Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood” as Want to Read:
The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  15,365 ratings  ·  1,516 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
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Information, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Information

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.02  · 
Rating details
 ·  15,365 ratings  ·  1,516 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood
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
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
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
Jan 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood is a book written in 2011 by James Gleick

What the telegraph accomplished in years the telephone has done in months. One year it was a scientific toy, without infinite possibilities of practical use; the next it was the basis of a system of communication....

This is a fascinating science book written in a historical narrative format about the topic “information”. Today information theory is a practical and vital study spread across three disciplines: m
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 sufficie
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.
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
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
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
David Rubenstein
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
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
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
May 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites, own
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
Mar 17, 2011 rated it it was ok
A sprawling hodge-podge. 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.
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!
Brian Clegg
Mar 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A new book by James Gleick is a much-anticipated thing. Admittedly he hasn't always lived up to the promise of his excellent Chaos, but most of his books have been top notch.

In The Information, Gleick gives us a full bore account of the defining feature of our age. We explore the nature of information, how it has been communicated from the written word and jungle drums through to the internet, and, perhaps most fascinating of all, Gleick takes us through the social historical impact of a burgeon
Sep 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
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
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
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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.
Jan 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing

Everyone with a curious mind will enjoy learning about the story of how we as a Western society built up to and then entered the Information Age.

Beautifully written, rich and deep, inspires you to read 500 more books on the topic. Just wonderful.
Jack Dalrymple
Apr 09, 2021 rated it really liked it
One of the most all encompassing books I have read. From Maxwell’s demon, quantum physics, Plato and Socrates, information theory, Turing’s universal computer, Richard Dawkins and memes, it provides a complete history of ideas and communication. Really dense but learnt a lot!
Nov 23, 2019 added it
Shelves: uni, 2019-read
Read for my thesis on H(A)PPY. ...more
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

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
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
Barnaby Thieme
Apr 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
I'm sort of hovering between three and four stars here. The topic of information and information theory is certainly fascinating and deserves to be covered in many books. Gleick is a wonderful storyteller who brings together different threads of the story in a competent and compelling narrative, weaving his way forward from discipline to discipline to keep the story engaging.

Dealing with the concept of information and its role in human culture and science, he addresses the expected subjects inc
Joe Callingham
Jan 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
After finishing my university degree in physics, I usually steer clear of popular science texts I feel will cover too much ground I already know. However, after reading "The Information", rather than rehashing knowledge I already had, I discovered my science education was deficient. James Gleick has put together a piece of text that is entertaining and informative. Using the difference machine of Charles Babbage, the abstract mathematical proofs of Kurt Godel, and the information revolution hera ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Science and Inquiry: May 2011 - The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood 85 132 Aug 14, 2011 05:37AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age
  • The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires
  • Complexity: A Guided Tour
  • Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe
  • Gödel's Proof
  • Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order
  • The Ascent of Information: Books, Bits, Genes, Machines, and Life's Unending Algorithm
  • Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos
  • Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies
  • The Mathematical Theory of Communication
  • Infinite Powers: How Calculus Reveals the Secrets of the Universe
  • The Book of Why: The New Science of Cause and Effect
  • Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid
  • The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives
  • The Gene: An Intimate History
  • The Joy of x: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity
  • The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World
  • Artificial Intelligence: A Guide for Thinking Humans
See similar books…
See top shelves…
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

Related Articles

If you follow the world of food, chances are you’ve heard of David Chang. The founder of the Momofuku restaurant group, Chang is a chef, TV...
58 likes · 5 comments
“When information is cheap, attention becomes expensive.” 115 likes
“It is not the amount of knowledge that makes a brain. It is not even the distribution of knowledge. It is the interconnectedness.” 58 likes
More quotes…