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Glut: Mastering Information through the Ages

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  418 ratings  ·  56 reviews
What do primordial bacteria, medieval alchemists, and the World Wide Web have to do with each other? This fascinating exploration of how information systems emerge takes readers on a provocative journey through the history of the information age.

Today's "information explosion" may seem like an acutely modern phenomenon, but we are not the first generation--nor even the fir
Hardcover, 286 pages
Published June 1st 2007 by Joseph Henry Press (first published January 1st 2007)
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Feb 01, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: information addicts
The beginning of this book disappointed me, the author discusses the Mastering of Information starting from single celled organisms evolving genetic coping mechanisms for an increasing amount of information. He uses this starting point to stroll into an epigenetic rationale for human's predisposition for hierarchical solutions to information overload problems. I don't buy it. Alex is definitely not a biologist (I used to be if that amounts to anything) and his intellectual weakness is demonstrat ...more
Sep 23, 2007 rated it really liked it
Intense, but v. readable book about the history of information systems. I was hooked at the intro. The author gives the standard scholarly "lots of people helped me--but all the errors are my own" admission, and then: "And perhaps I can take solace in knowing that even Linnaeus, the father of modern biology, was a devout believer in unicorns."
Oct 27, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people who already know who S.R. Ranganathan is
This book is essential reading for librarians, information architects, and other meta-knowledge geeks, but most others could probably skip it. I liked best the chapters on classification systems and alternative networked-computing models, but any book that namechecks memory palaces and Borges is cool by me throughout.
Gina Scioscia
Sep 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
A wonderful tour of the ways humans have sought to organize and impart knowledge and information. Wright tackles the disciplines of psychology, cultural anthropology and computer science, even illuminating by examples from evolutionary biology, how natural and necessary it is for us to sort, classify and categorize the world around us. He maintains that there is nothing new in the tension between hierarchical systems and social networks, and that this tension can be viewed as complementary rathe ...more
Oct 08, 2017 rated it it was ok
I don’t know what I was thinking when I picked this book off the shelf. Definitely not what I was expecting and certainly not my type of non fiction book, but unique. Some of the information was interesting to my taste, but other times about hierarchies, the industrial libraries, etc, were the parts I dreaded through. Recommended for readers who want to learn about the history of information transmissions.
Oct 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Incredible journey through the history of information technology

I’ve read a lot of books on info technology and knowledge management, and this is one of the absolute best. The further back in time he goes, the more insight and fascination Wright evokes, revealing that our relationship to information is as old as life itself. I can’t recommend this book enough for anyone seeking to understand how humans relate to and manage the information they have always been surrounded with.
Jan 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Alex Wright presents selections from the history of information to show how people throughout recorded (and, for that matter, pre-historic) time dealt with their need to organize and communicate information. Utilizing a simple definition of information, that "Information is the juxtaposition of data to create meaning," (p 10) Wright finds evidence of a need for human organization of information from our very beginnings. I had never thought of the development of symbolic representation itself, in ...more
Theresa Macphail
Apr 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is a well-written text about a subject that is difficult, if not impossible, to tackle in one, short book. As an introduction to the history of information, I think it's wonderful. It's fodder for more reading and thought-provoking. As someone who is beginning to think about "information" from an anthropological sense, I found Wright's overview very helpful.

However, that being said, I can see how someone with more knowledge might be frustrated with the glossing of entire centuries of histo
Mar 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
read this goddamned book all of you
Mark Moon
I could have done entirely without the first few chapters, in which the author says stuff about biology & anthropology that is (variously) vague, misleading, or wrong. I found his subsequent ideas about ancient history rather vague as well, and hard to trust. Things get a little better when he moves on to medieval and modern history; the author is clearly more in his element as one progresses through the book. I learned a few interesting things about library catalogs, and about some of the ideas ...more
Jack Baty
Apr 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: owned
Interesting, but I'm not sure why I needed to know 3/4 of it. My favorite bits were about Ted Nelson and hypertext.

I enjoy nicely designed book covers, although a poorly designed cover doesn't detract from a good book. That said, I really dislike Glut's cover.
Mar 13, 2014 rated it liked it
There are a few books that actually make you think and read them in a very active manner. This book is one such book. There are a lot of gaps in this book but still the subject and some questions it answers are actually quite profound.

Some questions that the book answers are as follows

How did different civilizations who were not connected develop language, folk knowledge and classifications.
Is information really that important a subject?
Where did it all start and how is it going as of now?
Is it
Stephany Wilkes
Mar 27, 2011 rated it did not like it
I don't think I can continue reading this because it frustrates me every few pages. Admittedly, I've only read the preface and part of the first chapter, but I can't believe how casually the author mentions, in that brief book span, that human characteristics like our drive to categorize and classify are "probably" epigenetic. This seems irresponsible and feels like cherry-picking data.

In the span of three dozen pages, the epigenome is never explained but is credited with carrying universal huma
penny shima glanz
Dec 10, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: library-nypl
Glut started off with great promise discussing the history of classification and the rise of the written record, however it is perhaps a bit too ambitious for the 286 pages to fulfill the desires I had for it. I was looking for a balanced walk through the landscape from beads to scroll to scribe to today. I wanted to understand the technologies that lead to scroll and book and classification systems. There are areas where Wright did a detailed review of these, I found the chapter on "Illuminatin ...more
Sassa Mifrass
Mar 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: information architects, information scientists, historians, internet scientists, archivists
Shelves: top-100
A book that utterly surprised me with its relevance to everything I am interested in. Cuts straight to the core of information sharing and how our recording and communicating devices have shaped our development from cave paintings to photo sharing websites.

I expected this book to mostly talk about modern information sharing, but it in fact pays an equal amount of attention to every era of human communication. I don't often get excited talking about history (unless we're talking mythology) and so
Mar 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
Really interesting stuff - if you're an information geek, that is. Although the first couple chapters are pretty obtuse, I love the breadth and scope he tackles, and the way he shows networks and hierarchies intersecting and tangling through time (which is why you need to read the first 2 chapters). Once he gets through the philosophy and settles into history, his writing moves right along. Great food for thought for those of us trying to "un-silo" library data and technologies. His discussion o ...more
Eugene Miya
Mar 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
I heard and saw Alex Wright's LongNow lecture (online) about the glut of data (I would not quite call it information).

The single most important thing/person this book exposes is Paul Otlet: who predated (his death) Bush's Memex (Atlantic article) by over a decade) with ideas which almost perfectly mimic Memex.

I recently, in advising another author, had Otlet mentioned back to me. And that refreshed my memory of this event.

The historic illustrations make this a better than average book about data
Dec 18, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: information historians
Glut started as a very interesting read looking the history or memory and how peoples brains appeared wired for particular hierarchical structures. The continued discussion into classification schemes and the difficulties associated with them was very interesting. For me the 20th century and beyond period was very light on and while it promised to explore what might be possible with new thinking and technology in terms of dealing with information overload it did not deliver. This area of the boo ...more
Devin Bruce
It's certainly an uneven book, at least in my experience: the looks at information technology in the preliterate age and the growth and development of the book and the library were fascinating and easy to navigate, but when the topic became more about networked information and computers I was struggling to get through the jargon. But it's a very well-organized and interesting look at how humans develop technology and technology guides humanity, and for that it earns a decent rating. However: I h ...more
Jan 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
a pretty accessible history of information management. wright discusses the dialectic between hierarchies and networks as the fundamental principle which has given rise to information architectures over the ages: from preliterate societies who embody their knowledge in their physical and social arrangements, to our world wide web.

if a few years ago someone told me that i would enjoy a book chapter on universal decimal classification, i wouldn't have believed it. yet, it would have been true.

i j
May 23, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: information
Terrible, simplified, uninspiring. The author wants to avoid future-technology over enthusiasm, and in stead falls for one-idé-explains-all romanticism and over interprets the explaining power of evolutionary psychology, which is just as naive.

For popular reading on categorization an organization of information from an evolutionary perspective, I suggest going for the mind/conciousnesses literature, something like the Ravenous Brain perhaps. However, Glut is an extremely fast read, ok as a refe
Jun 03, 2008 rated it liked it
I like historical surveys of information theory, consumption, display, transmission...This is one of those. I'm enjoying the depth of the anecdotes from the past - illiterate Irish monks illuminating sacred works, the great library of Alexandria, etc. - but I wish the book had been edited more rigorously. Because I work as an information architect, I appreciate the parallels to the "career" of scribes.
Oct 04, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mlis
This book gives an interesting history not only of libraries and how they came to be as they are today (starting with the libraries of the Hittites), and how many were built to amazing proportions only to be destroyed when their societies fell, but also of language, alphabets, printing and publishing.

Granted, I probably wouldn't have picked it up were it not assigned in one of my classes, but I really did enjoy it.
Nov 17, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: class, read_2010
The beginning is the weakest part of this book. Once you make it pass the first couple of chapters or so, the book does get better. It is a fair introduction of the beginning of information systems. Too much of what Wright says however, comes off too casual (more journalistic than educated or academic). I would recommend this book as an introduction and jumping off point to other more informed sources.
Douglas Summers-Stay
Sep 13, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a history of systems of classification, beginning with magical and folk traditions, going through medieval, Renaissance and early modern systems, and ending with a discussion of the web. It's not the sort of thing a lot of people would find fascinating, but it really fit my interests. One detail I found interesting was the influence of Celtic scribe monks on the history of the way we write-- and why we associate Gothic writing with Germany and with everything old.
Aug 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: library science people, geeks, historians
Anything James Burke says he wishes he wrote is worth checking out in my opinion.

A history of library sciences, but also of how we organize information generally- not just cultural history, but in our basic brain structure, cross-culturally. How information has been found, lost and given lesser or greater significance during the centuries.

May 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
I had to read this for a class and really enjoyed it. It kept getting better and better, and the last chapter really ties it all together. This is basically a history of the world centered around technology and human progress. I learned a lot, and have recently discovered that the information gleaned makes for interesting conversation starters with near strangers.
Sep 07, 2009 rated it liked it
This guide through the history of information systems is very readable. Depending on your field of expertise, you might find that much of the content is introductory. Wright does, however, manage to successfully communicate at least some novel concepts in the synthesis of topics covered within his historical study.
Nov 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing
A must-read for every LIS student and librarian; Wright provides a concise but still thorough overview of information and its organization, pointing to the roots of our current digital-driven era in the the libraries of Alexandria and the Renaissance. These are critical foundations that need to be explored and discussed.

Nov 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This book packed an incredible amount of information into 240 pages--the whole history of how humans have tried to organize information. It was slow going at times, but I might have learned more from it than from any other 240 pages I've read. If you're in to the history of books/information, it's great.
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Alex Wright is a Brooklyn-based writer, researcher, and designer whose most recent book is Cataloging the World: Paul Otlet and the Birth of the Information Age. His first book Glut: Mastering Information Through the Ages, was hailed by the Los Angeles Times as "a penetrating and highly entertaining meditation on our information age and its historical roots."

Alex's writing has appeared in The Atla

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