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Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  1,310 ratings  ·  137 reviews
Why do some nations prosper while others do not? Economists usually turn to measures such as gross domestic product or per capita income to answer this question, but interdisciplinary theorist Cesar Hidalgo argues that we can learn more by measuring a country’s ability to make complex products.

In Why Information Grows, Hidalgo combines the seemingly disparate fields of eco
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published June 2nd 2015 by Basic Books (first published April 21st 2015)
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Brian Clegg
Something that is absolutely essential to understand this book, subtitled 'The evolution of order from atoms to economies', on the fascinating topic of the nature of information in the world, and its relationship with the economy, is that the author is an academic at M.I.T.’s Media Lab.

When I first got involved in IT in the 1970s, we were in awe of the Media Lab and all the ultra-clever, way-out technology concepts that they rolled out, convincing us that we were seeing the future in the visiona
Cesar A.
Apr 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)
Why Information Grows
Chapter Summary by Cesar A. Hidalgo

Why Information Grows (WIG) describes the evolution of physical order in natural, social, and economic systems. By focusing on the evolution of information WIG reduces the evolution of economies to a particular case of the evolution of physical order in the universe.

The book starts by emphasizing that the growth of physical order in the universe is non-obvious because of the second law of thermodynamics. The second law of thermodynamics is
Katia N
Feb 06, 2018 rated it liked it
This book is a bit like a half-baked cake. All ingredients are there to work out a new, improved taste based upon an extended recipe. But it has not quite finished.

The book is about the role of information in the world and it is supposed to take us all the way from the atoms to economies. In particular, the idea was to build up a new theory of economic growth as a result. I would argue, it takes us from atoms to products and social networks required to build those products. But the author either
Nov 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing

This was unlike any economics book I have ever read because it focused on information and entropy to explain not just how matter behaves, but our economics systems as well. Even if in the end this fails to explain the evolution of our economies, it seems like exactly the right lens through which to view the question. Think about our best hypothesis for the evolution of the first living cells. Answering the question, "How did life emerge?" was, and remains, a hard question to answer. Our best gue
Deane Barker
Feb 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is an enormously conceptual book, and is more about economics than information.

The author makes the claim that the functionality and ordering of atoms (?) in physical products is information, and this grows with economies. A computer is only worth more than the plastic and chemicals its made out of because of the order in which it was assembled, and that order is information (or "crystallized imagination"). Thus, we don't export products at all -- we export information.

Information grows in
Santiago Ortiz
This is a wonderful book. The way it introduces information and entropy is refreshing and clear. I don't think I ever read such an intuitive explanation of entropy, (at least a one that goes beyond entropy as disorder).

It also provides an interesting and new perspectives of what economy is, and how to measure it. More than just being an alternative approach it's quite complementary, and specially convenient for the times we live in which we have a lot of data about all the data we have.

Yes it's
Adam Zabell
Aug 03, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: business
tl;dr - The author loves networks. Nodes plus paths equals insight.

Were I to recommend this book, I'd suggest you start with the last 'chapter' -- the acknowledgements. It frames the book as a story and helps breathe some context into a partially discontinuous collection of ideas.

There are good things here, though. It starts with an understanding that information necessarily arises spontaneously in systems out of equilibrium. So while the universe as a whole is gaining entropy, we on Earth and a
Dec 29, 2015 rated it it was ok
The subject is fascinating, but the ideas spelled here are neither new nor interesting. What you'll really learn from this book is that the writer is very clever, extremely knowledgeable and well read; and that he is very fond of himself.
Other than that, read James Gleick's The Information, and check out the work Ricardo Hausman's done with Hidalgo in the Atlas of Economic Complexity and you'll be better off.
In any case, this book will not change your life.
Erika RS
May 02, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In Why Information Grows, Cesar Hidalgo discusses the origin and growth of information.

Why should we even care? The second law of thermodynamics implies that the universe tends toward disorder over time. However, we live in a pocket of not just order but of increasing order. Order exists at the atomic level, and humans have increased order through our societies. How is this not a violation of the the second law of thermodynamics? This is the mystery to explain.

Hidalgo starts with the physical f
Alex Zakharov
Nov 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interesting book and enjoyable read overall - Hidalgo cobbles together physics, biology, information theory, sociology and comes up with a unified view of economic development as an epiphenomena on top of growth of information. Cute, but terribly fuzzy on the edges, as to be expected from any unified theory.

He starts off with a soft dive into information and entropy, and confuses things quite badly. He attempts to reconcile physical (Boltzmann) and informational (Shannon) views of entropy, admit
Elsbeth Kwant
Dec 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely brilliant. A reflection on the eternal struggle between disorder and order, entropy and information. Creating order is not easy, humans have exceptional capabilities in this sense, but are only able to create pockets of order in an increasingly disordered world. The growth of complexity implies the growth of information needs social structures. In which information can be divided and reconstructed. Wealth is not in what you can buy, but in what you can make. Beautiful and thought-prov ...more
Sep 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
It is not an overstatement to say that this is THE book to read if you want to learn anything about an emerging view of why and how countries grow.

A key take-away for me is the importance of assessing development, not in terms of what people can buy, but instead what people can make. This knowledge and know-how, Cesar describes, is embodied in the products that countries exchange with each other. He thus proposes a new way of thinking about international trade as really an exchange of "crystals
Blue Somogyi
Nov 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: scientific
This has been the most influential book on my thinking since I read "chaos" in high school. It has filled in some gaps that were left by my education regarding the origins of life, and proceeds to use those same principles to describe a very credible intellectual framework to understand the complex underpinnings of modern economic and social evolution. The beauty is that this framework is so basic and pervasive that it can be applied both to national economies / international trade as well as in ...more
Jim Fix
Nov 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
I thought this was a great book. People who are well versed in the field may quibble about points, but it taught me a lot and certainly triggered considerable thought. The author connects the concepts of atoms up through the organization of economic and social systems. It was tough reading--I could handle only ten pages a night--but for a starter in these areas of theories, I respect it a lot.
Aug 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
“Life is a consequence of the ability of matter to compute.”
Apr 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing
It’s a science that is still giving its first baby steps, so judge this book for its failures it’s like judging a baby for their mistakes at waking, absurd and stupid.

Economy at last have a science treatment, and a good one. Hundreds of years of bullshit Are coming to an end.

The most important point is the information treatment of economy. Without a doubt is a revolution similar or most important that the copernican revolution. Now we are talking about an economy science, good bye neoliberal and
Gaurav Mathur
Feb 21, 2018 rated it liked it
As some of the other reviews mentioned: There is a great book hidden here.

Has compelling ideas and got me interested in reading more about information theory. But the ideas do not seem very connected, and at times, not very convincing.

Most books could be half their size, this one could be double its size. The ideas deserve it.

I liked the author's story at the end about how hard this was to write and surely other writers can relate. Maybe, maybe if the limits of real world had given him more time
Jul 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Wow. Amazing read. compiling complex notions in a deceptively simple-looking style. In the last few days, when I breezed through the book, I found myself dreaming of things as crystallized imagination. Sometimes the ideas contained may sound lofty, pretentious. When you catch yourself thinking that, stop the book, have a glass of water and read again. It all makes sense.
Alejandro Ccccc
May 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mathy
A thought provoking, beautifully explained book bridging a wide range of topics seamlessly. The clarity in the presentation is remarkable.
Sandeep Nair
Dec 19, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics, physics
A tightly written biography of "information" from its origins in thermodynamics to its application in effectively measuring economic growth.

The book is information dense yet reads like a page-turning thriller.
Guthrie C.
This book presents an inspired and empirically validated theory of economic development rooted in the physics of our universe.

The nutshell of the theory is that the universe has a third substance, information (defined as ordered structure), to join energy and matter. Information under this definition is the opposite of entropy (defined as chaos) and differs from “data” whose definition does not include “order”. Although this type of information emerges spontaneously from out-of-equilibrium phys
Yaru Lin
Jan 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The book begins by explaining the emergence of information in out-of-equilirium physical systems, and the march against entropy as information endures in aperiodic solids in our anthropic environment. It goes on to explore the impressive computational abilities of matter, and artifacts of civilization that represents not just information accumulation but crystalized human imagination. Finally, it applies these concepts to demonstrate that our society and economy are distributed computers accumul ...more
Jun 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
'Why information grows’, is a very refreshing and insightful read. This intriguing piece of work takes you through a journey of evolution of information, from objects and matter to economic growth and progress of nations. This journey crosses through different disciplines, so it is something readers from a variety of backgrounds could relate to.

Cesar Hidalgo, beautifully connects principles of physics, information theory, networks and complexity to understand the emergence of information and dev
Jan 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
The good:
+Cesar did a good job quantifying my own observation that a lot of old writing on information theory has much more to do with communication theory than information.
+Good popular science format, tying a personal narrative to the theory well.
+Economic arguments reminded me a lot of Doug North's work(he does mention NIE but not North's work in particular) and James C. Scott's work, but with a combinatoric programmer friendly way using information theory which I liked. Politically speaking
Allen Ng
Dec 15, 2016 rated it really liked it

I think academics who have dedicated their career exploring and expanding a topic have the soft responsibility to communicate their work to non-experts of their field.

Cesar has done that with this short book, which serves as a gateway to the work on economic complexity and product space (swear it was called product forest when I first read about it in the early 2000s) started by him and Ricardo Hausman of Harvard Kennedy School. Cesar noted in the acknowledgement that he intended for this book

Dominic Wörner
Jul 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
Interesting book.
Although our universe as a whole is developing into states with ever higher entropy and therefore less information, the information around us seems to increase. This is because physical systems far from thermal equilibrium tend to create information rich steady states. This process is fueled by the sun's energy. Furthermore information can be stored in solids and living beings are a good example for this. DNA is a amorphous solid with long range correlations that can encode a lo
Felix Sosa
Nov 10, 2015 rated it liked it
Cesar Hidalgo's redefinition of information as the physical order of things is genuinely refreshing. With this understanding we can model the world through the lens of information theory, which turns out to be powerful. I certainly enjoyed the idea and will likely carry it throughout my life and career as a machine learning researcher.

But, as you can tell by the three stars and short review above, it wasn't all to great; past the redefinition, the book was redundant. Hidalgo was not attempting t
Michael Hendrix
Apr 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book is a must-read for understanding the shape of our world and how its systems grow. To me, the most important section -- and the one that draws most directly on Hidalgo's work -- is toward the end when he discusses the importance of networks. Anecdotally, I've found that networks of people and firms are the key drivers of economic prosperity and, relatedly, the complexity and dynamism of their regional industry. This is, in fact, the heart of Hidalgo's own discovery.

Hidalgo is basically
May 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A perfectly reasonable description of economics in terms of information exchange and entropy. Much clearer than any other definition and description I've found around up to this day. Stylistically the book enters too much into repetitions and occasionally stirs clear from the core concepts to mention dubiously related personal events, but it definitely has a clear exposure and it's quite easy to follow, particularly considering the high level of abstraction involved. The author went way and beyo ...more
Jul 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the most interesting reads of the year.

Amazing book. Top three non fiction books of the year. Clear, crisp and to the point without endless repetition. Only shortcoming I would say was lack of addressing issue of what happens once information is lost how irfan be regained. Something that especially today's first world countries will have to face soon as they offshore more information ... Know how and knowledge.
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IDEAS Book Club: July: Why Information Grows 1 4 Jul 08, 2017 09:10PM  

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