- Hardcover: 544 pages
- Publisher: Pantheon; First Edition edition (March 1, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0375423729
- ISBN-13: 978-0375423727
- Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.8 x 9.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 257 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #68,073 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 1, 2011
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, March 2011: In a sense, The Information is a book about everything, from words themselves to talking drums, writing and lexicography, early attempts at an analytical engine, the telegraph and telephone, ENIAC, and the ubiquitous computers that followed. But that's just the "History." The "Theory" focuses on such 20th-century notables as Claude Shannon, Norbert Wiener, Alan Turing, and others who worked on coding, decoding, and re-coding both the meaning and the myriad messages transmitted via the media of their times. In the "Flood," Gleick explains genetics as biology's mechanism for informational exchange--Is a chicken just an egg's way of making another egg?--and discusses self-replicating memes (ideas as different as earworms and racism) as information's own evolving meta-life forms. Along the way, readers learn about music and quantum mechanics, why forgetting takes work, the meaning of an "interesting number," and why "[t]he bit is the ultimate unsplittable particle." What results is a visceral sense of information's contemporary precedence as a way of understanding the world, a physical/symbolic palimpsest of self-propelled exchange, the universe itself as the ultimate analytical engine. If Borges's "Library of Babel" is literature's iconic cautionary tale about the extreme of informational overload, Gleick sees the opposite, the world as an endlessly unfolding opportunity in which "creatures of the information" may just recognize themselves. --Jason Kirk
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In 1948, Bell Laboratories announced the invention of the electronic semiconductor and its revolutionary ability to do anything a vacuum tube could do but more efficiently. While the revolution in communications was taking these steps, Bell Labs scientist Claude Shannon helped to write a monograph for them, A Mathematical Theory of Communication, in which he coined the word bit to name a fundamental unit of computer information. As bestselling author Gleick (Chaos) astutely argues, Shannon's neologism profoundly changed our view of the world; his brilliant work introduced us to the notion that a tiny piece of hardware could transmit messages that contained meaning and that a physical unit, a bit, could measure a quality as elusive as information. Shannon's story is only one of many in this sprawling history of information. With his brilliant ability to synthesize mounds of details and to tell rich stories, Gleick leads us on a journey from one form of communicating information to another, beginning with African tribes' use of drums and including along the way scientists like Samuel B. Morse, who invented the telegraph; Norbert Wiener, who developed cybernetics; and Ada Byron, the great Romantic poet's daughter, who collaborated with Charles Babbage in developing the first mechanical computer. Gleick's exceptional history of culture concludes that information is indeed the blood, the fuel, and the vital principle on which our world runs. (Apr.)
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I knew a lot of the history, having lived some of it, but a lot of this was new to me.
Very well-researched and presented in a clear and highly readable style. This volume clearly covers the concepts and development of theories of information. It covers both theory and practice and whether you are a beginning computer programmer or an information science theorist, you should find something in here that you didn't know and that will awaken you to some new ideas.
If you like this volume, try "Godel, Escher, Bach" by Douglas Hofstadter. That is an eclectic and entertaining mix of mathematics, art, and music philosophy, tying together apparently dissimilar disciplines into a mind-bending tour-de-force.
The book uses the contributions of Claude Shannon as a thread to tie everyone's work together, but this is not a biography of Claude Shannon.
The final chapters are a bit weak in my opinion, especially following such solid work as the preceding chapters. One of the weak (in my opinion) chapters is devoted entirely to Wikipedia. I am enthused with Wikipedia but I don't think it is yet clear what will be a future historian's view of Wikipedia and that it deserves its own full chapter.
Overall I found the book to be very enjoyable and educational, adding considerably to my previous knowledge of Mr Shannon's work and bringing me new knowledge of how Mr Shannon's work linked with the work of others to bring us our current "information age."
My complete satisfaction with Gleick's past work, especially the thoroughness of his notes and his eclectic exposition, compelled me to preorder this book. The Information is all of the above and more. He presents a history, including the fundamentals of language as, for example, employed for millennia by African drummers, then traverses the history of writing (even spelling), difference and analysis engines to the evolution of telegraphs and telephony. The theory then champions the work of Godel, Turing, Shannon, von Neumann and Wiener as information takes on a physical context and leaps into the age of digital logic. Gleick's notes became my list for texts to further read around the topic. Then comes the flood, the rise on the internet, Wiki and the cloud.
The Information is a rewarding and enjoyable read and contains many of the charming minutiae that Gleick's research uncovers. As he listed the objectives of Russell and Whitehead's Principia Mathematica and its imminent demolition, Gleick describes the early days of the demolisher, Godel, attending smoky Viennese coffee houses and expounding logic. Highly recommended.
Gleick is a great writer and a pleasure to read. He presents his topic thematically, chronologically, and inserting biographical elements to shape something like an informational saga. He not only engages the reader but also explain difficult concepts in great detail (his presentation of Gödel's incompleteness theorems is an example.)
With an intermixture of Entropy and Information Gleick discusses the most important issue from a human perspective: how to extract knowledge and wisdom from a flood of data. It is very interesting to realize that our modern discussion is just a last iteration of searching and filtering. From library indexing, book catalogs, almanacs through our modern Internet algorithms, the problem remains the same: when all information is available, how do you find it and when does it become meaningful? The author is right in using Borges's "The Library of Babel" as the perfect metaphor for it.