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The information : a history, a theory, a…

The information : a history, a theory, a flood (edition 2012)

by James Gleick

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1,923693,559 (3.96)38
Title:The information : a history, a theory, a flood
Authors:James Gleick (Author)
Info:Fourth Estate, London, 2012
Collections:Your library
Tags:non-fiction, information, history, history of science, computers, science

Work details

The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick

  1. 30
    Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter (Popup-ch)
    Popup-ch: Gleicks book makes innumerable references to this classic.
  2. 30
    Chaos: Making a New Science by James Gleick (bj2211)
  3. 10
    The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr (davesmind)
  4. 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.
  5. 00
    The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size (Penguin Press Science) 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)

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Showing 1-5 of 66 (next | show all)
Almost worth a 5 but a bit too rambling. Any book that begins with a quote by Claude Shannon is bound to be a winner with me. I have read quite a bit about many of the major players mentioned in this book and it was very interesting to read about them and their linkages to each other all in one place. ( )
  ndpmcIntosh | Mar 21, 2016 |
I was fascinated by the history and intrigued by the theory, but the flood part left something to be desired -- it lacked the weight and insight of the previous parts. ( )
  greglinch | Oct 16, 2015 |
I particularly liked the sections about Claude Shannon and Ada Lovelace. ( )
  questbird | Sep 12, 2015 |
Oy. Heavy book - physically, that is - can't read it in bed. About halfway done. Too much biography, not enough of the (implied promise of) effect of technological developments on culture.

For example, there is a good section about how people adapted to the telegraph - although you can 'send' troops to the front or 'carry' messages, you cannot send a dish of saurkraut to your son. But then a bit later he tells us all about Claude Shannon, a mathemetician at MIT, including several paragraphs about an idea he developed that he *never published.* Sorry, that bit belongs in a book about Shannon, not a book about the history of communication and society.

And the chapter earlier about Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbidge. Huh? Shades of my annoyance at Bill Bryson and his [b:A Short History of Nearly Everything|6358144|A Short History of Nearly Everything|Bill Bryson|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1237983691s/6358144.jpg|2305997].

Ok Done. Thank goodness. In fact I've been done for several days and just don't know what I want to say about it. There were a few more good bits, like the quick clue that we need to remember to think not of "'... a gene for X,'" but "instead 'a genetic contribution to the variation in X.'"

There were many more exasperating bits, for example not telling us, even in the notes, what his allusions and resources were. Giving us a line of music, on page 312, and telling us it's a fast-acting meme, but not telling those of us who don't read music well what the piece is? I asked my son who has had two years of choir and he couldn't make it out. Do you know?

And see p. 180, where there's some mathematical stuff that says H=?? and then compares it to S=?? - now not only do I have no idea what those symbols are (for which I substituted the question marks), I have no idea what S and H represent. Nor does he tell us. Do you know?

Notes, index, and bibliography were not helpful. Lots of trees could've been saved if he'd put those online. Also, then I'd probably have been able to read it comfortably and concnetrate on it better.

In fact, the whole book wasn't helpful. One or two chapters, tightened up and edited for comprehensibility by a member of the general public, would have made good essays. Other than that, I've no idea what we're supposed to get out of the book as a whole. I'm both frustrated and disappointed. ( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Apr 14, 2015 |
The premise of this book is rather fascinating and the author has obviously done his research on the topic and structured it well. The material covers the whole of history of information and humanity's relationship with it. It certainly contains plenty of ideas and insights to get one thinking about larger philosophical implications of information as a concept and how it has come to shape human society.

My problem with this book is partly rooted in the fact that I started off with some wealth of information about the topic already under my belt. If you have read a bit about computer science and information technology then you might find the passages on Turing and von Neumann monotonous. In addition, at certain points the author covers areas which I think are just too obscure. For instance the parts on entropy, thermodynamics and quantum physics are in my opinion too far removed from the context of information theory and break up the otherwise well-paced flow of the narrative.

Nevertheless the book is well written, and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in information science who is yet to delve deeper into the topic. ( )
  ilokhov | Mar 30, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 66 (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.
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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.
Chapter 1
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)

(summary from another edition)

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