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Cataloging the World: Paul Otlet and the Birth of the Information Age Hardcover – June 4, 2014


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Cataloging the World: Paul Otlet and the Birth of the Information Age + Glut: Mastering Information through the Ages
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (June 4, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199931410
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199931415
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 1.1 x 5.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #196,762 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review


"The story of Paul Otlet (1868-1944), Belgian librarian and utopian visionary, who, long before the digital age, dreamed of a worldwide repository of media, accessible to all. As Wright explains in this shrewd, brisk biography, cataloging books was only one of Otlet's aims--he 'saw little distinction between creating a new classification of human knowledge and reorienting the world's political system.'... Wright ends his illuminating story in the present, where Otlet's thoughts about the connection of information to knowledge, and knowledge to insight, are still urgent." --Kirkus Reviews


"Alex Wright has placed Paul Otlet's life and work in up-to-this-minute context to bring us the illuminating biography of a pioneering information activist whose grand vision of a world of universal knowledge, freely available to all, is here to remind us that we would be foolish to settle for anything less." --George Dyson, author of Turing's Cathedral


"This wonderful, carefully researched, and well-written book draws us into the question: to what extent does the ambitious work of Paul Otlet make him the prophetic analog father of the Internet? Alex Wright is careful not to overstate the significance of Otlet. But the ambiguity of Otlet's influence, not to mention his long and eventful life and passionate dreams of world peace, in fact makes him more, not less, interesting." --Charles B. Strozier, Professor of History at John Jay College and the Graduate Center at The City University of New York, and author of Heinz Kohut: The Making of a Psychoanalyst


"Alex Wright's beautifully written book illuminates the life and work of Paul Otlet, one of a group of information theorists and utopians whose achievements during the early part of the last century prefigure the digital world, and whose innovation underpin the 'information society' in which we live. Cataloging the World is a lively, sympathetic but rigorous exploration of the ways in which what might seem merely of historical interest proves of immediate and engrossing relevance." --W. Boyd Rayward, University of Illinois and University of New South Wales


"With profound insight, Alex Wright reveals that within the labyrinth of Paul Otlet's Mundaneum lies hidden an anticipation of the hyperlinked structure of today's Web. This is not only a captivating biography of Otlet's prophetic vision of a global networked information system but a vivid account of how similar systems took shape in the minds of Conrad Gessner, Leibniz, Vannevar Bush, Tim Berners-Lee, and many others." --Wouter Van Acker, Griffith University


"Finally a historical study of the Information Age not starting with Vannevar Bush. Alex Wright's balanced study of Paul Otlet's dream to catalogue the world as one of the many successive projects of unifying knowledge on a global level is a joy to read after the autohagiographies of engineers that claimed their share in the 'invention' of the Internet and World Wide Web in purely computer-and-information-technical terms." --Dr. Charles van den Heuvel, University of Amsterdam


"An excellent study of a Belgian, Paul Otlet, who in the late nineteenth century began 'a vast intellectual enterprise that attempted to organize and code everything ever published'... Relevant of course to the origins of the web, Wikipedia, and current sites such as Vox.com." --Marginal Revolution


"A remarkable read in its entirety, not only in illuminating history but in extracting from it a beacon for the future." --Brain Pickings


About the Author


Alex Wright is a professor of interaction design at the School of Visual Arts and a regular contributor to The New York Times. He is the author of Glut: Mastering Information through the Ages.

More About the Author

Alex Wright is a professor of design history at the School of Visual Arts in New York and a contributor to The New York Times, Salon.com, The Believer, Harvard Magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, and other publications. His first book, Glut: Mastering Information Through the Ages, was hailed by The Los Angeles Times as a "penetrating and highly insightful meditation on our information age and its historical roots."

Customer Reviews

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A terrific read.
Lawrence M. Hinman
With so little known about Otlet, this is an excellent resource that explores his character and shares the history of collecting knowledge.
Mark Graham
A fantastic read about a man that was the steampunk analog Google before there were computers.
Zannah Noe

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Zannah Noe on September 29, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A fantastic read about a man that was the steampunk analog Google before there were computers. Paul Otlet's story as told by Alex Wright is riveting. The author pulls you in with a Nazi raid on Otlet's work. I thought to myself, "Where could it go from here?" Well the story goes from continent to continent, famous characters from the arts, politics and scientists. It perfectly illustrates how one man's obsession can influence the world...even if his ideas were way ahead of his time. There is a sadness to the man's life but also a prevailing sweetness of the allegiance to his work. His understanding that all things are connected and should be accessible to all of mankind is illustrated by the sheer influence his obsession has had. His work involved some of the greatest architects, like Corbusier, writers, world leaders and artists. How a book about the history of library science can be this interesting, is a testament to wild passionate imagination of Paul Otlet and the writing skill of this author. Truly couldn't put the book down.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By malrubius on May 9, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Kindle version is already available. Fascinating story of social scientist Otlet's attempt to gather all the world's information in one place. Well-written and compelling narrative brings Otlet, his world, and his struggles to life.
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Format: Hardcover
Through Paul Otlet's story, Alex Wright brilliantly presents a history of the collection and storage of information since the library of Ashurbanipal even to the present. Otlet's passion, creative abilities and methods led him to become a forerunner of the Internet.
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Format: Hardcover
The desire to organize information seems innate, especially when you consider what lengths people have gone to do it. Alex Wright uncovers the life of one man who was passionate about capturing the world's knowledge in Cataloging the World: Paul Otlet and the Birth of the Information Age.

Wright portrats Otlet as a librarian with a simple goal: to expand our use of the card catalog. His hope was that he could connect his home in Belgium to the rest of the world; however, his endeavor encompassed much more than this. This book also explores his creation of a Mundaneum, which was meant to hold everything that had ever been printed. His invention would allow "everyone from his armchair to contemplate creation" with images and text "projected on an individual screen." His dreams were big and so close to what has come to be. Unfortunately, he lost his greatest achievement to the Nazis in 1940 and died just four years later.

Cataloging the World is well-researched without feeling dry. Wright's style is easy to read and engaging, and his overarching idea about humanity's quest for wisdom is most intriguing. Compared to his first book, Glut: Mastering Information through the Ages, I find this one superior. With so little known about Otlet, this is an excellent resource that explores his character and shares the history of collecting knowledge.
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