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The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood

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3.99  ·  Rating details ·  13,043 ratings  ·  1,291 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
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Hardcover, 527 pages
Published March 1st 2011 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group (first published 2011)
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3.99  · 
Rating details
 ·  13,043 ratings  ·  1,291 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
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Laura Jean
Oct 07, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2012, kindle, non-fiction
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
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Yothgoboufnir
May 24, 2011 rated it liked it
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
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Trevor
Apr 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, maths, history
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
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Mara
Sep 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 motiva
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David Wiley
May 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Mar 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
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.
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Jimmy
Jun 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
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David
Feb 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Hadrian
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.
Radiantflux
20th book for 2018.

In my doctorate I read and enjoyed many of the original 1950s papers applying information theory to psychology. I read Gleick's Chaos: Making a New Science many years ago and loved it, so his history of information was a natural second book for me to read.

Although his writing style is good, the book was quite disappointing. The book simply covers too many different topics with little to connect them (African drums; the telegraph; encyclopedias and dictionaries; codes; Babbage
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Gayle
May 31, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
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
Jan 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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Katie
Dec 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A wonderful and eclectic book that gave me a new perspective. I'm not sure how this book reads for those already versed in information theory - I think it's largely designed for those who are not - but it's a great introduction to the subject.

Gleick is especially got at illustrating how wide-ranging this subject is, and how innovations from people like Claude Shannon or Alan Turing rippled out into fields as diverse as linguistics, genetics, and psychology. It's rare that an introductory book c
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Melissa
May 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own, favorites
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 ...more
Carlex
Feb 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Since my student times (in times of the Austro-Hungarian empire, more or less) I was fascinated by the information theory and now I wanted to know more about it. This book meets all my expectations, so ... five stars!
Clif
Sep 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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Joshua
Mar 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Betsy
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Wm
Apr 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Bruce
Mar 17, 2011 rated it it was ok
A sprawling mess. Ranging over a variety of subjects, even if they are only loosely related, is fine if done properly; making a stew of arcane details and an avalanche of quotations is not. Any one interested in the individual subjects mentioned in this book (e.g. cryptography, quantum computing, communications theory) would be better served to find books particular to these areas. There was just barely enough interesting material in the book to merit 2 stars.
Gary Schroeder
Aug 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Keri Solaris
Actual Rating: 3.5 Stars

RTC
Ian Scuffling
The glut, the flood, the deluge, the overwhelming wash of information that has been a characteristic of 21st century life has only gotten worse in a world with a president who tweets from the shitter and corporatized media that has to play to the baser parts of our psychology to maintain ratings to make money. It's also been a characteristic of life since the advent of written language. And probably before that, but we can never know.

I've been interested in information theory as it pertains to g
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Charlene
I love the history of science and no one gives a better history than Gleick. If you loved Chaos, you will love this. I have read several books on information theory and have really enjoyed them. But, Gleick really knows how to convey almost every concept to his reader in the simplest, yet surprisingly complete, way. I have been annoyed with Richard Dawkins for many years now. I used to love him, but once epigenetics came on the scene and he threw fit after fit, not to mention the fit he threw ab ...more
Cara
Oct 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
James Gleick really excels at drawing meaning from science - that's what makes him a great science writer, because as for actually explaining the science, he doesn't do anything special. The best parts of this book, therefore, are the beginning and the end. The middle drags somewhat, particularly the parts about mathematicians arguing over the meaning of Godel's incompleteness theorems, but I forgive him for that.
Jim
Mar 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
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.
Neven
Sep 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.
Richard
Mar 11, 2011 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”).
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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
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“When information is cheap, attention becomes expensive.” 96 likes
“It is not the amount of knowledge that makes a brain. It is not even the distribution of knowledge. It is the interconnectedness.” 48 likes
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