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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
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. Overall, this book passed my basic test of quality- I enjoyed going back to it as I read through it. If you are interested in information (and if you read non-fiction, I assume you are), this is a very interesting book that will likely change how you view and understand information.
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3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
"Then it will be, if they do not believe you, nor heed the message of the first sign, that they may believe the message of the latter sign." -- Exodus 4:8 (NKJV)

If you love books about the history of science that tie many ideas, theories, and developments together and aren't a scientist, you'll have a good time with The Information.

If the subject is in your field, you'll find it much too elementary to be of interest.

If you don't know much about information theory, some parts will seem impenetrable to you . . . but that's okay. Just keep reading. You'll eventually read something that you can understand.

I thought that two aspects of the book were unusually fine: the ability to connect developments in so many scientific and engineering fields to common themes . . . and providing a single illustration that nicely crystallized the essence of a major idea, theory, or development.

If you don't get to the book's end, you may be wondering why some of the material is included. For instance, the book opens by explaining about African drumming. That example seems quite isolated at the time, but the concepts then are applied to many more detailed examples from cryptology to information sampling to enable signal compression.

Although there was no aspect of the science that was new to me, I came away with a new appreciation for bridges among the paradigms that I hadn't thought about before. That was well worth the time I spent in reading.

I was also glad that the book ended up by focusing on the "glut" of so-called information . . . most of which isn't worth recording . . . or still worse, which may mislead people.

If the book has a glaring weakness, it's that it doesn't venture into enough speculation about what the future may hold for information, storage, analysis, and verification . . . especially in an increasingly non-reading society.

My figurative hat is off to Mr. Gleick. I admire him for conceiving of and accomplishing so much in this area.
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