James Gleick, the author of the best sellers Chaos and Genius, brings us his crowning work: a revelatory chronicle that shows how information has become the modern era’s defining quality—the blood, the fuel, the vital principle of our world.
The story of information begins in a time profoundly unlike our own, when every thought and utterance vanished as soon as it was born. 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 provides portraits of the key figures contributing to the inexorable development of our modern understanding of information: Charles Babbage, the idiosyncratic inventor of the first great mechanical computer; Ada Byron, the poet’s brilliant and doomed daughter, who became the first true programmer; pivotal figures like Samuel Morse and Alan Turing; and Claude Shannon, the creator of information theory itself.
And then the information age comes upon us. Citizens of this world become experts willy-nilly: aficionados of bits and bytes. And they sometimes feel they are drowning, swept by a deluge of signs and signals, news and images, blogs and tweets. The Information is the story of how we got here and where we are heading. It will transform readers’ view of its subject.
©2011 James Gleick (P)2011 Random House
"Accessible and engrossing." (Library Journal)
On Audible since the late 1990s, mostly science fiction, fantasy, history & science. I rarely review 1-2 star books that I can't get through
The Information is stunning and vastly important - one of the first popular accounts of information theory, and by James Gleick, who famously introduced the world to chaos theory a decade or two ago. This is a detailed tour from the invention of language to the information era, concentrating primarily on what information means, as well as how it is encoded and manipulated - as words, telegraph messages, hidden codes, or mathematics. The hero of the work is Claude Shannon, famous for writing the most important master's thesis ever written, and the consequences and meaning of the information theory he invented. Occasionally lyrical and constantly thought provoking, this book is excellent, and the reader is precise, clear, and makes even dry text interesting.
So why four stars? I have listened to something like 200 audio books, and this is one of the few that, despite great reading and great content, suffers from not being on the printed page. There are equations ("B sub r dagger dagger A inverted r") and tables of numbers in the text, and even the wonderful job the reader does can't make these intelligible, though he does try. It doesn't destroy the work, by any means, and is still very enjoyable and intriguing, but there are some difficult or plain useless passages as a result (ironic, given a book on encoding information, that the encoding method here is so inefficient). Also, this book requires concentration, not playing in the background, so take that into account.
I am going to be recommending this book to everyone, so don't hesitate to buy it on Audible, but, if you really want to get deep into the details and numbers, you are going to need a printed copy as well.
James Gleick in “The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood” seeks to place information in historical context. To accomplish that he opens the book by discussing the advent of drumming, signals, telegraph, telephone and the computer. A most interesting section contains an explanation of how Babbage invented the first computer and how it worked. In the subsequent portion he relates how information theorists worked on the coding, decoding, and re-coding of information. The final chapters link such as DNA , and quantum mechanics to information. It is this last portion of the book that was the most thought provoking for me. This book is wonderful as history, stimulating as philosophy, and a fine introduction to theoretical aspects of the topic. The reading of Rob Shapiro is excellent.
A transplanted Englishman, I spend my time on biography, history and military books. I appreciate good English and good narration.
I have rarely read a book that challenged me as did 'The Information'. Be prepared to be challenged by the links between the liberal arts; how philosophy relates to mathematics and how biology relates to physics. Get ready for an unceasing search for the fundamental issues. Remember polynomial equations, untangle the cryptographers art, have your sense of logic turned upside down. Be ready to be convinced that all can be explained by successive tosses of a coin.
So...worth reading. Yes! I know nobody who could hike Gleick's road without stumbling. He introduces so much complex material that his thesis seems hopelessly confusing; but then he combines the elements at the end of each Chapter, lifts the fog, solidifies the important concepts and provides a foundation for the brain to move on. Fascinating, but be prepared to think as much as read.
As a computer engineer/scientist, I found this book to be simply beautiful. Like stepping into your grandmother's attic and discovering treasures, which brings back a flood of memories. It reminded me of the beauty of the field of information science. But more than that, it brought to life the familiar theories pounded into us through dry textbooks. It tells the stories of the people behind the thoughts that changed the way our world works. It weaves together disparate fields. As any great book should, this will make you look at the world through different eyes.
As an Engineer and tech-hobbyist, I have to admit that I found this book challenging to listen to for long periods of time. I'm quite sure many others would never make it pat the first couple of chapters. While never "bad", I found my mind frequently wandering after ~30 minutes or so while listening in the car, on a run, etc. That said, many interesting points are raised (for me, the 1st & last 3rd of the book was more interesting).
No other book in recent memory has had such an impact on how I view the world as this one. I really wish that Audible provided some kind of text copy of books you've purchased because I've wanted to go back and reference it many times since I finished it. My only complaint was that I found a few hours of it boring enough to skip over somewhere in the first half.
Sprawling, ambitious, and yet somehow hits its mark. Traces the history of how we communicate, how we measure information, how far we've come, and why it matters. It unapologetically spends time in the weeds to walk through the theories (and their developers) of the mathematical/philosophical/biological underpinnings of what makes information so vital and yet overwhelming.
As a scientist I grew up using the theories and methods developed by Weiner, Nyquist, Turing and others. James Gieck puts all of these into a coherent exposition, describing the evolution of information science while at the same time giving us insights into the human beings behind these important discoveries and inventions. Towards the end he seamlessly melds information theory into physics making one wonder if, given the rate at which information is expanding, we might see a sequel to this worthy tome.
From chapter one and the story of the talking drums, i was hooked. There are so many new ideas (new to me, anyway) in this book that it will take several listens to absorb them all. I also plan to get the hardcopy in order to reread certain passages. I loved it.
I listened to this book right after reading Tim Wu's "The Master Switch". Both books are wonderful on their own, but together they are a rare treat. "The Information" covered a lot of familiar ground for me as I read quite a bit of science history. Even then, it was very enjoyable. After that review however it digs into the philosophy of information science and becomes absolutely delightful. I'd recommend this highly, especially if you have time to read Wu's book too.
"Informative but temporarily boring as an audiobook"
James Gleick is a guarantee when it comes to popular science. The book is complete and accurate, well balanced and flowing naturally. However, it inevitably contains a lot of formulas and equations, which are not a narrator's favorite language and a listener's best visualization capability.
"A History, a Theory, a Flood"
Outstanding, enthralling book covering language, technology, information theory and all the humor, drama and excitement that go along with them.
"Fascinating, compelling and listenable"
Popular information theory! I really enjoyed this and was inspired to read further in the area. Not too difficult for a beginner (like me) but you do have to pay attention!
"Fascinating Introduction to Information Theory"
This book is a fascinating story of the history of Information theory and technology. It can get quite technical, but the journey that Gleick takes you on a generally very well paced and the narration by Rob Shapiro is excellent (although he might want to research how to pronounce a couple of UK placenames!) A worthy winner of the Guardian Science writing prize last year
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