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Showing 1-10 of 148 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 248 reviews
on September 30, 2016
As someone who has been in computers and information sciences since 1970, this was an amazing and entertaining book.
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.
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on October 5, 2012
This book was hard to get through but only because there was so many incredibly important ideas. I read this months ago and I am still thinking about it. The part I disliked? That there was almost no actual communications research presented. All (or all but a tiny bit) came from engineering or computer science. University communications departments have ceded the entirety of modern communications theory and practice to others. And the worst part is that they don't even care or seem aware of that fact. So... my review of the book? Read it. It is fascinating and one of the most important books to read if you want to get a good, basic overview of the ideas that will shape the next 50 years or more. If you are affiliated with any university department of communications you should be ashamed for a bit and then start fixing the last 50 years of irrelevancy this book clearly has exposed.
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on January 24, 2014
As a history the book is superb. It documents the flood of data in a quantifiable manner. As a theory it vacillates between information without meaning and information with meaning. This problem was created when Shannon's paper on communication theory was referred to as information theory. This confusion is avoided if it is clearly understood that Shannon's work applies only to the symbol patterns in a communication channel. The encoding table, created by human intellect, creates the pattern carried by the symbols. Shanon enters at this point and puts a scientific and engineering foundation under the design of the communication channel which moves the code pattern from sender to receiver. in my opinion there is no information in this pattern until it is processed by the receivers decode table. This may be in the form of a symbol driven machine where the decode table is designed into the machine by the intellect of the engineers doing the design or if the symbolic pattern is to be decoded by a human being, then typically the decode table converts the pattern to the launguage of the receiver. Reliable communication occurs perfectly only if the sender and the receiver have exacly the same definition for each and every word. The book would have been easier to follow if the assignment of meaning,for which there is no physics, was carefully seperated from the transfer of symbols in a communication channel for which there is physics and engineering principles which Claude Shannon masterfully docummented. This reality is lost because of the familuarity and confidence we each have in the use of the language we were raised with.
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on March 24, 2012
Other reviewers have already gone into detail regarding the subject of the book, so I won't belabor that here. The author jumps from talking drums to the telegram to Charles Babbage to transistors, and Gleick is so good at drawing connections between these subjects that it never feels disjointed. It's a really masterful demonstration of how to weave biography, science, and history into one satisfying whole. As a reader with a technical background but no knowledge of the subject, I appreciated the level of rigor in the theoretical sections of the book, although I could see how it might alienate non-techie readers. My advice to them is: read this book anyway, and if it gets too dense, just skip ahead. It's too important, and too well-written, to miss entirely.

The book is divided into three sections, and each considers a different question. The "History" section asks: how does the way information is transmitted affect the way we think? One of Gleick's major theses here is that formal logic is a byproduct of written language, and he is very convincing on this point. Another very compelling section was the stuff about early computers, and the story of Babbage and Lady Ada. Gleick has a gift for making scientists relateable, and his enthusiasm for unconventional thinking is contagious.

The "Theory" section spells out Shannon's information theory, and brings some much-needed attention to the work of the most influential scientist you've never heard of. As I've said, this part can be a bit technical, which I appreciated, but if that's not your style, you can skim parts of this section without losing the major points. The description of Turing machines was also a highlight. Gleick's exuberant descriptions give the reader a sense of the excitement that the scientists themselves must have felt as they created these deceptively simple, staggeringly powerful theories.

Then... the "Flood." I'm a huge fan of Gleick's, but he really dropped the ball on this one. Ostensibly the last section of the book deals with the modern problem of data deluge, but it's a disappointment: there's little research or actual information, and plenty of conflicted hand-wringing. It almost seemed like it had been tacked on by another author. To some extent, this is okay -- data deluge isn't really what this book is meant to be about -- but given how big of a part this section plays in the marketing of the book, I would have preferred that Gleick just left it out entirely and shifted his focus to the book's much stronger sections.

The "Flood" section isn't bad, necessarily, just a disappointment compared to the quality and depth of the first two sections. Luckily, it doesn't detract much -- just don't expect more than a cursory look at data deluge from this particular book.

All in all, a very strong popular science book (which could just as reasonably be called a history book). If you're a pop science fan, you're probably familiar with some of the ideas and events described here, but only the very rare reader won't have something new and exciting to discover. It's mostly accessible to non-geeks, too; just plan on skimming the occasional section if you're hopelessly math-averse.
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on September 27, 2015
Terrific, though provoking, mind expanding summary of the evolution of both the framing, storing and theory of information, ranging from the early adoption of the written word to DNA and genetics and naturally to IT, as we now know it. Takes a while to read through, I occasionally had to reread a paragraph several times to understand the inference of a particular point (particularly when it came to Godel, Shannon and information entropy) but it is worth the effort!
Well written, but definitely a book to savour and mull about, not something you can skim.
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I really can't think of a better way to describe James Gleick's The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood than erudite and lyrical. This history of gathering, processing, categorizing, and replicating information is deep in every sense of the word, but so beautifully and clearly written that one gets swept along in it, much like the rivers of numbers and other data Gleick so ably describes.

There are innumerable fascinating anecdotes illustrating the lives and careers of men like Charles Babbage, Alan Turing, and Norbert Wiener as well as inventions and developments like the original telegraph system, ENIAC, and Wikipedia. But I found most appealing and astounding Glieck's ability to so beautifully describe the work of these men that even a math-phobic of long standing like me could understand and grasp at least a hint what so fascinated them.
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on April 10, 2011
The is the first James Gleick work that I have read. I am impressed. He writes cleanly and clearly, with little "fluff" and he seems to understand what he is writing about. It surely took a lot of background work before he was ready to tie so many disparate pieces of history together. I am also impressed in that Mr Gleick seems clearly to want to get the history right and not to push his personal ideas, interpretations, morals, and politics. I am reminded of the James Burke (BBC/PBS) works as he shows how knowledge that at first seems unrelated becomes related thru the work of many men and women scattered in time and geography. This is a history, not a textbook on information theory; there is only a smattering of simple formulae and drawings.

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."
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on May 10, 2017
This book is dense with science but is a joy to read. It's amazing how all of the electronics in our lives are the product of a field that is still very young!
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on December 3, 2012
Having read the original journal articles on Chaos and impressed that Gleick seemed to perhaps have a greater understanding and appreciation of the material than the original authors and more amazingly that he was able to pass that understanding and appreciation on to his readership, I eagerly grabbed his latest book "The Information". I wasn't dissappointed.
As were his other books, this book is large. The necessity of this is illustrated in his explanation of the colourful narative used by African tribes to send messages via drums. Missionaries were incredulous of the detail contained in the messages. The colourful narrative offered the context for the interpretation of the possibly ambiguous tonal coded message. Likewise, Gleick's colourful embellishments offer an alternative to a precise mathematical exposition. Perhaps, even more effective at bridging paradigm shifts . The narratives are themselves fascinating excursions into history. When I'm teaching physics I like to put my students in the shoes of those as yet unexposed to a new paradigm. Cleick does this masterfully pointing out how new technologies could receive baffling welcomes. Incredulously, the telephone was often seen as a mere toy. His use of linguistic & cultural (to Gleick the two go hand in hand) analysis makes such oddities seem not merely natual but inevitable.
My introduction to Information theory was E.T. Jaynes application of Shannon's lemmas to statistical mechanics at a physics seminar in the mid 60's. We were oblivious to its application to Quantum mechanics nor aware of its relevance to McLuhan's popularization of an information age. Gleick makes clear its relevance to all areas of physics as well as biology, the social sciences, and our everyday lifestyle.
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on August 28, 2011
There are two milestones that shape the main theses in this book. The first is, naturally, Claude Shannon's formulation of his "Information Theory". Shannon is rightfully the main character of this historical saga (Gleick inserts biographical snippets of him and other main character throughout the book). The second pivotal moment comes with the intrusion of entropy in this theory and in the realization that information, as a physical entity, is also subjected to it.

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.
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