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The Information: A History, a Theory, a…

The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood

by James Gleick

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,419823,886 (3.96)45
  1. 30
    Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R. Hofstadter (Popup-ch)
    Popup-ch: Gleicks book makes innumerable references to this classic.
  2. 31
    Chaos: Making a New Science by James Gleick (bj2211)
  3. 00
    Decoding the Universe: How the New Science of Information Is Explaining Everything in the Cosmos, from Our Brains to Black Holes by Charles Seife (waitingtoderail)
    waitingtoderail: Gleick looks at information theory with more of a view from a mathematical side, Seife more from a scientific side. They complement each other wonderfully.
  4. 00
    The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size by Tor Nørretranders (Popup-ch)
    Popup-ch: Both books address the fundamental problems of communication, but in a slightly different manner. Where Gleick concentrates on the encoder, and Shannon's coding efficiency, Nørretranders instead looks at how this is perceived by the receiver, and ultimately at how the human brain makes sense of the world around us.… (more)
  5. 11
    The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr (davesmind)

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» See also 45 mentions

English (78)  Dutch (2)  French (1)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (82)
Showing 1-5 of 78 (next | show all)
The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick starts out by talking about Claude Shannon and his theory of Communication. It is a fitting beginning to an interesting book. The main premise of the book is that a Glut of Information is upon us, and has been upon us since the days that humans made writing common among commoners. Gleick talks about the dawn of writing, the printing press, Babbage's Differential Engine and later his Analytical Engine, Ada Byron Countess of Lovelace, and many more fascinating characters in this book. As we came up with ways to transmit data and information, we had problems that we had to go and solve. For instance, there is redundancy. With the Drum talkers in Africa(the subject of the first chapter), Gleick explains that since they had only a high beat and a low beat they had to add in a ton of redundancy to explain what they meant precisely. This made the message very long.

So with all messages there are drawbacks to reproducing that message in the same form.

I would read it again. It was an excellent book. ( )
  Floyd3345 | Jun 15, 2019 |
I enjoyed reading this book thoroughly. However, I do not think it will satisfy everyone who is considering reading it. I know many of my librarian colleagues and my classmates from the School of Information probably have this on their to-read lists. Many of them are probably more interested in contemporary issues of information management, such as information retrieval, social network analysis and human-computer interaction. This book touches some of those issues, and indeed many others, but this book is primarily about the history of information theory. The subtitle of the book is "A History, A Theory, A Flood," but the Flood part is only discussed in the final chapters. The rest of it is devoted to the theory and history.

You can tell that Gleick has spent his career writing biographies and histories of physicists and mathematicians, because those subjects are covered in greater detail in this book. The two most prominent individuals that Gleick focuses upon are Charles Babbage and Claude Shannon. If you're interested in the history of science, math and philosophy, or if you would like a good explanation of information theory (which I think most people do not understand correctly) then I would recommend this book. Otherwise, this book may not be what you are hoping it to be.

If you are into that sort of thing, then this book will be a fun read for you. I found it extremely fascinating.

A couple passages that made me pause:

An amusing quip on entropy: "Living things manage to remain unstable." Indeed. Increased entropy is the natural progression of the universe. But living things maintain an organized state, which is highly anti-entropic. Hence, we are all unstable people!

On memes: "...rhyme and rhythm help bits of text get remembered. Rhyme and rhythm are qualities that aid a meme's survival, just as strength and speed aid an animal's. Patterned language has an evolutionary advantage. Rhyme, rhythm, reason--for reason, too, is a form of pattern." This is an interesting thought. Reason as simply a pattern--a memory aid. ( )
  joshuagomez | May 31, 2019 |
For more reviews and bookish posts please visit: http://www.ManOfLaBook.com

The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick is a non-fiction book for the information age, talking about how people send information (and misinformation) from tum-tums in Africa, to Ada Lovelace, Alan turning and every “expert” on Twitter and Facebook. Mr. Gleick is an author who explores the consequences of science & technology on our society & culture.

The book starts with a fascinating explanation of the tum-tums (African talking drums) and how they are able to send complex messages. Transitioning to telegraph and telephone communications the author explains their implications on social and commercial aspects.

Going into symbolic languages, we delve into information theory and the important persona who contributed to the field (Claude Shannon, Charles Babbage, Ada Byron (Lovelace), Samuel Morse, Alan Turing, Stephen Hawking and more).

If I had to describe this book in one word it would be “ambitious”. The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick encompasses many subjects, some more complicated than others, into a strong and enjoyable narrative.

Mr. Gleick covers a lot in this book, one has to read it with an open mind even though sometimes I felt as if he is trying to convince me of a conclusion he already made, and is now trying to find evidence. This book, however, did open my eyes. There are subjects I thought I knew a lot about, but this book made me look at them from a different angle.

I have been in IT for almost 3 decades (I didn’t realize it was this long until I wrote it down), still, I found this book entertaining and very informative. The author doesn’t dwell on one subject, but it’s an eclectic mix of math, art, science and more, tying together subjects which, on the surface, seems to have nothing in common.

The last part of the book, in my opinion, was weak. That is too bad because the rest of the book was very interesting. A whole chapter dedicated to Wikipedia was too much, I’d rather would have learned more about crowdsourcing for information and content (book reviews?), and how that changed the Internet, and is most likely keeps changing.
And yes, Wikipedia is a big part of that.

I’m glad I read this book, not only did I learn several things, but to see subjects from another angle is one of the reasons I keep reading. And that, to me, is priceless. ( )
  ZoharLaor | May 17, 2019 |
This is an interesting and accessible history of the field of information theory, from its conception by Claude Shannon in the early days of telecommunication to the present day, including examinations of DNA as information and the current state of information overload.

Glieck draws on a wide array of sources and fields, and makes some very dense information accessible to his reader. Reading this has definitely changed how I look at communication and information. There are a lot of concepts here that permeate daily life, or that I run into in my web engineering work and linguistics hobby reading, so I'm glad to have an understanding of the basics of information theory. ( )
  Gwendydd | Dec 9, 2018 |
A wide-ranging exemplar of the History of Ideas, Gleick's "The Information" tells the compelling story of our Information Age. Focusing on fascinating characters such as Charles Babbage, and more particularly, the brilliant Claude Shannon, Gleick deftly weaves together the disparate strands of technology, cryptology and psychology that lead to his "Flood." Those familiar with the "Steampunk" world-view will find many common strands here. A solid math background, while not essential, certainly enhances the experience. I've now added Gleick's "Chaos" and his biography of Newton to my soon-to-be-read list. ( )
  Teiresias1960 | Feb 24, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 78 (next | show all)
The heart of Gleick’s book is his treatment of the new information theory that Shannon — and computer scientist and mathematician Alan Turing, noisily brilliant pioneer Norbert Stuart Wiener and many others — created in the middle decades of the 20th century. But Gleick loops backward to discuss early efforts at messaging and storage, from drum messages to dictionaries, and forward to make clear the massive consequences of what Shannon and the others wrought. ...

Gleick is a technological determinist, in a moderate way. He argues elegantly that the telegraph promoted everything from the weaving of networks to the building of skyscrapers and the creation of a new “telegraphic” style of communication.

It seems a pity, accordingly, that he does not say more about the ways in which information theory and its technical progeny have changed our ways of reading and writing, doing research and listening to music. ...
Shannon's take on language is disconcerting. From the outset, he was determined to divorce information from meaning. That's why a random string of letters is more information-rich, in Shannon's sense, than a coherent sentence. There is a definite value in his measure, not just in computing but in linguistics. Yet to broach information in the colloquial sense, somewhere meaning must be admitted back into all the statistics and correlations...

Gleick too readily accepts the standard trope that genes contain the information needed to build an organism. That information is highly incomplete. Genes don't need to supply it all, because they act in a molecular milieu that fills in the gaps. It's not that the music, or the gene, needs the right context to deliver its message – without that context, there is no message, no music, no gene. An information theory that considers just the signal and neglects the receiver is limited. It is the only serious complaint about a deeply impressive and rather beautiful book.
A highly ambitious and generally brilliant effort to tie together centuries of disparate scientific efforts to understand information as a meaningful concept. For a society that believes itself to live in an information age, the subject could hardly be more important. That the project doesn't fully succeed has more to do with the limits of our understanding than with Gleick's efforts.
added by Shortride | editSlate, Tim Wu (Mar 28, 2011)
This is all engagingly told, though Gleick’s focus on information systems occasionally leads him to exaggerate the effects technologies like printing and the telegraph could have all by themselves. For example, he repeats the largely discredited argument, made by the classicist Eric Havelock in the 1970s, that it was the introduction of the alphabet that led to the development of science, philosophy and “the true beginning of consciousness.”

Such errors are mostly minor. But Gleick’s tendency to neglect the social context casts a deeper shadow over the book’s final chapters, where he turns from explicating information as a scientific concept to considering it as an everyday concern, switching roles from science writer to seer.
“The Information” is so ambitious, illuminating and sexily theoretical that it will amount to aspirational reading for many of those who have the mettle to tackle it. Don’t make the mistake of reading it quickly. Imagine luxuriating on a Wi-Fi-equipped desert island with Mr. Gleick’s book, a search engine and no distractions. “The Information” is to the nature, history and significance of data what the beach is to sand.

» Add other authors (15 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Gleick, JamesAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bearse, M. KristenDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Anyway, those tickets, those old ones, they didn't tell you where you were going, much less where you came from. He couldn't remember seeing any dates on them, either, and there was certainly no mention of time. It was all different now, of course. All this information. Archie wondered why that was.
— Zadie Smith

What we call the past is built on bits.
— John Archibald Wheeler
For Cynthia
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After 1948, which was the crucial year, people thought they could see the clear purpose that inspired Claude Shannon's work, but that was hindsight.
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No one spoke simply on the drums.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375423729, Hardcover)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:58:37 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

From the invention of scripts and alphabets to the long misunderstood "talking drums" of Africa, James Gleick tells the story of information technologies that changed the very nature of human consciousness. He also provides portraits of the key figures contributing to the inexorable development of our modern understanding of information, including Charles Babbage, Ada Byron, Samuel Morse, Alan Turing, and Claude Shannon.… (more)

» see all 4 descriptions

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