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The Information


The Information

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    Available in PDF Format | The Information.pdf | English
    James Gleick(Author)

Winner of the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books 2012.

James Gleick, the author of the bestsellers ‘Chaos’ and ‘Genius’, brings us his crowning work: a revelatory chronicle that shows how information has become the modern era’s defining quality – the blood, the fuel, the vital principle of our world.

We live in the information age. But every era of history has had its own information revolution: the invention of writing, the composition of dictionaries, the creation of the charts that made navigation possible, the discovery of the electronic signal, the cracking of the genetic code.

In ‘The Information’ James Gleick tells the story of how human beings use, transmit and keep what they know. From African talking drums to Wikipedia, from Morse code to the ‘bit’, it is a fascinating account of the modern age’s defining idea and a brilliant exploration of how information has revolutionised our lives.

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Book details

  • PDF | 544 pages
  • James Gleick(Author)
  • Fourth Estate (31 Mar. 2011)
  • English
  • 2
  • Science & Nature

Review Text

  • By Slow Lorris on 26 April 2011

    I'm not sure the reviews so far are terribly helpful if you want a quick feel for whether to read this book or not. So here goes.It's basically a bravura sweep through the history of information, told with great panache and lots of anecdote, mixing straight narrative with reflection on wider significance, and attempting to explain quite difficult concepts for the non-specialised reader. Whatever else it may or may not be, I found it a lively and enjoyable read.The book falls broadly into three sections. The first runs through key early stages in the creation, storage and use of information - the alphabet, printing, the telegraph, telephone, etc. I didn't find much new here but the author did a great job marshalling facts, figures, characters and anecdotes into a lively tale.The heart of the book grapples with information as a scientific concept, and you will find yourself in the realm of computers, information theory, DNA and quantum mechanics (to name but a few). This isn't natural territory for me, but I was swept along by Gleick's style and even felt I understood some of the underlying mathematical concepts he sought to explain.The final section is essentially a thought piece on the modern information age, considering the ubiquity of information from the internet and the perils of information overload. Rather like the first section, I didn't feel there was a great deal new here but Gleick's ability to call up literary references, make parallels across the centuries and ask the pertinent questions made it an engaging read. I'm certainly pleased to have made the acquaintance of Vincent of Beauvais, a thirteenth century monk who seems to have arrived 750 years early for the Information Age.So, a dazzling read certainly, but one also with a great deal of substance. Recommended.

  • By Tim Dumble on 18 February 2013

    If one is forgiven the sin of communicating in memes (see chapter 11) this fine work is best described as a triumph of joined up thinking. The aim to write a history of information and ideas in 500 pages seems initially outrageously optimistic yet by the epilogue one is left dazzled and in awe of Gleick's ability to draw upon such a diverse array of human achievements and pursuits to produce such a cogent and coherent discussion.The author comprehensively charts the progress of ideas and information transmission from the oral through the first alphabets to the written, then via printing which led to The Renaissance and birth of modern science, to mechanical computing envisaged and part realized by Babbage, then through telegraphy, telephony, electronic computing, ultimately to quantum computing, the internet, Wikipedia, Google and Twitter.At the core of Gleick's thesis is the notion of information theory developed by Shannon in the late 1940's and early 1950's and the revolutionary influence it had on academic disciplines as wide as: psychology, computing, genetics and quantum physics. Shannon's viewing of information as being a signal or code transmitted to a sentient listener who subsequently creates information from it is a fundamental tenet of cognitive and neuropsychology which emerged in the 1950's refuting the 'black box' of behaviourist psychologists.Further Shannon's quantifying information in terms of 'bits', paved the way for the use of transistors and resistors to manipulate data in electronic computers. His envisaging of information and it's transmission as a code had a profound influence on Watson and Crick's unravelling of the complexities of DNA and how it codes for amino acids which subsequently create proteins, from which all living things are made. Shannon also introduced the concept of information being associated with probability through notions such as redundancy in language and codes. This made a clear link with quantum mechanics via Heisenberg's uncertainty principle and provided impetus to the nascent discipline of quantum computing.Gleick eloquently tells the human story behind these great advancements portraying: the key players, the controversies and the very real impact upon the everyday lives of people - for instance the shrinking of space and time initially created by telegraphy and today by the internet. The concept of information overload is also amusingly discussed in the 21st Century, as is the squabble over telegraph addresses by large companies and rich individuals in the late 19th century, mirrored in the late 20th by the litigation over the ownership of internet domain names.

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