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The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood

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The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood

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    Available in PDF Format | The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood.pdf | English
    James Gleick(Author) Rob Shapiro(Narrator)

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 utterance vanishes as soon as it is born. From the invention of scripts and alphabets to the long-misunderstood talking drums of Africa, Gleick tells the story of information technologies that changed the very nature of human consciousness. He provides portraits of the key figures contributing to the inexorable development of our modern understanding of information: Charles Babbage, the idiosyncratic inventor of the first great mechanical computer; Ada Byron, the brilliant and doomed daughter of the poet, who became the first true programmer; pivotal figures like Samuel Morse and Alan Turing; and Claude Shannon, the creator of information theory itself.
 
And then the information age arrives. Citizens of this world become experts willy-nilly: aficionados of bits and bytes. And we sometimes feel we are drowning, swept by a deluge of signs and signals, news and images, blogs and tweets. The Information is the story of how we got here and where we are heading.




From the Hardcover edition.

"So ambitious, illuminating and sexily theoretical that it will amount to aspirational reading for many of those who have the mettle to tackle it..."The Information" is to the nature, history and significance of data what the beach is to sand." -"New York Times " "[A] tour de force...This is intellectual history of tremendous verve, insight, and significance. Unfailingly spirited, often poetic, Gleick recharges our astonishment over the complexity and resonance of the digital sphere and ponders our hunger for connectedness...Destined to be a science classic, best-seller Gleick's dynamic history of information will be one of the biggest nonfiction books of the year." -"Booklist," starred review "With his brilliant ability to synthesize mounds of details and to tell rich stories, Gleick leads us on a journey from one form of communication information to another...Gleick's exceptional history of culture concludes that information is indeed the blood, the fuel, and the vital"With his ability to synthesize mounds of details and to tell rich stories, Gleick ably leads us on a journey from one form of communicating information to another." -"Publishers Weekly, "Top 100 Books of 2011 "Magnificent...this elegant, insightful study reminds us that we have always been adrift in an incomprehensible universe." -"Los Angeles Times," Best Books of 2011 "Grand, lucid and awe-inspiring...information is about a lot more than what human beings have to say to each other. It's the very stuff of reality, and never have its mysteries been offered up with more elegance or aplomb." -Salon.com best of 2011 "Ambitious, illuminating and sexily theoretical." -"New York Times " "Gleick does what only the best science writers can do: take a subject of which most of us are only peripherally aware and put it at the center of the universe." -"Time "The Information" isn't just a natural history of a powerful idea; it embodies and transmits that idea, it is a vector for its memes . . . and it is a toolkit for disassembling the world. It is a book that vibrates with excitement." --Cory Doctorow, "Boing Boing" "No author is better equipped for such a wide-ranging tour than Mr. Gleick. Some writers excel at crafting a historical narrative, others at elucidating esoteric theories, still others at humanizing scientists. Mr. Gleick is a master of all these skills." --"The Wall Street Journal" "Extraordinary in its sweep . . . Gleick's story is beautifully told, extensively sourced, and continually surprising." --"The Boston Globe" "Audacious. . . . Like the best college courses: challenging but rewarding." --"USA Today""Challenging and important. . . . This intellectual history is intoxicating--thanks to Gleick's clear mind, magpie-styled research and explanatory verve." --"The Plain Dealer"" ""Gleick's skill as an explicator of counterintuitive concepts makes the chapters on logic . . . brim wit"Magnificent...this elegant, insightful study reminds us that we have always been adrift in an incomprehensible universe." -"Los Angeles Times," Best Books of 2011 "Grand, lucid and awe-inspiring...information is about a lot more than what human beings have to say to each other. It's the very stuff of reality, and never have its mysteries been offered up with more elegance or aplomb." -"Salon," Best of 2011 "With his ability to synthesize mounds of details and to tell rich stories, Gleick ably leads us on a journey from one form of communicating information to another." -"Publishers Weekly, "Top 100 Books of 2011 "Ambitious, illuminating and sexily theoretical." -"New York Times " "Gleick does what only the best science writers can do: take a subject of which most of us are only peripherally aware and put it at the center of the universe." -"Time "The Information" isn't just a natural history of a powerful idea; it embodies and transmits that idea, it is a vector for its memes . . . and it is a toolkit for disassembling the world. It is a book that vibrates with excitement." --Cory Doctorow, "Boing Boing" "No author is better equipped for such a wide-ranging tour than Mr. Gleick. Some writers excel at crafting a historical narrative, others at elucidating esoteric theories, still others at humanizing scientists. Mr. Gleick is a master of all these skills." --"The Wall Street Journal" "Extraordinary in its sweep . . . Gleick's story is beautifully told, extensively sourced, and continually surprising." --"The Boston Globe" "Audacious. . . . Like the best college courses: challenging but rewarding." --"USA Today""Challenging and important. . . . This intellectual history is intoxicating--thanks to Gleick's clear mind, magpie-styled research and explanatory verve." --"The Plain Dealer"" ""Gleick's skill as an explicator of counterintuitive concepts makes the chapters on logic . . . brim withBMagnificent this elegant, insightful study reminds us that we have always been adrift in an incomprehensible universe. "Los Angeles Times," Best Books of 2011Grand, lucid and awe-inspiring information is about a lot more than what human beings have to say to each other. It s the very stuff of reality, and never have its mysteries been offered up with more elegance or aplomb. "Salon," Bestof 2011With his ability to synthesize mounds of details and to tell rich stories, Gleick ably leads us on a journey from one form of communicating information to another. "Publishers Weekly, "Top 100 Books of 2011Ambitious, illuminating and sexily theoretical. "New York Times" Gleick does what only the best science writers can do: take a subject of which most of us are only peripherally aware and put it at the center of the universe. "Time "The Information" isn't just a natural history of a powerful idea; it embodies and transmits that idea, it is a vector for its memes . . . and it is a toolkit for disassembling the world. It is a book that vibrates with excitement." --Cory Doctorow, "Boing Boing"No author is better equipped for such a wide-ranging tour than Mr. Gleick. Some writers excel at crafting a historical narrative, others at elucidating esoteric theories, still others at humanizing scientists. Mr. Gleick is a master of all these skills. "The Wall Street Journal"Extraordinary in its sweep . . . Gleick s story is beautifully told, extensively sourced, and continually surprising. "The Boston Globe"Audacious. . . . Like the best college courses: challenging but rewarding. "USA Today"Challenging and important. . . . This intellectual history is intoxicating thanks to Gleick s clear mind, magpie-styled research and explanatory verve. "The Plain Dealer""" Gleick s skill as an explicator of counterintuitive concepts makes the chapters on logic . . . brim with tension. "The Oregonian""" "The Information" puts our modern information revolution in context, helping us appreciate the many information revolutions that preceded and enable it. The internet certainly has changed things, but Gleick shows that it has changed only what has already changed many times before. . . . His enthusiam is contagious. "New Scientist"Impressively, reassuringly, Gleick s substantial, dense book comes as close as anything of late to satiating [the] twin demand for knowledge and clarity. "The Irish Times"This is a work of rare penetration, a true history of ideas whose witty and determined treatment of its material brings clarity to a complex subject. "The Daily Telegraph" (London)The page-turner you never knew you desperately wanted to read. "The Stranger"To grasp what information truly means to explain why it is shaping up as a unifying principle of science Gleick has to embrace linguistics, logic, telecommunications, codes, computing, mathematics, philosophy, cosmology, quantum theory and genetics. . . . There are few writers who could accomplish this with such panache and authority. Gleick, whose 1987 work "Chaos" helped to kickstart the era of modern popular science, is one. "The Observer" (London)Enlightening. . . . Engagingly assembled. "Nature"Mesmerizing. . . . As a celebration of human ingenuity, "The Information" is a deeply hopeful book. Nicholas Carr, "The Daily Beast"An amazing erudite and yet highly readable account of why and how information plays such a central role in all our lives, Gleick s "The Information "is amongst the most profound books written about technology over the last few years. " TechCrunch TV""" The web Gleick has woven is a rare one, a whole that envelops and exceeds its many parts, which certainly suits his topic. His contribution too easily underrated in a work that synthesizes the ideas of others lies in linking fields of science that aren t connected in a formal sense. By the close of the book you cannot think of information as you might have before. Tim Wu, "Slate"[Gleick] is wrestling with truly profound material, and so will the reader. This is not a book you will race through on a single plane trip. It is a slow, satisfying meal. David Shenk, "Columbia Journalism Review"Gleick connects the dots that connect information to us, and there are many dots. . . . Here in one volume is the great story of the most important element at work in the world, and its story is well told. I had forgotten what a fantastic stylist Gleick is. It s a joy to read him talking about anything. Kevin Kelly, "The Technium"Packed with the rich history of human thought and communication through the ages. "PopMatters"" Magnificent this elegant, insightful study reminds us that we have always been adrift in an incomprehensible universe. Los Angeles Times, Best Books of 2011Grand, lucid and awe-inspiring information is about a lot more than what human beings have to say to each other. It s the very stuff of reality, and never have its mysteries been offered up with more elegance or aplomb. Salon, Bestof 2011With his ability to synthesize mounds of details and to tell rich stories, Gleick ably leads us on a journey from one form of communicating information to another. Publishers Weekly, Top 100 Books of 2011Ambitious, illuminating and sexily theoretical. New York Times Gleick does what only the best science writers can do: take a subject of which most of us are only peripherally aware and put it at the center of the universe. Time "The Information isn't just a natural history of a powerful idea; it embodies and transmits that idea, it is a vector for its memes . . . and it is a toolkit for disassembling the world. It is a book that vibrates with excitement." --Cory Doctorow, Boing BoingNo author is better equipped for such a wide-ranging tour than Mr. Gleick. Some writers excel at crafting a historical narrative, others at elucidating esoteric theories, still others at humanizing scientists. Mr. Gleick is a master of all these skills. The Wall Street JournalExtraordinary in its sweep . . . Gleick s story is beautifully told, extensively sourced, and continually surprising. The Boston GlobeAudacious. . . . Like the best college courses: challenging but rewarding. USA TodayChallenging and important. . . . This intellectual history is intoxicating thanks to Gleick s clear mind, magpie-styled research and explanatory verve. The Plain Dealer Gleick s skill as an explicator of counterintuitive concepts makes the chapters on logic . . . brim with tension. The OregonianThe Information puts our modern information revolution in context, helping us appreciate the many information revolutions that preceded and enable it. The internet certainly has changed things, but Gleick shows that it has changed only what has already changed many times before. . . . His enthusiam is contagious. New ScientistImpressively, reassuringly, Gleick s substantial, dense book comes as close as anything of late to satiating [the] twin demand for knowledge and clarity. The Irish TimesThis is a work of rare penetration, a true history of ideas whose witty and determined treatment of its material brings clarity to a complex subject. The Daily Telegraph (London)The page-turner you never knew you desperately wanted to read. The StrangerTo grasp what information truly means to explain why it is shaping up as a unifying principle of science Gleick has to embrace linguistics, logic, telecommunications, codes, computing, mathematics, philosophy, cosmology, quantum theory and genetics. . . . There are few writers who could accomplish this with such panache and authority. Gleick, whose 1987 work Chaos helped to kickstart the era of modern popular science, is one. The Observer (London)Enlightening. . . . Engagingly assembled. NatureMesmerizing. . . . As a celebration of human ingenuity, The Information is a deeply hopeful book. Nicholas Carr, The Daily BeastAn amazing erudite and yet highly readable account of why and how information plays such a central role in all our lives, Gleick s The Information is amongst the most profound books written about technology over the last few years.TechCrunch TV The web Gleick has woven is a rare one, a whole that envelops and exceeds its many parts, which certainly suits his topic. His contribution too easily underrated in a work that synthesizes the ideas of others lies in linking fields of science that aren t connected in a formal sense. By the close of the book you cannot think of information as you might have before. Tim Wu, Slate[Gleick] is wrestling with truly profound material, and so will the reader. This is not a book you will race through on a single plane trip. It is a slow, satisfying meal. David Shenk, Columbia Journalism ReviewGleick connects the dots that connect information to us, and there are many dots. . . . Here in one volume is the great story of the most important element at work in the world, and its story is well told. I had forgotten what a fantastic stylist Gleick is. It s a joy to read him talking about anything. Kevin Kelly, The TechniumPacked with the rich history of human thought and communication through the ages. PopMatters""Magnificent...this elegant, insightful study reminds us that we have always been adrift in an incomprehensible universe." -Los Angeles Times, Best Books of 2011

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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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