Michael Burnam-Fink's Reviews > The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood

The Information by James Gleick
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's review
Dec 24, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: 2011, history

Gleick manages something incredibly, a deeply scholarly work that is also highly accessible. Today, information is like air, or water to a fish, so omnipresent we do not even see it. But Gleick traces the origins of this strange concept back through the technologies of the difference engine, telegraphy, writing, and speech; and the theories of mathematican Claude Shannon and a host of allied thinkers. Information has infected biology, physics, psychology, mathematics, and almost every other science, placing limits on what can be known.

The history of technology and science is well-done, but Gleick doesn't quite live up to his potential in examining the social and political consequences of information. Words and their flow have shaped the course of history. What does it mean now when every object is linked to a stream of information? Has information theory truly overtaken and unified science? (CERN and the Human Genome Project, both epicenters of 'Big Data' might argue so). Has the immense agglomeration of facts, and the news ways in which they are created, made us better, worse, or just different? In the face of these big questions, Gleick retreats to platitudes, but that doesn't detract from the scope and power of the rest of the work.

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