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The Logician and the Engineer: How George Boole and Claude Shannon Created the Information Age

3.8 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0691151007
ISBN-10: 0691151008
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Editorial Reviews


"Meshing logic problems with the stories of two extraordinary men--Victorian philosopher-mathematician George Boole and twentieth-century information theorist Claude Shannon--Paul Nahin fashions a tale of innovation and discovery. . . . Alongside a gripping account of how Shannon built on Boole's work, Nahin explores others key to the technological revolution, from Georg Cantor to Alan Turing."--Nature

"Part biography, part history, and part a review of basic information theory, the book does an excellent job of fitting these interlocking elements together. Nahin's work is best suited to students and faculty in electrical engineering, mathematics, and information science. It is also recommended for anyone with an interest in the history of information technology."--William Baer, Library Journal

"The reader is taken on a journey from the development of some abstract mathematical ideas through a nearly ubiquitous application of those ideas within the modern world with so many embedded digital computers. . . . I enjoyed the discussion of Claude Shannon. In the history of the computer and development of the internet and World Wide Web, his ideas and contributions are too often overlooked. He is one of my heroes and I believe that everyone that reads this book will come to the same conclusion."--Charles Ashbacher, MAA Reviews

"Paul J. Nahin really knows how to tell a good story. The Logician and the Engineer in part is the biography of two very important persons in computer history, George Boole and Claude Shannon, but there's more; this book encompasses a wide range of computer history and computer design, and there are logic puzzles and brainteasers throughout. George Boole, a pure mathematician, and Claude Shannon, a practical electrical engineer, never met as they were born a hundred years apart. . . . The Logician and the Engineer will be enjoyed by budding computer scientists, engineers and more experienced readers. The Logician and the Engineer is truly a gem."--Robert Schaefer, New York Journal of Books

"A short but fairly detailed exploration of the genesis of Boolean logic and Shannon's information theory. . . . [G]ood background reading for anyone studying electronics or computer science."--Christine Evans-Pughe, Engineering & Technology

"Although the book is technical, it is always easily understandable for anyone (for those who need it, some basic rules for electrical circuits are collected in a short appendix). It is not only understandable but also pleasantly bantering and at occasions even facetious."--A. Bultheel, European Mathematical Society

"Most valuable to this reviewer, and likely to many potential readers, is the closing chapter, aptly titled Beyond Boole and Shannon. Here is provided an introduction to quantum computing and its logic, possibly portending the future of computers, yet unmistakably bearing the footprints of the two early pioneers. It is an unexpected yet fitting conclusion to this thoroughly enjoyable read."--Ronald E. Prather, Mathematical Reviews Clippings

"Nahin has had the very good idea of connecting the very different worlds and times of Boole, Shannon, and others to demonstrate that a little Victorian algebra can turn out to be very useful. Readers will also learn about Turing machines, quantum computing, and other more futuristic topics."--Robert E. O'Malley, Jr., SIAM Review

"The exposition is clear and does not assume any prior knowledge except elementary mathematics and a few basic facts from physics. I recommend this well-written book to all readers interested in the history of computer science, as well as those who are curious about the fundamental principles of digital computing."--Antonín Slavík, Zentralblatt MATH

"[T]his is a useful and often interesting introduction to the life and work of two intellectual giants who are largely unknown to the general public."--Gareth and Mary Jones, London Mathematical Society Newsletter

"The problems are varied and indeed intriguing, and the solutions are delightful."--Mathematics Magazine

"This book is not light reading. It would be excellent for advanced high school juniors or seniors with a strong interest in computer science as well as mathematics."--Tom Ottinger, Mathematics Teacher

From the Back Cover

"In this book, Nahin brings to life the immense practical outcomes of deep theoretical ideas. Too often, technological advances are seen as isolated inventions and the underlying mathematical and scientific infrastructure goes unappreciated. By following the story of George Boole and Claude Shannon with a lively historical style, and a futuristic extension to quantum computing, Nahin makes the connection of theory and practice into something vivid and compelling."--Andrew Hodges, author of Alan Turing: The Enigma

"From electromechanical relays to quantum computing, Nahin takes us on a delightful exploration of Boolean logic and the careers of George Boole and Claude Shannon. This is a superb book for anyone who wants to understand how that gigahertz chip in their favorite electronic doohickey really works."--Lawrence Weinstein, author of Guesstimation 2.0: Solving Today's Problems on the Back of a Napkin

"Written with the skill and ability that we have come to expect from Paul Nahin, The Logician and the Engineer is an interesting and informative account of the history of formal logic, the lives of its two great investigators, and the applications of Boolean algebra in electronic computation."--Chuck Adler, St. Mary's College


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (October 28, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691151008
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691151007
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.9 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #507,547 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Paul Nahin was born in California, and did all his schooling there (Brea-Olinda High 1958, Stanford BS 1962, Caltech MS 1963, and - as a Howard Hughes Staff Doctoral Fellow - UC/Irvine PhD 1972, with all degrees in electrical engineering). He worked as a digital logic designer and radar systems engineer in the Southern California aerospace industry until 1971, when he started his academic career. He has taught at Harvey Mudd College, the Naval Postgraduate School, and the Universities of New Hampshire (where he is now emeritus professor of electrical engineering) and Virginia. In between and here-and-there he spent a post-doctoral year at the Naval Research Laboratory, and a summer and a year at the Center for Naval Analyses and the Institute for Defense Analyses as a weapon systems analyst, all in Washington, DC. He has published a couple dozen short science fiction stories in ANALOG, OMNI, and TWILIGHT ZONE magazines, and has written 16 books on mathematics and physics, published by IEEE Press, Springer, and the university presses of Johns Hopkins and Princeton. His most recent book, INSIDE INTERESTING INTEGRALS, discussing numerous techniques for doing definite integrals (up through and including contour integration in the complex plane) that commonly occur in physics, engineering, and mathematics, was published by Springer in September 2014. His next book, IN PRAISE OF SIMPLE PHYSICS, on the application in everyday life situations of elementary mathematics (up to and including freshman calculus) and the fundamental physical laws, is under contract with Princeton University Press, is currently at the copyeditor, and will appear May 2016. Another book, TIME MACHINE TALES, an up-dating of the 2nd edition of TIME MACHINES (1999), is under contract at Springer (in the Fiction & Science series) and will appear in 2017. He has given invited talks on mathematics at Bowdoin College, the Claremont Graduate School, the University of Tennessee, and Caltech, has appeared on National Public Radio's "Science Friday" show (discussing time travel) as well as on New Hampshire Public Radio's "The Front Porch" show (discussing imaginary numbers), and advised Boston's WGBH Public Television's "Nova" program on the script for their time travel episode. He gave the invited Sampson Lectures for 2011 in Mathematics at Bates College (Lewiston, Maine). When he isn't writing he is battling evil-doers on his PS4 and, now and then, he even wins ("Just Cause 3" is my current time-waster -- and I am having a LOT of trouble with that *%#*! wing suit!).

FINALLY - numerous readers have written over the years asking about the solutions manual to my Springer book, THE SCIENCE OF RADIO. Springer has kindly made it available in pdf format (3 MB), and if you write to me I'll send you a copy. paul.nahin@unh.edu

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Despite the title, the detailed description of this book on its cover and in accompanying material by its publisher, it is NOT a biography. It only gives the appearance of being biographical. The title subjects only make their (brief) appearance in chapter three. Then it's on to the real business - math. I was expecting a very cool, parallel story of how the 19th century Boole foreshadowed the brilliant 20th century Shannon, how there were parallels in their lives, how coincidences piled up, how hints from one resulted in achievements in the other - how Shannon cashed in on what Boole couldn't even imagine from his own work. How Shannon redeemed Boole.

There's none of it.

This is a book on electrical circuit design, by a professor of electrical engineering and mathematics. It is a textbook for the enthusiastic student entering the field. Nahin is clearly far more at ease in formulas than in narrative. The ubiquitous exclamation points and overuse of italics are vivid testament to that. The biography reader will be lost after the first formula is built. This book is about the math, not the people.

But as such, there is nothing wrong with this book. It is clear, organized, inviting, and easy to digest if you are interested in the subject matter. But let's be clear - the subject matter is circuit design, not Boole and Shannon. After chapter three, Boole barely gets mentioned at all, while Shannon pops up here and there because of a relevant paper (and the occasional joke). But these appearances are as scientific references, not biographical events or descriptions.

Ironically, Nahin ends the book with the story of The Language Clarifier, a black box used to interpret legalese so that mere mortals could comprehend what the fatheads (his term) had written. If only the publishers had been required to use it, this book might not be so misleading.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I wanted to learn more about how Shannon conceived his Channel Capacity concept and equation. Nahin may understand this, but he certainly didn't explain it in his book. I also wanted to learn something about the relative contributions that Shannon and Nyquist made to the argument that analog data can be perfectly represented by digital samples. I was disappointed here, as well. Nahin is probably an excellent teacher of digital circuit design. He covers Boole's not-so-well-known contributions to math pretty well. But, don't buy this book if you mainly want to understand the deep significance of Shannon's early work.
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Format: Hardcover
I found this book interesting and easy to read. It is written in a sort of drive by, essay style. There are many noteworthy (but sort of random) facts I did not know in this book. I checked it out of my local library, and I enjoyed reading it, but I was not looking for anything other than entertainment (infotainment?). I would not own it, however, because it warrants only one reading. It does not present anything in enough detail to justify buying it. It does not really live up to its title, either, but is more of a smattering of tidbits, facts, and reminiscences than a focused treatise on the 'creation of the information age' as it purports to be. Never mind that it is not a biography by any stretch. Still, I think the book would be fun (if you hang out with mathematicians, engineers, or programmers) as a conversation starter, or a list of topics to discuss. It is definitely entertaining, but probably not so much to non-techies.

Should you trust a book about logic when itself contains muddled reasoning? I found one section of this book where the author apparently did not read what he wrote. In section 8.1 p 139 ff the author is explaining 'states' with the classic example problem of the two adults and two children on one side of a river, with a boat that holds only one adult or two children, the problem being how to get everyone over to the other side when anyone can row. Fair enough, he shows 10 'states' where everyone ends up safely on the other side of the river.
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Paul Nahin's book, "The Logician and the Engineer," is deficient
in several ways.

Its first deficiency is that Nahin has relatively little to say
about the putative subjects of his book, filling in with a
congeries of topics of interest to himself. In spite of the
book's sub-title -- "How George Boole and Claude Shannon Created
the Information Age" -- Boole and Shannon are minor actors in
this book. Of its more than 220 pages, one 24-page chapter
provides brief biographies of Boole and Shannon, and another
chapter of the same length discusses Boolean algebra. The bulk of
the book, however, is given over to digital circuit-design,
probability, Turing machines, logic puzzles, and speculations
about future computers.

The reader gets a warning of strange things to come in Chapter 1,
entitled "What You Need to Know to Read This Book." The chapter
focuses heavily, and weirdly, on potentiometers, ending with a
demonstration of the parabolic shape of the resistance-function
of two ganged potentiometers. Oddly for an electrical engineer,
Nahin states that the term "rheostat" is "a rather old-fashioned
word" for a potentiometer. Potentiometers and rheostats are
actually quite different devices. Although both are three-
terminal variable resistors, a potentiometer is a voltage-divider
that uses all three terminals, whereas a rheostat uses two
terminals (the slider and one other terminal) to control current
by connecting a variable resistance in series with the load.

A second deficiency of this book is its pervasive carelessness.
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