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The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood

3.95 of 5 stars 3.95  ·  rating details  ·  7,943 ratings  ·  932 reviews
James Gleick, the author of the best sellers Chaos and Genius, now brings us a work just as astonishing and masterly: a revelatory chronicle and meditation 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
Hardcover, 527 pages
Published March 1st 2011 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group (first published January 1st 2011)
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116th out of 858 books — 1,973 voters
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24th out of 217 books — 141 voters

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Community Reviews

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Jen Padgett Bohle
Here's an advertisement I want to place on craigslist because of this book:

Desperately Seeking:
Scintillating conversation partner who is preferably a math, physics, or logic major with strong knowledge of Quantum Physics and Information theory (of today and yesterday)and concepts including, but not limited to, the Babbage/Lovelace Difference Machine, Claude Shannon's math and entropy and cryptology, Turing's machine, logcal paradoxes, Maxwell's demon,The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, Schro
I now LOATHE this book.

I had started reading it last spring before I left Nashville. I was trying to be a good library minion and keep up to date with reading in my field. I got through chapter 7 (1/3 of the book) and decided it was a bit heavy and that I would have enough reading of that sort soon enough in graduate school.

So guess what I had to read for my Perspectives in Information class?

If I thought this book was difficult before....I HAD NO IDEA.

The difficulty lies not in the actual cont
The Information has a lot going for it. And it has a lot going against it.

For starters, Gleick keeps the read enjoyable with his strong prose style. The author controls the pace and tone of his writing to carry readers along almost cinematically. Indeed, many passages read like the voice-over of a History Channel program, while simultaneously conjuring for readers the images that would play under the voice-over. It is a strong effect, engrossing and enjoyable.

The other big strong point of The In
I think this is perhaps as good an introduction to information theory as you are likely to read. Lucid, clear and quite nicely paced, it covers a wealth of material and it does so with beautiful ease. This guy really is a wonderful science writer. His Chaos and Newton were both stunning books. I got about half of the way through Genius, but then got distracted and never quite made it back – but I’ve always meant to. All the same, this one shines and shines.

Perhaps the best chapter was the one on
The amount of information (pun acknowledged, but not intended) that James Gleick was able to contain in the book is mind-boggling ( Claude Shannon could probably tell you what the physical cost of the logical work my mind did while reading it was, but I, alas, cannot).

I'm sure that for those who are well-versed in information theory, some of his omissions were glaring and seemingly arbitrary, but there is nothing wrong with a book that leaves you wanting more and feeling sufficiently motivate
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I have a soft spot for mathematics. The more complicated and obtuse it gets, the more I like it. It is probably best I didn't figure this out earlier in life, because I might have pursued it and gone crazy. So I enjoy reading about it from time to time.

In The Information, Gleick speaks to the interplay between mathematical progress with science, culture, information theory, and really the development of society. It is an incredible overview of topics ranging from logic to communication to memes.
David Wiley
Only half way through this book but it's one of the best I've read in a very long time. The chapter on Babbage and Lovelace filled me with rapture and awe, and a little bit of jealousy, peeking in on these great discoveries and the heady conversations and frequent advances and discoveries. What must it have been like to work at that level, to discover those things, to be so far ahead of your time? Incredible writing, so well researched, I just love this book... And as a bonus, highly applicable ...more
The history of information theory is a history of increasing abstraction. To the point where the meaning of information becomes irrelevant. To the point where the universe itself can be seen as a giant computer, and each of our choices, thoughts, movements become like states in the machine. I loved reading about the African drummers who communicated over long

distances via a tonal drum language with built in redundancy. I loved reading about Babbage and his calculating machine, and to think abou
I begin by saying to my middle school algebra teacher, “Damn, why didn’t you just say so?” At the risk of revealing my age, I can tell you that mathematics as taught in my elementary school era certainly lacked certain clarity in the fact that rote memorization played a totally unnecessary role as far as I was concerned. Luckily for me, I knew how to manipulate money long before I went to school, so the patterns in math were already obvious. Then suddenly there were these little xs and ys and I ...more
Loring Wirbel
Since I was absolutely astonished by such Gleick works as "Chaos" and "What Just Happened", and since his subject matter (Claude Shannon, Godel, info theory) is right up my alley, I was prepared to give this book five stars, particularly given raves in NY Times Book Review and elsewhere. Quite honestly, I'm tending toward the Goodreads consensus of four stars, leaning to a high three. And the reasons for that are quite specific.

Gleick pulls all the right ingredients together - Charles Babbage, L
I enjoyed reading this book thoroughly. However, I do not think it will satisfy everyone who is considering reading it. I know many of my librarian colleagues and my classmates from the School of Information probably have this on their to-read lists. Many of them are probably more interested in contemporary issues of information management, such as information retrieval, social network analysis and human-computer interaction. This book touches some of those issues, and indeed many others, but th ...more
While nothing in this book is really new, Gleick has managed to pull together a fascinating, comprehensive review of the subject of information. The book does an excellent job unifying a vast subject area. I appreciate the book's emphasis on the contributions of Claude Shannon to the field of information theory. Also, it is eye-opening to be reminded, that an animal's body is simply the vehicle that a gene--i.e., information--uses to self-replicate. And it was fun to learn about earlier methods ...more
The History chapters are the best -- the African drum system, Babbage, and the development of the telegraph were all fascinating. Once you get into the 20th century things become more mathematical and abstruse. I didn't understand all the equations. But what the structure of the book does is really show you how the technologies we have now relate to what happened in the past. Gleick weaves theory and storytelling together well. I would have like a bit more of the sociology and less of the theory ...more
Gary Schroeder
This book could have alternately been titled "A History of the Bit: How the bit made modern communication, computing, logic, an understanding of biology and a whole bunch of other stuff possible." It's James Gleick's extremely ambitious attempt to wrap his arms around the entirety of the expansive concept of "information." To the uninitiated, "information" might seem like a rather straightforward concept, unworthy of a 400+ page book. After all, what is there to say about a concept that we all c ...more
Oy. Heavy book - physically, that is - can't read it in bed. About halfway done. Too much biography, not enough of the (implied promise of) effect of technological developments on culture.

For example, there is a good section about how people adapted to the telegraph - although you can 'send' troops to the front or 'carry' messages, you cannot send a dish of saurkraut to your son. But then a bit later he tells us all about Claude Shannon, a mathemetician at MIT, including several paragraphs abou
If you like the idea of relating information to thermodynamics - more specifically, the second law of entropy, you will whiz through this book in one sitting despite its length. In any transformation, a dissipation occurs. Loss in one form of energy is inevitable; in our futile attempts to avoid this loss, we inadvertently gain energy in other forms. Information can be viewed similarly. As it travels through books, mouths, films, etc it loses something each time. This loss creates room for the u ...more
Mar 11, 2011 Richard marked it as to-read
Shelves: nonfiction, history
(Gushing review at the New York Times: Drumbeat to E-Mail: The Medium and the Message. At SFPL: “52 holds on first copy returned of 1 copy”). ...more
Very interesting and complex history of information theory, from drumbeats and cuneiform to the Internet. Not afraid to venture into the more technical and detailed aspects of history, which I admire.
Jame's Gleick's The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood is kind of all over the place, as you might expect given its nebulous subject matter. The author intends to do pretty much what the subtitle suggests: review the history of information as a concept, dive into the scientific field of information theory, and ponder what recent volume of information flow means for us as a society or even as a species. As such, it's a mix of history, hard science, and even a dash of speculation.

My favorit
John David
Glancing over many of the other lower ratings of this book, I’ve found that most people have already hit upon the major points of why I found it such an unsatisfying reading experience, and there were quite a few of them. To begin with, the actual title and the informational content of the book don’t really seem to jibe. There’s too much biographical information here, and of too many people, for the entire book to cohere in any meaningful way. The connection that one chapter has to the next is t ...more
As a kid I loved to read the books on science by Issac Asimov.

I once had a job (1977) as a night janitor at a telephone switching office - back in the day when there were real live operators on duty for directory assistance, etc.

After finishing up my duties - cleaning ash trays, emptying wastebaskets, I would go to the basement, pull up a chair by the huge array of batteries that (still) provide backup power for the wired telephone system and read Asimov explaining the structure of the atom and
Mindy McAdams
Oct 18, 2014 Mindy McAdams rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: People interested in the Internet, communication, and science discoveries
Shelves: nonfiction
I LOVED this book! Oddly enough, I was already familiar with many of the ideas it covers, and that is why I was in no hurry to read it. I usually feel bored when reading about things I already know, so I thought this book would not keep me interested. Then I saw a few friends had given it 4 and 5 stars, and they also know a lot about information technologies and so on. I asked them about this book, and they persuaded me to give it a try.

I would estimate that as much as half the book covers ideas
I wrote a more complete review on my blog.

As with Chaos, Gleick displays a mastery and a passion for the history of ideas while creating new connections himself. Thinkers great and small come to life, and he has a real knack for surfacing exactly the right quote or life detail in a the life of whatever thought he’s following.

Gleick starts (and ends) with Shannon – that odd man from Bell Labs whose information theory is one of the most important developments of thought in the 20th Century, and wh
Bookmarks Magazine
“A history-changing, paradigm-altering look at the evolution of the human capacity to process data,” according to the Oregonian, Gleick’s latest book makes even the most unexciting material “brim with tension.” The science can be overwhelming at times (quantum teleportation, anyone?), but Gleick provides clear explanations and analogies. For those less scientifically minded, he keeps the narrative moving along with fascinating facts, colorful digressions, and vivid portraits of long-forgotten in ...more
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George Walker
I am a fan of books about communication technologies. This is one I really liked. Here is a quote from the book:

"Every new medium transforms the nature of human thought. In the long run, history is the story of
information becoming aware of itself. Some information technologies were appreciated in their own time,
but others were not. One that was sorely misunderstood was the African talking drum.
♦ And added drily: “In this role, electronic man is no less a nomad than his Paleolithic ancestors.”

Not surprisingly, the subject of James Gleick’s The Information is the field of knowledge known as “Information Theory.” The theory’s origin can be traced to a seminal article written in 1948 by Claude Shannon, an engineer employed at that time by Bell Laboratories. The article, entitled "A Mathematical Theory of Communication," appeared in two parts in the Bell System Technical Journal. Shannon focused on how to optimize the amount of informationa sender wants to transmit. His theory is importa ...more
A good overview of a subject that's both frustratingly vague and undeniably crucial to our age. The closing, which refers to that age of ours, rang a bit odd to me, but no matter. There will be parts that'll bore you, either because they're dry by nature or because you've read about them many times before (at this point I've probably read more summaries of Gödel's incompleteness theorems than love stories), but it's all stuff that a book as broadly premised as this can't avoid.
Ian Tregillis
This was OK. It wasn't what I was looking for, though, and so I found myself invariably dozing off while trying to finish it. (The insomnia didn't help.)

There is good and interesting stuff here, but it's interspersed with far more stuff that was of little to no interest to me. And the pieces of this book that held my interest were subjects about which I'd already read a fair amount. Ah, well. Not the book's fault. I'm just tired and grumpy.
14 cd's as a audiobook. A good book with alot of trendy topics that would be of interest to the Wired and Neil Stephenson crowd. Maxwell's Demon,The entropy of information, codes,Goedel, Turing, Babbage, Ada, how new forms of new information technology: printing, the dictionary, telegraph, telephone, television changed things. I found it clearly written, fun and interesting.

I would like to have given it 4.5 stars.
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James Gleick (born August 1, 1954) is an American author, journalist, and biographer, whose books explore the cultural ramifications of science and technology. Three of these books have been Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award finalists, and they have been translated into more than twenty languages.

Born in New York City, USA, Gleick attended Harvard College, graduating in 1976 with a degree in
More about James Gleick...
Chaos: The Making of a New Science Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman Isaac Newton Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything What Just Happened: A Chronicle from the Information Frontier

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“When information is cheap, attention becomes expensive.” 44 likes
“It is not the amount of knowledge that makes a brain. It is not even the distribution of knowledge. It is the interconnectedness.” 17 likes
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