of Probabilities
"Orrell's writing is top-notch ... somehow finding exactly the right mix of anecdote, broad brush and humour." Globe and Mail
"An engaging, as well as deeply insightful, discussion on the difficult task of prediction ... it can change the way you view forecasting." Foresight
"With wit, humour, and clarity Apollo's Arrow gives a good overview of the history of science as a predictive tool ... [It has] the potential to change the way we plan for the future, both personally, and as a society." Winnipeg Free Press
"Even big-picture predictions—global warming, impending pandemics, the global impact of consumerism, emerging technologies such as genetic engineering and nanotechnology—seem less overwhelming after this enlightening history lesson ... Some of his most eloquent and provocative passages are about those unpredictable forces known as free will and personal choice, and he rallies us all to effect positive change." Canadian Geographic
"If you loathe uncertainty, can't cope with complexity or prefer easy (yet wrong) solutions to complex problems, you may not appreciate this book. On the other hand, you will likely find it reassuring, even empowering perhaps, to know that the 'experts' can be wrong, and that common sense is still useful." Edmonton Journal
"Mathematician David Orrell [explains] why the mathematical models scientists use to predict the weather, the climate and the economy are not getting any better, just more refined in their uncertainty ... Dr. Orrell is no climate-change denier. He calls himself green. But he understands the unjustified faith that arises from the psychological need to make predictions." The National Post
"A compelling discussion of real world complexities and human fallibility ... certain to contribute to scholarly and intellectual debate on the use of models in decision making." Ecological Complexity
Watch David Orrell at The World Technology Summit & Awards 2010