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Glut:: Mastering Information Through The Ages annotated edition Edition

14 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0309102384
ISBN-10: 0309102383
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

To counter the billions of pixels that have been spent on the rise of the seemingly unique World Wide Web, journalist and information architect Wright delivers a fascinating tour of the many ways that humans have collected, organized and shared information for more than 100,000 years to show how the information age started long before microchips or movable type. A self-described generalist who displays an easy familiarity with evolutionary biology and cultural anthropology as well as computer science and technology, Wright explores the many and varied roots of the Web, including how the structure of family relationships from Greek times, among others, has exerted a profound influence on the shape and structure of human information systems. He discusses how the violent history of libraries is the best lesson in how hierarchical systems collapse and give rise to new systems, and how the new technology of the book introduced the notion of random access to information. And he focuses on the work of many now obscure information-gathering pioneers such as John Wilkins and his Universal Categories and Paul Otlet, the Internet's forgotten forefather, who anticipated many of the problems bedeviling the Web today. (June)
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From the Publisher

What do primordial bacteria, medieval alchemists, and the World Wide Web have to do with each other? This fascinating exploration of how information systems emerge takes readers on a provocative journey through the history of the information age.

Today’s "information explosion" may seem like an acutely modern phenomenon, but we are not the first generation—nor even the first species—to wrestle with the problem of information overload. Long before the advent of computers, human beings were collecting, storing, and organizing information: from Ice Age taxonomies to Sumerian archives, Greek libraries to Dark Age monasteries.

Today, we stand at a precipice, as our old systems struggle to cope with what designer Richard Saul Wurman called a "tsunami of data." With some historical perspective, however, we can begin to understand our predicament not just as the result of technological change, but as the latest chapter in an ancient story that we are only beginning to understand.

Spanning disciplines from evolutionary theory and cultural anthropology to the history of books, libraries, and computer science, writer and information architect Alex Wright weaves an intriguing narrative that connects such seemingly far-flung topics as insect colonies, Stone Age jewelry, medieval monasteries, Renaissance encyclopedias, early computer networks, and the World Wide Web. Finally, he pulls these threads together to reach a surprising conclusion, suggesting that the future of the information age may lie deep in our cultural past.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Joseph Henry Press; annotated edition edition (June 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0309102383
  • ISBN-13: 978-0309102384
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,025,249 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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,, 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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By John D. Daniels on January 28, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Alex Wright is an information architect and a self-styled generalist. He uses biology, neurology, culture, mythology, history, library science, and information science to trace information from the Ice Age to What is wrong with today's Internet and he does this in 252 pgs. (+notes, appendicies, and index)!

The book never makes the reader feel pressured by it's condensed nature. Instead the pace allows for a tapestry of colorful characters and events. There is plenty of material for the average reader to have familiarity with and lots of interesting new facets of information to discover.

The appendicies: John Wilkin's Universal Catagories, Thomas Jefferson's 1783 Catalog of Books, The Dewey Decimal System, and S.R. Ranganathan's Colon Classification, give some idea of the range and depth of the topics covered. An error on pg. 188 lists Appendix E for the current Universal Decimal Classification. This appendix does not exist. This still did not deter me from rating the book 5 Stars. This was the most interesting book that I read in 2007!
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By E. Schofield on November 6, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I am a graphic designer working on a thesis in information graphics. This book is easily the best book I have read in the course of my research. The style is quick and engaging. The information moves from a biologic look at how evolution may have driven the way we separate and categorize information - To historic looks at how information has been used. It is not specifically targeted at designers like Tufte's work, but I would recommend it for anyone interested in an overview of how information is used.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Getaneh Agegn Alemu on August 16, 2010
Format: Paperback
Wright's beautifully written book, Glut is the right book for you. Among other things, this book is a deeper exploration of the rich history of traditional information revolutions and how networks and hierarchies have co-existed for millennia mutually shaping each other. As Wright notes, the contributions of librarians from Callimachus (Library of Alexandria) in the 3rd Century BC to Cutter and Dewey in the 19th Century to Paul Otlet (the Mundaneum) and Eugene Garfield (precursor of bibliometrics and page ranking), in the 20th century A.D. to the present information organisation systems including the web has been phenomenon. The stories are fascinating.

Central to Wright's discussion is the role of libraries and librarians who contributed greatly such as Paul Otlet, who as Wright persuasively argues, envisioned today's web in the 1930's, well before Vannavar Bush. Wright discusses in great detail how Otlet's contributions could be on par with that of Vannevar Bush and Ted Nelson, all forbearers to Tim Berners-Lee's web. Important in this regard is the part of the discussion in the book on how Otlet came to conclude that catalogues and indexes available at the time could only guide the reader "as far as the individual book" but not to the relationship of the contents in other books; then Otlet saw the possibility of creating semantic links between documents (the "réseau").

The book is an important read for information architects, librarians and anyone interested about the web. It main contention is that hierarchies (traditional information organisation systems such as taxonomies) vis-à-vis networks (traditional tribal folk-categorisation systems and today's folksonomies) are not in opposition. Instead, as Wright argues, they complement each other. I think it is an interesting balance between ontologies and web 2.0 approaches.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By S. Gordon on December 21, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have a lot of books in my `to read' pile, but Glut went straight to the top. I knew it was going to be well researched and insightful, but I was surprised at how much fun I had reading it. I'm a big fan of arcane knowledge and quotable tidbits, and this book was full of both. Thanks to Alex for unearthing this knowledge that I now dispense liberally.

Hard to think of a page-turner in the field of information management, but one exists, and Alex Wright wrote it.

I'm not a big one for building a personal library. i usually read a book, then gift to a friend with the condition that they then pass it on. In this case, you may borrow my copy of Glut, but it needs to be returned to me. It's earned a spot on my bookshelf!
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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Keith Frampton on April 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I looked forward to this book with much anticipation and for the first half I was not disappointed. The descriptions of different approaches for managing information through the ages were both interesting and useful as a comparison point for current topics. However, once the book got into the 20th century I found that the coverage was both simplistic and also patchy. The examples and `history of information management, storage and representation in the computer age in particular were very web/hypertext specific and ignored many areas of progress and solutions from the corporate arena. I also found that there was a paucity of useful suggestions for what may be appropriate to address the problem with the book representing a viewpoint that the web will fix itself and everything which seems naïve.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Matthew C. Clarke on August 14, 2009
Format: Paperback
This book provides a wonderful history of the processes, techniques, and cultural importance of information. The insights in the final chapters are particularly useful for our understanding of that the WWW could become.

The title "Glut", however, is misleading -- it suggests that the book is about information overload. That is a malady of our age about which other books have commented, but it is not what *this* book is about.
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