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The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood Paperback – 6 Mar 2012
|Paperback, 6 Mar 2012||
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“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 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
About the Author
JAMES GLEICK is our leading chronicler of science and technology, and the author of Chaos and Genius, both nominated for the National Book Award, and Isaac Newton, which was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize. His books have been translated into thirty languages.
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Gleick begins the arduous task by trying to explain what 'information' actually is. This is a difficult task in itself - for most of human history, the focus has merely been on the ways of recording information and not on the nature of information itself, whether one takes old papyrus scrolls, animal hides, cuneiform tablets, or, later on, the printing press.
He begins by examining language and how it represents information ' how a finite set of symbols can in various combinations seemingly represent an infinite number of messages. From there, he charts the growth of the telegraph, developed for sending such messages over long distances. He mentions how its advent made man feel he had conquered space and time, and draws a parallel with the modern world ' managing to capture the human reaction and response whenever any new paradigms in information handling, and consequently communication, have emerged.
He covers Babbage and Ada Lovelace, with the former's conception of the Analytic Engine that could solve all sorts of problems based on 'mechanical programming'. He discusses Watson and Crick's discovery of the DNA's structure - what genetic information is and how can an organism develop merely on the basis of the combinations of the 4 nucleobases. He discusses Turing and the history of cryptography ' which began with the statistical analysis of various combinations of letters of various lengths (in a given language), followed by an algorithmic approach to find similar patterns in the encoded messages. And finally he moves on to Claude Shannon, undoubtedly the protagonist of the book (just to clear it, the book isn't biographical in nature). Shannon, the father of Information Theory, heralded a new way of looking at information ' divorce it of its meaning. For transmitting purposes, said he, 'meaning' was dispensable.
In effect, all of them were trying to understand what 'information' is; what forms it can take; how it can be processed, understood, analysed, and what sorts of operations are possible on it.
Dictionaries, code books for telegraphic codes, logarithm tables, programs, algorithms, DNA, internet ' all of them, he says, are nothing but attempts at capturing the essence and manipulating the properties of 'information'.
Towards the end he talks about the information explosion that has taken place over the last few decades. This has not only led to a (parallel) rapid advancement in technologies to handle, process, make sense of and apply that information (we live in the IT age, remember?), but it has also affected the way humans perceive information. It has clear psychological effects, which we are not in a position to understand presently.
'Information is not knowledge, and knowledge is not wisdom'.
Even if you thought you knew what 'information' actually is, which an overwhelming majority of us anyway don't, it will still make you look at the idea from a new perspective. The kind of analogies, parallels and connections we are shown are too profound for a reading of one sitting. I recommend not finishing this book in a few days. Let its ideas seep into you, let the enormity of the messages conveyed make a gradual impression on your mind, and let it make you ask new questions ' not just on new topics, but in new realms.
This is the second book I have read on this topic in the last 6-7 months. The other one was Information ' a Very Short Introduction by Luciano Floridi. Undoubtedly that was a more erudite effort at conveying the same concepts, but due to the sheer size of the book ' a book of the 'A Very Short Introduction' series (by Oxford University Press) rarely crosses 150 pages in page size octavo ' the scope of the two works can't be compared. Floridi tackles more of the theoretical and philosophical aspects related to information, whereas Gleick is tackling more of the historical and practical (read technological) narrative.
Pardon if my review has meandered too much. It is mostly a result of having too many thoughts and ideas from the book at the same time - and that is precisely what you'll take back from this book.
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