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Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness After the Digital Explosion Hardcover – June 16, 2008

ISBN-13: 978-0137135592 ISBN-10: 0137135599 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Addison-Wesley Professional; 1 edition (June 16, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0137135599
  • ISBN-13: 978-0137135592
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #29,766 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author


Hal Abelson is Class of 1922 Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT, and an IEEE Fellow. He has helped drive innovative educational technology initiatives such MIT OpenCourseWare, cofounded Creative Commons and Public Knowledge, and was founding director of the Free Software Foundation. Ken Ledeen, Chairman/CEO of Nevo Technologies, has served on the boards of numerous technology companies. Harry Lewis, former Dean of Harvard College, is Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science at Harvard. He is author of Excellence Without a Soul: Does Liberal Education Have a Future? Together, the authors teach Quantitative Reasoning 48, an innovative Harvard course on information for non-technical, non-mathematically oriented students.


Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Blown to Bits


For thousands of years, people have been saying that the world is changing and will never again be the same. Yet the profound changes happening today are different, because they result from a specific technological development.

It is now possible, in principle, to remember everything that anyone says, writes, sings, draws, or photographs. Everything. If digitized, the world has enough disks and memory chips to save it all, for as long as civilization can keep producing computers and disk drives. Global computer networks can make it available to everywhere in the world, almost instantly. And computers are powerful enough to extract meaning from all that information, to find patterns and make connections in the blink of an eye.

In centuries gone by, others may have dreamed these things could happen, in utopian fantasies or in nightmares. But now they are happening. We are living in the middle of the changes, and we can see the changes happening.

But we don't know how things will turn out.

Right now, governments and the other institutions of human societies are deciding how to use the new possibilities. Each of us is participating as we make decisions for ourselves, for our families, and for people we work with. Everyone needs to know how their world and the world around them is changing as a result of this explosion of digital information. Everyone should know how the decisions will affect their lives, and the lives of their children and grandchildren and everyone who comes after.

That is why we wrote this book.

Each of us has been in the computing field for more than forty years. The book is the product of a lifetime of observing and participating in the changes it has brought. Each of us has been both a teacher and a learner in the field. This book emerged from a general education course we have taught at Harvard, but it is not a textbook. We wrote this book to share what wisdom we have with as many people as we can reach. We try to paint a big picture, with dozens of illuminating anecdotes as the brushstrokes. We aim to entertain you at the same time as we provoke your thinking.

You don't need a computer to read this book. But we would suggest that you use one, connected to the Internet, to explore any topic that strikes your curiosity or excites your interest. Don't be afraid to type some of the things we mention into your favorite search engine and see what comes up. We mention many web sites, and give their complete descriptors, such as, which happens to be the site for this book itself. But most of the time, you should be able to find things more quickly by searching for them. There are many valuable public information sources and public interest groups where you can learn more, and can participate in the ongoing global conversation about the issues we discuss.

We offer some strong opinions in this book. If you would like to react to what we say, please visit the book's web site for an ongoing discussion.

Our picture of the changes brought by the digital explosion is drawn largely with reference to the United States and its laws and culture, but the issues we raise are critical for citizens of all free societies, and for all people who hope their societies will become freer.

Cambridge, Massachusetts

January 2008

© Copyright Pearson Education. All rights reserved.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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See all 29 customer reviews
Its a well-written and very interesting book.
Nitika Daga
This book is about the explosion and expansion of computers in the digital age.
Frank Grimes
Even every credit card swipe is used to make a profile of your spending habits.
Joel M. Kauffman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Bdem on July 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book is perfect for people who want to understand more about information technology and don't want to read something long or technical to learn it. The authors do a superb job taking the reader through how major technologies function (computers, the internet, cell phones, etc.), how they are shaping our lives, and what impacts they have on our laws and society. Amazing stories are woven throughout it, making it readable and fun for techies and non-techies alike. At the end of the book, you'll have a new understanding of the things we take for granted - and what possibilities and threats they pose. You'll also be light years ahead of most other people - who themselves will need to come up to speed in the coming years. A great read!
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By John Doench on July 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is one of those books that will change the way you look at the world, or at least, your computer (which, as you'll learn, might be a lot more of the world than you think!) In a very readable prose, the authors explain how the world is fundamentally different now that so much information -- so many bits -- is being generated, monitored, and stored about nearly everything we do. The book covers not just how the internet actually works but also weaves together many applicable examples from the worlds of commerce, entertainment, government, and law.

It is one of those books that will cause you to share what you just read with whomever happens to be in the room, as it is filled with many gee-whiz moments. A great read.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By R. Lodato on September 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Few people would deny that the world has changed significantly since the explosion of the Internet. Hal Abelson, Ken Ledeen, and Harry Lewis have written an intriguing analysis of many of the issues that have erupted due to the ubiquity of digital data, not only on the Internet but elsewhere. Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness After the Digital Explosion, published by Addison-Wesley, digs into many of the ramifications of making so much information available to the world at large. As I read through the book, I was alternately fascinated and horrified at what information is available, and how it is being used and abused.

While the subject matter is primarily about a technology that many people may still not comprehend, the book is written at a level permitting most people to understand how it affects them. There is sufficient tutorial information on how the Internet functions to allow all to follow the reasoning. For those more web-savvy, there are many references to web sites illustrating the authors' points. The reader is encouraged to check them out as you go. While there is a natural flow from one chapter to the next, each one is sufficiently encapsulated so that you can read chapters in any order you like.

Blown to Bits is a fascinating read which will get you thinking about how technology is changing our lives, for better and for worse. Each chapter will alternatively interest you and leave you appalled (and perhaps a little frightened). You will be given the insight to protect yourself a little better, and it provides background for intelligent discussions about the legalities that impact our use of technology.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Joel M. Kauffman on March 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This collaboration between a Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at M. I. T., the Chairman/CEO of Nevo Technologies and a Professor of Computer Science at Harvard U. is a broad overview of the internet. While fact dense, it is very easy to read and understand. Even though I have used computers since 1970 or so, and a desktop since 1984, and the internet since 1995, most of the details were new to me.

Starting backwards, a fine Appendix explains how the internet works, and how brilliantly it was engineered for international compatibility by broad agreement and with no governing body, for indefinite expansion in the future, and for robustness in delivering packets of data of all kinds around any damaged area with perfect accuracy. (I recalled that this last was part of a military requirement from over 30 years ago.) Near the end of the book, the history of telegraph, telephone, radio and television was given to show how some regulation was essential to avoid overload and overlap of messages, and control of content. From the beginning of the book, the difference between the internet and any of these old models was elaborated.

In case you are worried about being overwhelmed, fear not. The technicals are easy to understand and require no math ability. Well-drawn diagrams, photos and reproductions of web pages abound. There is a good index. Many references are given at the back by page number, which I normally regard as a cop-out, but here the exact phrase on a page for which the citation is backup is given. Many URLs for websites are given that looked useful and were new to me.

So from the beginning of the book the various impacts of the internet are explained. The magnitude of the messages sent and web pages available was shown to be staggering.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By EJ C on June 26, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I could not put this book down. It presents in approachable and lucid terms the complexities and subtleties of the information age. It goes beyond the mere didactic, using well thought out and entertaining vignettes to make it a joy to read. Read this book.
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