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Publisher's Summary

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

Critic Reviews

"Accessible and engrossing." (Library Journal)

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  • Edward
  • DUmont, NJ, United States
  • 09-01-11

Good start, muddied end

The book starts out with a fascinating chapter on the language of African drums (I'd always wondered) and moves into intriguing takes on early information "technologies" like The Telegraph and a visionary inventor who imagined a steam-driven computer in Victorian England. But is gets lost into deeper and deeper algorthmic analysis of information that disconnects from the core idea of communications. Nonetheless, it's often amazing and always thought provoking.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Gleicking "The Information"

Gleick

verb, Gleick'd, Gleicking
to synthesize large amounts of information and present in an informative, educational and enjoyable format

to connect theories and ideas across disciplines with historical developments
to write artfully about the intersection between science, history and ideas for a popular audience

Reading James Gleick's masterful new book, The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood (Random House), it seems eminently reasonable to propose a new word based on his name.

Gleick's ambitions in The Information are not modest. They are nothing less than a biography of the discipline of information science. Examining, or rather interrogating, the idea of information must have seemed daunting. Where to start, where to end, what to include, what to leave out? This challenge would have stopped most authors, or every other author, before a project like this could commence. In Gleick's hands, the story of information moves from noise to signal, from a subject too big to comprehend to one with a narrative, protagonists, narrative arc, and an unstoppable forward momentum.

From African drumming to Web, Gleick demonstrates how our understanding of what information is has evolved with our material and intellectual cultures. It moves from the early scientists who first defined, quantified and measured information, to the companies that built industrial empires on bits and bytes rather than steel. The Information is a terrific companion to 2010's best work of nonfiction, Tim Wu's The Master Switch. The chapters in both books about the rise of the telegraph and the influence of Bell labs are alone worth the price of admission.

The Information will be one of the top 5 books of 2011. Computer scientists and historians of science will be (or should be) working this book into syllabuses. Invite Gleick to campus, ask him to keynote your conference, give The Information to the humans around you that carry around your favorite brains.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Andy
  • Westport, CT, United States
  • 02-15-12

in the end, it's all information

Fascinating history of information. This book illuminates the enormous amount of information behind everything from the dictionary to the human genome. A good part of the book discussed the data that supports many of the laws of physics...most of which went totally over my head. The narration was terrific, which kept me listening even when I struggled to grasp what was being discussed.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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This Information Architect/Web Designer Loved It

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Anyone interested in the development of culture, how our brains work, how we organize information would thoroughly enjoy this audiobook. It covers the history of the development of technologies to store information outside our brains, including writing, dictionaries (with fascinating details of how the inventor explained how to find entries using alphabetical order), the telegraph and telephone, computers and the Internet.Mercifully, Gleick doesn't dwell on the significance of the printing press (as a student of web technologies, I'm quite tired of this particular comparison). Instead, he helped me to several brand-new insights about our control, or lack of control, over the information published by and about us.

What did you like best about this story?

The breadth and depth of the history of different information technologies and the fascinating personal tidbits and life stories of those who invented and developed them.

Which scene was your favorite?

I thoroughly enjoyed the biography of Ada Lovelace, the daughter of Lord Byron, and how she co-invented the computing machine with Charles Babbage, while pursuing the study of mathematics and being a wife and mother.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Robert
  • Encino, CA, United States
  • 11-06-11

Worth listening to --even if you've read the book!

I won't heap additional praise on this remarkable book. It is a must-read for anyone interested in . . . almost anything having to do with modern life.

I am adding a note to say that I read The Information in hard copy first, then listened to it, as I frequently do with books I really like. I was surprised by the amount of additional insight and understanding that I gained from listening to The Information. Many of the concepts discussed in the book are elusive and counter-intuitive -- think about the first (or twentieth) time you thought you understood relativity. So, don't be put off by the "should I read it or listen to it" question. The answer is "yes."

And a nod to the narrator, who takes challenging material and makes it more understandable with a pitch-perfect style that neither condescends nor assumes that the reader has a sophisticated background in information theory.

OK, I will add one additional heap of praise on the book itself -- despite the technical subject matter and explanations, Gleick is one hell of a story-teller. This book is full of surprises, which is another way of saying it is jam-packed with information.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Astounding!

Wow, what an amazing work. The writer has a tremendous ability to connect some spectacular dots revealing a wonderful picture.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Fascinating account of historical events leading to the Information Age

Gleick pulls together historical events and stories of scientists, theoreticians, mathematicians, and more, to show the evolution of knowledge and “informa

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This book is a fascinating journey

As a retired computer scientist, I found this book a fascinating journey. There were many things I knew of but the book wove them together with things I didn't know. However this book was not written for computer scientists but for a much broader audience who want to know how we got from where we started to where we are today.

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Wonderful!

Wonderful collection of stories and observations, great narration. James Gleick writes beautifully about the history and impact of the sciences and the people who make it happen.

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insightful and intriguing

was a really interesting journey from the very beginnings of communication, and also a deep, very meta philosophical exploration about the very nature of information and meaning in the universe.
the only reason I gave it 4 stars on performance was that the end stuttered lots (but I had it on 1.5 SPD)

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