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The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood
 
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The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood [Kindle Edition]

James Gleick
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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From Amazon

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

Review

“With his ability to synthesize mounds of details and to tell rich stories, Gleick ably leads us on a journey from one form of communicating information to another.” –Publishers Weekly, Top 100 Books of 2011

“So ambitious, illuminating and sexily theoretical that it will amount to aspirational reading for many of those who have the mettle to tackle it…The Information is to the nature, history and significance of data what the beach is to sand.” –New York Times

“[A] tour de force…This is intellectual history of tremendous verve, insight, and significance. Unfailingly spirited, often poetic, Gleick recharges our astonishment over the complexity and resonance of the digital sphere and ponders our hunger for connectedness…Destined to be a science classic, best-seller Gleick’s dynamic history of information will be one of the biggest nonfiction books of the year.” –Booklist, starred review

“With his brilliant ability to synthesize mounds of details and to tell rich stories, Gleick leads us on a journey from one form of communication information to another…Gleick’s exceptional history of culture concludes that information is indeed the blood, the fuel, and the vital principle on which our world runs.” –Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Rich and fascinating.” –Washington Post

"No author is better equipped for such a wide- ranging tour than Mr. Gleick. Some writers excel at crafting a historical narrative, others at elucidating esoteric theories, still others at humanizing scientists. Mr. Gleick is a master of all these skills." –Wall Street Journal
 
“Gleick presses rousing tales from the history of human communication into the service of one Very Big Idea…he does what only the best science writers can: take a subject of which most of us are only peripherally aware and put it at the center of the universe.” –Time

“A wide-ranging, deeply researched and delightfully engaging history…” –Los Angeles Times

“The gifted science writer James Gleick explains how we’ve progressed from seeing information as the expression of human thought and emotion to looking at it as a commodity that can be processed, like wheat or plutonium. It’s a long, complicated, and important story, and in Gleick’s hands it’s also a mesmerizing one…As a celebration of human ingenuity, The Information is a deeply hopeful book.” –Nicholas Carr, Daily Beast

“A grand narrative if ever there was one…Gleick provides lucid expositions for readers who are up to following the science and suggestive analogies for those who are just reading for the plot. And there are anecdotes that every reader can enjoy…A prodigious intellectual survey.” –New York Times Book Review  
 
“A highly ambitious and generally brilliant effort to tie together centuries of disparate scientific efforts to understand information as a meaningful concept…By the close of the book you cannot think of information as you might have before. It has become, quite palpably, something different than almost anything we encounter: resistant to decay and capable of perfect self-reproduction. It outlasts the organic beings who create it, and, by replication, the inorganic mediums used to store it. The Information—not unlike other science books that tackle big human quests for understanding—at times bears more than a passing resemblance to a spiritual text.” –Slate

“When collected together in this coherent historical narrative, [his observations] do feel ‘revelatory,’ as his publisher claims…Gleick is wrestling with truly profound material, and so will the reader. This is not a book you will race through on a single plane trip. It is a slow, satisfying meal.” –Columbia Journalism Review

"Accessible and engrossing."
—Library Journal

“The author’s skills as an interpreter of science shine…for completist cybergeeks and infojunkies, the book delivers a solid summary of a dense, complex subject.”
—Kirkus

“Extraordinary in its sweep…Gleick’s story is beautifully told, extensively sourced, and continually surprising.” –Brainiac, Boston Globe online

“Entertaining, funny and clever.” –New Scientist

“A brilliant, panoramic view of how we save and communicate knowledge...and provides thrilling portraits of the geniuses behind the inventions. Provocative and illuminating.” –People

“A commanding chronicle of the information revolution…tantalizing.” –philly.com
 
“An ambitious, sprawling work.” –Kirkus 
 
“Absorbing…The Information is lyrical, patient, impeccably researched, and full of interesting digressions.” –The Boston Globe  

“Tremendously enjoyable. Gleick has an eye and ear for the catchy detail and observation…offers a broad and fascinating foundation, impressive in its reach. A very good read, certainly recommended.” –The Complete Review

“A powerful and rigorous and at times very moving history of information…You can dip into The Information at just about any point and emerge with a magnificent detail.” –Time, Top 10 of Everything 2011

“Heady…This intellectual history is intoxicating—thanks to Gleick’s clear mind, magpie-styled research and explanatory verve.” –Cleveland.com 
 
“To write a history of information…it’s beyond ambitious—it’s audacious. But James Gleick pulls it off…a gracefully written book.” –USA Today

“A book about everything…Gleick sees the world as an endlessly unfolding opportunity in which ‘creatures of the information’ might just recognize themselves.” –Shelfari

“An interesting and detailed history of how we’ve moved from an alphabet to words, writing, dictionaries, etc.” –Alpha 
 
“Imaginatively conceived and staggeringly researched…a transformative work.” –The Phoenix.com 

“[Gleick] remains a gifted writer with a passion for a subject that would easily drown many of us.” –About.com

“Expertly draws out neglected names and stories from history…Gleick’s skill as an expicator of counterintuitive concepts makes the chapters on logic, the stuff even most philosophy majors slept through in class, brim with tension.” –Oregonlive.com 
 
“This is the page-turner you never knew you desperately wanted to read.” –The Stranger Slog
 
“This is an amazing book. If you have any designs on being a professor of information, you should read this book slowly and thoughtfully.” –ALA TechSource

“The most ambitious, compelling, insert-word-of-intellectual-awe-here book to read this year.” –The Atlantic

“Wide-ranging and fascinating.” –New York Journal of Books 

“The most comprehensive book written, to date, about information. An amazing erudite and yet highly readable account…amongst the most profound books written about technology.” –Tech Crunch, TCTV 

“Very fascinating…It will make readers see the world more intelligently than before. Essential.” –Choice, Current Reviews for Academic Libraries 

“In his fascinating new history of the rise and the breadth of today’s communication age, Gleick sheds light on the many ways we impart and receive information.” –New York Times Styles 

“Gleick is one of the great science writers of our age…The Information is an entertaining and instructive romp through the history of information technologies…for anyone interested in learning more about the important and ever-more-prominent role that information plays in our society, the book is not only a pleasure to read, it is well worth reading.” –American Scientist

“Grand, lucid and awe-inspiring…information is about a lot more than what human beings have to say to each other. It’s the very stuff of reality, and never have its mysteries been offered up with more elegance or aplomb.” –Salon.com best of 2011 

Magnificent…this elegant, insightful study reminds us that we have always been adrift in an incomprehensible universe.” –LA Times best books of 2011

The Information is lyrical, patient, impeccably researched, and jammed with interesting—um, well—information.” –Boston Globe Best of 2011

“A sprawling yet fascinating book by an acclaimed American science writer, The Information ranges from biology to particle physics and explores the links between information, communications, data and meaning from earliest times to the present day.” –The Economist


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Product Details


Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun, fascinating look at "information" May 20 2011
By A. Volk #1 REVIEWER #1 HALL OF FAME
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I wasn't sure if this was a four-star or a five-star book, so I went with the more conservative rating. The idea behind this book is simple: explain information from a historical and scientific perspective. The book covers the history of information, from spoken word, to written word, to the telegraph, telephone, etc. Along the way it discusses relevant scientific issues surrounding information theory. Information theory attempts to understand the form, function, and transmission of information. It's not at all my area of research, but I nevertheless found it to be really interesting to actually consider "what is information"? How does one create systems of information. African drum languages, really languages based on drumming, are my favorite example from the book. At times the book gets fairly heavy as it starts to meld information theory with modern quantum theory from physics. That's mostly in the last few chapters, and I found that going a bit dense. I did really enjoy the sections on genes and memes, which were very interesting reviews of how important information is for life (indeed, life may be all about information).

My only quibble with the book is that it really is a flood. This book covers so much ground that at times I felt a little lost trying to get through it all. Generally speaking, the author is a good writer and the pages flew by pretty quickly. But still, there's a lot to try and soak in, especially once one hits the 20th Century and the proper beginnings of a real scientific theory of information. That stuff is pretty complicated for people outside of the field, and the many historical anecdotes thrown in sometimes hindered, rather than helped, comprehension.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
Beautifully written and very relevant overview of "information" from the early days of telegrams all the way to quantum computing, including works from Morse, Russel, Turing, Shannon, Van Neumann, Kolmogorov, Bennett and... Gilles Brassard (U of Montreal).

The central topic remains Claude Shannon's Information Theory and fundamental questions such as "what is information" and "how to measure information". But this books features a very appealing balance between history, short biographies, anecdotes and hard theory. Challenging topics such as Gödel's Theorem, Russel's Paradox, Cryptography, Complexity, etc. are very well articulated, with enough depth and substance and no overly boring technical details or mathematical proofs.

Of particular interest is the chapter on the birth of Cognitive Sciences: The clash between early humanists for whom a strong intuition was good enough to build knowledge upon versus more prosaic scientists who'd insist on testing hypotheses before declaring them good for consumption. There are interesting excerpts from Shannon politely suggesting "more research and less exposition" and Shrödinger advocating for "more rigor over speculation".

Cognitive Sciences are at this crossroads today between fraud and science. Luckily, Gleick reminds us of the time when Biology too used to be a loosely experimental science, and how it became an exact science during the course of the XXth Century.

Not a small book (544 pages) but definitely a Must-Read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By bernie TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Many great insights as to "The meaning of life, the universe and everything" begins with a vision or a universal concept that was just under our nose but required someone to tell us what we already knew and bring this to our forethought. Think back to economics classes before the classes economics was just to term for money handling. Now today we see that every Great War every great invention and even the small ones were encouraged and even made available due to economics. Before reading such books as "Homo Evolutis" by Juan Enriquez and Steve Gullans, we knew of evolution and its controversies but never thought that we would see it all around us and realize much of it is our doing. Now there is "The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood" by James Gleick also the author of "Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything." The title of this book is definitely an understatement of what you're about to be presented. Just keep in mind that as much fun as this book is to read it is how you use this" information" that gives the book its worth.

We will see that every little "bit" of the universe and everything in it is "information." Do not over look the prolog for an encompassing hint as what the book is about. No information related subject is glossed over we het extensive history and in-depth views of what information is, how it was all-around ups and where t is going. I will not go into every detail of you would not need to read the book

Be prepared for over 400 footnotes and an extensive bibliography which will take some time to "look the references up."
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5.0 out of 5 stars This. Exactly this. May 29 2013
Format:Kindle Edition
I loved this book. I loved this book so damn much. So full disclosure, I say in my reviews I’m a librarian. This is true. The more fun thing is my degree is actually a Masters of Information. Yes. I am a Master of Information. This is a thing. So I got this book because how could I not? So yes I geeked out a million percent while reading this book, and my review is 100% biased in that this is a topic I love.

So. Things about this book. The title is exactly what the book is about the history of information which is SO DAMN FASCINATING because honestly guys, our ability to comprehend is staggering. How we transmit, perceive and underestimate information is fascinating. Seriously, it is and I don’t think just to people who generally geek out over it. Think about it – what we’re doing, understanding and thinking about not long ago would have been considered actual miracles. We can find out anything, and not only can we, but we now expect it to be easy. We can change, transmit, edit and argue over what information is and how we understand it and those of us who know are scared equally of the struggle to contain and provide access to it.

To be honest again I actually picked up this book back when it was released in 2011 and I didn’t read it then because at the time I was just finishing up my Masters and honestly couldn’t emotionally handle the idea of reading anything else about it. But the thing is, I’m SO glad I found it and read it. I don’t think it’s written in a particularly high style, it was an easy-ish read and I sincerely think it’s worth a grab for everyone. This is cool stuff guys.
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