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A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  1,196 ratings  ·  160 reviews
The life and times of one of the foremost intellects of the twentieth century: Claude Shannon—the neglected architect of the Information Age, whose insights stand behind every computer built, email sent, video streamed, and webpage loaded.

Claude Shannon was a groundbreaking polymath, a brilliant tinkerer, and a digital pioneer. He constructed a fleet of customized
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published July 18th 2017 by Simon & Schuster
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Sep 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Now this is how to write a biography! I recently read a biography of Paul Dirac that glossed over his achievements and highlighted his personal relationships. If you know anything about Dirac, you would know how absurd it is to focus on his personal relationships. The author could have at least given his achievements equal billing. In this biography, Soni brought to life all the aspects of Shannon's life-- his inner life is shown through glimpses of what Shannon thought about various things ...more
Jun 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Someone like Claude Shannon presents a real challenge to all biographers. For he was important enough to the world of mathematics, communications, computer science and engineering to deserve a biography but has led a quiet and private life to make the job of documenting his life quite difficult. Luckily in his older age he let his eccentricities loose and provided us with quite a number of amusing anecdotes. Even with this challenge the author managed to write a good biography, but it felt a bit ...more
Brian Clegg
Jul 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
If you are familiar with the history of computing, there are a few names that you'll know well enough biographically to turn them into real people. Babbage and Lovelace, Turing and von Neumann, Gates and Jobs. But there's one of the greats who may conjure up nothing more than a name - Claude Shannon. If Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman get this right, we're going to get to know him a lot better - and get a grip on his information theory, which sounds simple in principle, but can be difficult to get ...more
Peter Mcloughlin
A good biography of an overlooked but seminal figure of physics and mathematics, Claude Shannon. His 1948 work on communication and information laid the foundation for the digital world we all inhabit figures like Shannon, Turing, and Von Neuman made modern computing possible. Shannon was an introvert but also a playful wiseguy in his work but mostly avoided the limelight. His work was general and eclectic basically anything that interested him he would work on. Nice biography of a curious ...more
Todd N
Oct 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I find it more than a little upsetting that my hero Claude Shannon isn’t a household name. To paraphrase Fake Steve Jobs, “I invented the bit. Ever heard of it?”

Just like that 1919 eclipse proved Einstein’s equations were right, our entire modern digital world proves that Shannon’s equations were right.

He also laid the foundation for digital electronics by applying Boolean algebra to circuits with switches and relays in what must be the most widely cited masters thesis ever. I’ll bet it’s still
Blecch. It's a good thing I knew something about Information Theory before reading this book. Because not only didn't authors Soni & Goodman, but they failed to communicate what little they had (especially how the switch to digital transmission could overcome most signal-to-noise issues, by making use of technologies like complex modulation or forward error correction, both invented after Shannon's most productive years).

This bio instead focuses in Shannon-the-mad-genius, slighting the
Jul 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Despite likely being the most brilliant man you've never heard of with the most comprehensive unknown impact on the advancement of technology, Claude Shannon, star of Jimmie Sonni and Rob Goodman's A Mind at Play (Simon and Schuster2017), was by all accounts a normal kid through high school and college. Sure, he could send Morse code with his body (you'll have to read the book to see how that's accomplished) and he had a passion for solving complex math problems most people couldn't even read, ...more
Dave Tutelman
Dec 07, 2017 rated it it was ok
I approached this book eagerly, because I feel a connection with the man and his work. I did graduate study at MIT, and worked under people mentioned in the book. I also worked at IBM and Bell Labs (in the same New York building), and did original work in fields that Shannon had just about invented. So I was primed to read it!

It was a major disappointment. For a book about a man like Shannon, you need to get two things right -- or at least one of them. It has to be a good biography, and it
Michael Burnam-Fink
Feb 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Claude Shannon's theory of information is one of the most important discoveries of the 20th century, up there with general relativity and the structure of DNA for things that reshaped the world. But the man himself was oddly self-effacing, an undoubted genius who cared little for the trappings of academic prestige and power, and who spent the latter part of his life tinkering with odd one-off devices while his disciples invented the practical applications of computing. A Mind at Play is a great ...more
Mar 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Claude Shannon, an honorable mathematician?

A Mind at Play is a very interesting book for many reasons. The subtitle “How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age” is one reason. It is a great biography of a mathematician whose life and production are not that well-known. And what is Information? I invite you to read these 281 pages or if you are too lazy or busy, at least the Shannon page on Wikipedia.

What I prefer to focus on here is the ever going tension between mathematics and
Apr 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Unassuming genius from Midwest invents Information Theory and changes course of History

Engaging biographical account of a humble yet singularly influential scientist who changed the world with his mathematical theory of information which sparked a worldwide revolution of digital communication technologies. Starting with his rural origins, and tracing his evolution as a university student and later working scientist at Bell Labs, we get to become acquainted with anecdotes and writings which
Rick Sam
Nov 30, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, biographies
Claude Shannon lived a life of curiosity. I enjoyed the chapters mentioning about Bell Labs. I would recommend this book to Information theory, CS, Mathematicians or people looking to understand Scientists

Deus Vult
Sep 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Very interesting book about reclusive genius Claude Shannon. I studied Shannon's noise theorems in college and it was delightful to come across this book displaying his multifaceted personality and his childlike wonder of the world.
William Moses Jr.
Claude Shannon may be a name known only to some, but his influence is felt by most. Anytime you use a computer or device that communicates with another device, information flows between them in the form of bits and bytes. Claude Shannon contributed an understanding of how to quantify the information being sent (what exactly is information) and developed some pretty useful insights into how to efficiently transfer information between two devices. Essentially, he is the father of information ...more
Oct 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Excellent biography of a fascinating mathematician and visionary thinker. Ranges from early life through final years and does a decent job of introducing his Mathematical Theory of Communication, the basis of modern information theory. A solid 4 stars. ...more
Jul 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Sorry this is now an audiobook review channel but I do NOT recommend the audiobook version of this book lol. I really regret not buying the hard copy. The narrator is so....not a good fit. His voice made it so hard for me to listen to, and I never felt like he was modulating his tone appropriately so it was idk kinda tough. Like he'll just deadpan through Claude getting a divorce and riding his unicycle through Bell Labs in the same weird old-timey radio baseball announcer voice idk idk I'm ...more
Anirud Thyagharajan
Oct 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Wow! What a journey this has been. Such a beautifully written account with tastefully interspersed explanations.

A multitude of takeaways from this book, ranging from admiration to hero worship; introducing early impeccable trends in research, not caring for laurels and publicity from people, and dedicating a life to doing what you love the best. I probably first encountered Shannon during sampling theory, and later into channel capacity and coding theory, but I really, really wish this book had
Charlie Harrington
Oct 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
What do unicycles, flaming trumpets, and a robotic, labyrinth-solving mouse named Theseus have to do with computers? Everything (if you’re lucky enough to have discovered the utter joy and delightful weirdness of Bell Labs’ favorite prodigal son, Claude Shannon). This fast-paced dive into Shannon’s life and career will have you exploring the mind of one of humanity’s greatest thinkers, puzzlers, tinkerers, and oddball geniuses and hopefully spark your next big weekend project idea.
Subin Sahu
Jun 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
It is only recently that I came to know Claude Shannon. I knew about Shannon entropy, but nothing beyond that. The first time I came to know about the importance of Shannon's work was in the book "The Information" and since then I have been fascinated by Shannon. This book quenched my curiosity about Shannon, how he came to become "The father of Information Science". This biography covers both his personal life and scientific journey; I was more interested in the later. Not just this book tells ...more
Scott Hartley
Jul 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman take us through the life of one of the most important, but overlooked, figures behind today's Information Age. Many have become familiar with the likes of Alan Turing, the computer scientist and mathematician who cracked the ENIGMA code, but few know as much about Claude Shannon, who was his contemporary on America's side of the pond. Shannon drew remarkable connections between logic, mathematics, philosophy and his passion for mechanics and tinkering. He made ...more
Jul 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
Enjoyable and moderately paced biography. Claude Shannon was a generalist thinker, who contributed to information theory, AI, juggling, genetics, and many other side projects during his career at Bell Labs and MIT. I found a lot of interesting insights about the history of computers and digital communication from the book.
Jimmy Page
Oct 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Claude Shannon is a name not known by the people of my generation. As we sit here reviewing our books on Good Reads and interacting with the world via the internet very few realize the reason we can do all of it is because of Shannon. Revolutionary minds like his are few - it makes me wonder who the next person will be to discover a new law in technology that will define this century and the next.
Amar Pai
Nov 28, 2017 rated it liked it
Eh. Felt like the book ended halfway through. Then it’s all juggling and awards ceremonies. I don’t care about Shannon the juggler. Not a great scientific bio.
Jul 08, 2018 added it
It seems this is the only comprehensive biography of Claude Shannon. Pretty decent, though lacks depth of similar figures of his magnitude - probably because Shannon hated attention, so sadly there isn’t voluminous documentation to go from.
Aug 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I prefer non-fiction for audio books. I don't know that I would have stuck with this in print, but it was a fascinating listen, even if I only understood 2/3 of it...
And a native son of Petoskey, MI, to top it off...
Blaine Morrow
This will serve as an introduction to the life of Shannon, though not so much to his thoughts or writing.
Astonishing. The elegance of his ideas --hard to comprehend how earth shattering. And the play, the exploration for its own sake. Very inspiring and humbling and a key piece of how we got to now. Definitely reread after more history of the period. It's usually the quiet guy in the corner who is changing everything, not the oh so flashy attention hog in the middle of our awareness.
Pratyush Rathore
Dec 19, 2017 rated it it was ok
The book feels stretched a lot of times and at the end of the book, I still don't know Shannon, except that he had an aversion to publicity, was humble and wanted to play around.

In the author's defense, there probably isn't enough material in Shannon's life to justify a full scale book considering that a large portion of his life is still classified. They did try hard to do justice and unfortunately, one can see their effort in the book.

Not a bad read, but Isaacson's Einstein is a much much
Roberto Rigolin F Lopes
Shannon played hard juggling ideas with rigorous mathematics. He approached the games with ingenious intuition and fierce courage building up very simple models which were incrementally developed further. Of course he also did pathbreaking synthesis connecting boolean logic to electronic circuits. As a result, now you can read review of books using computers and digital links. It is always delightful see genius at play and Shannon did it to the hilt.
Daniel Olshansky
Dec 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
Reading this book portrayed Claud Shannon as a lifelong learner, thinker, tinkerer and builder. He is not necessarily the most innovate Engineer of the 20th century, but is one of the most underrated ones. With work ranging across many different fields including information technology, genetics, electrical engineering, boolean algebra, cryptography, juggling, and more, he is the epitome of a modern polymath. Though he received a lot of fame and recognition in the academic world, he is little ...more
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“In these days, when there is a tendency to specialize so closely, it is well for us to be reminded that the possibilities of being at once broad and deep did not pass with Leonardo da Vinci or even Benjamin Franklin.” 3 likes
“There were two kinds of researchers at Bell Labs: those who are being paid for what they used to do, and those who are being paid for what they were going to do. Nobody was paid for what they were doing now.” 1 likes
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