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Information: The New Language of Science Paperback – October 3, 2005

ISBN-13: 978-0674018570 ISBN-10: 0674018575 Edition: First Thus

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; First Thus edition (October 3, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674018575
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674018570
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #742,812 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The murky relationship between reality and our knowledge of it is one of philosophy’s most famous conundrums. According to this engaging tour of contemporary information science, the question may be moot since, if some theorists are to be believed, "the stuff of the world is really, at bottom, information." That may be the sort of grandiose claim cyber-enthusiasts make when they get a new Palm Pilot, but physics professor and journalist von Baeyer (Warmth Disperses and Time Passes) manages to invest it with real intellectual substance. Delving into the history of science from ancient Greek theories of the atom to the frontiers of astrophysics, he shows how the concept of information illuminates a huge variety of phenomena, from black holes to the gamesmanship strategies of Let’s Make a Deal. Along the way, he provides a lucid and easily accessible treatment of some fairly sophisticated topics in thermodynamics, communications theory and quantum mechanics; his account of such aspects of "quantum weirdness" as superposition and action-at-a-distance, in which the law of the excluded middle is repealed (e.g., how Schrödinger’s cat is both alive and not alive) and particles seem to have an eerily telepathic knowledge of regions of space where they have never been, is a tour de force of popular scientific exposition. Von Baeyer manages to steer clear of equations without resorting to the hand-waving metaphors that too many science popularizers lapse into when trying to convey difficult ideas. The result is a stylish introduction to one of the most fascinating themes of modern science.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

Hans Christian von Bayer is well known for explaining the complexities of science to the rest of us, and in this book he lives up to his reputation by taking on one of the most difficult concepts around--information. Starting with his characterization of information as a gentle rain that falls on all of our lives, he leads us through a universe in which information is woven like threads in a cloth. Masterful! (James Trefil, Clarence J Robinson Professor of Physics at George Mason University and co-author of The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy)

In Information, physicist Hans Christian von Baeyer sets out to explain why...information is the irreducible seed from which every particle, every force and even the fabric of space-time grows. This is deep stuff, but von Baeyer romps through a huge range of subjects, including thermodynamics, statistics, information theory and quantum mechanics with ease....You will never think of information the same way again. (New Scientist 2003-11-01)

Von Baeyer has provided an accessible and engaging overview of the emerging role of information as a fundamental building block in science. (Michael Nielsen Nature 2004-01-01)

Delving into the history of science from ancient Greek theories of the atom to the frontiers of astrophysics, [Von Baeyer] shows how the concept of information illuminates a huge variety of phenomena, from black holes to the gamesmanship strategies of Let's Make a Deal...Von Baeyer manages to steer clear of equations without resorting to the hand-waving metaphors that too many science popularizers lapse into when trying to convey difficult ideas. The result is a stylish introduction to one of the most fascinating themes of modern science. (Publishers Weekly 2004-03-01)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Frenzen on March 23, 2004
Format: Hardcover
What a delightful surprise to stumble across this book on Amazon a few months ago, before it had even been released. Since I was familiar with and greatly admired von Baeyer's book on Maxwell's Demon, ``Warmth Disperses and Time Passes'', I immediately pre-ordered a copy of ``Information--The New Language of Science''.
How pleasant to find it dropped on my doorstep a week ago (3/16/04).
The book is published by Harvard University Press, so physically it is very high quality. Von Baeyer is an excellent expositor, and has written several books on science for the lay person.
Check out his other books by all means.
Information, as a physical quantity, has been rapidly evolving. It is destined to play a pivotal role in this century, especially in physics. We now distinguish between classical and quantum information, and it is safe to say that there are many mysteries still unsolved about how information is to be understood and what role it plays in the universe.
Von Baeyer's book begins with eight chapters on background information (pardon the pun!) --- how our ideas of information have evolved, the idea of the bit, Shannon's information theory, the role of genetic information in biology, the tension between the ideas of reductionism and emergence in the sciences, and a hint at how the ideas of Bohr, Wheeler, and Zeilinger suggest that, ``Science is about information.''
The next ten chapters flesh out our understanding of classical information. The connection between probability and classical information is explored, as is Boltzmann's discovery of the microscopic interpretation of entropy, noise, Shannon's model of communication theory, bioinformatics, and the discoveries of Landauer and Bennett about the destruction of information and the reversibility of computation.
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Dennis S. Bernstein on January 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Like the other reviewer (Frenzen), I also had read von Baeyer's book on thermodynamics, which I felt was a fantastic read. Hence I was excited to see a book on information theory, a natural follow-on topic.

Like his previous book, von Baeyer has written a book with no equations, plots, or figures of any kind. Presumably, the idea behind this approach is to appeal to non-technical readers. As a person who knows some math, I found myself wishing over and over again to get just a peek at the equations behind the "talk" to figure out what is really going on. As they say about pictures, "one equation is worth a thousand words." I don't know whether the publishing proverb that "the number of copies sold is inversely proportional to the number of equations" is at work here, but omitting math so completely does a disservice to readers.

The goal of von Baeyer's book is to ask, over and over again, "what is information?" In this regard, the book attempts to give nontechnical insight into Shannon's ideas. Next, the book transitions to the truly exciting edge of information, namely, quantum information theory. Since I had only a very vague idea of how qubits work before I picked up this book, I hoped to get some real insight from von Baeyer. Unfortunately, I learned nothing from the presentation. I found no clear and simple explanation as to how qubits work and how they could be used to compute something. The "bead" contest was presumably intended as a "clear as day" explanation, but it was just too much to swallow. Next, we hear about a breakthrough qubit-based algorithm for factoring integers, but there is barely a hint about how the algorithm works. (Is there a Quantum Mechanics for Dummies?
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By N N Taleb on February 17, 2012
Format: Paperback
If you want an introduction to information theory, and, in a way, probability theory from the real front door, this is it. A clearly written book, very intuititive, explains things, such as the Monty Hall problem in a few lines. I will make it a prerequite before more technical great books, such as Cover and Thompson.
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Format: Paperback
I found this a useful book. This is a completely non-mathematical book. That means in some ways it is limited. It also means you can read it without much background. I have a math background but I certainly learned some useful things from it.
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15 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Jarmo Parkkinen on April 14, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Being a big fan of information, I was very interested in the book. But the contents were a huge disappointment. The writer spends too much time about telling stories of personal relations to the people behind the models, and the role of "information" in various parts of the book is lost quite completely.

There are, however very interesting and informative (sic) parts of the book. Noise in the Shannon-Weaver -model is described in a way that really tells more about the concept, both in the respect if information theory and everyday life. The effects of noise are brought up in several parts of the book, in various fashions.

The book is well-written, and easy to read. But title is misleading, and the contents are quite thin for somebody interested in the subject.
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