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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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  • Overall

Brilliant book, heroic reader, better in print?

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.

101 of 101 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • peter
  • Pound Ridge, NY United States
  • 04-28-11

Intellectual Challenge

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.

13 of 13 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Information in Historical Context

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.

12 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Made me nostalgic

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.

So beautiful.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Peter
  • Pasadena, MD, United States
  • 07-02-11

Changed how I live and work

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.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Nate
  • Jackson, MS, United States
  • 07-08-13

Sprawling, ambitious, and hits its mark.

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.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • maria
  • BOERNE, TEXAS, United States
  • 05-06-11

Informative and entertaining on many levels

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.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

enchanting and informative

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.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Story

Lots of information

I love the history of science and no one gives a better history than Gleick. If you loved Chaos, you will love this. I have read several books on information theory and have really enjoyed them. But, Gleick really knows how to convey almost every concept to his reader in the simplest, yet surprisingly complete, way. I have been annoyed with Richard Dawkins for many years now. I used to love him, but once epigenetics came on the scene and he threw fit after fit, not to mention the fit he threw about endosymbiosis, it is clear his time as an effective scientists has passed. However, Gleick's take on the selfish gene and its place in history reminded me about everything I once loved about Dawkins. From Shannon to Gamow, this book did justice to so many of the researchers whose passions gave rise to information theory. It is not as heavy on the science as some people might like, but the history is incredibly rich and interesting. I enjoyed it far more than Isaacson's The Innovators. I listened to the audio version while I jogged. Thinking back to the wonderful innovators of our time made me feel connected to the Earth and all that we have discovered about our universe.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Not for Everyone

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).

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Antonio Konitsiotis
  • 03-12-16

Typically amazing book by Gleick

An amazingly insightful and interesting book from Gleick. Had to listen sm sections twice though!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Christos
  • 12-25-12

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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • B. Robin
  • 12-31-14

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.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Edward S.
  • 11-16-17

Very much enjoyed. Well read. Highly reccomended.

Very enjoyable to even people without a technical background walking through the history of information theory.

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  • jeremy
  • 07-09-13

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!

  • Overall
  • Danul
  • 04-10-13

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