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Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think [Paperback]

Viktor Mayer-Schonberger , Kenneth Cukier
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
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Book Description

10 Oct 2013

A New York Times bestseller. Longlisted for the Financial Times/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award.

Since Aristotle, we have fought to understand the causes behind everything. But this ideology is fading. In the age of big data, we can crunch an incomprehensible amount of information, providing us with invaluable insights about the what rather than the why.

We're just starting to reap the benefits: tracking vital signs to foresee deadly infections, predicting building fires, anticipating the best moment to buy a plane ticket, seeing inflation in real time and monitoring social media in order to identify trends. But there is a dark side to big data. Will it be machines, rather than people, that make the decisions? How do you regulate an algorithm? What will happen to privacy? Will individuals be punished for acts they have yet to commit?

In this groundbreaking and fascinating book, two of the world's most-respected data experts reveal the reality of a big data world and outline clear and actionable steps that will equip the reader with the tools needed for this next phase of human evolution.

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Product details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: John Murray (10 Oct 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848547927
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848547926
  • Product Dimensions: 19.2 x 12.8 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 7,044 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'Just as water is wet in a way that individual water molecules aren't, big data can reveal information in a way that individual bits of data can't. Mayer-Schonberger and Cukier show us the surprising ways that enormous, complex and messy collections of data can be used to predict everything from shopping patterns to flu outbreaks' (Clay Shirky, author of Cognitive Surplus and Here Comes Everybody)

'Every decade, there are a handful of books that change the way you look at everything. This is one of those books. Society has begun to reckon the change that big data will bring. This book is an incredibly important start' (Lawrence Lessig, Roy L. Furman Professor of Law, Harvard Law School, and author of Remix and Free Culture)

'An optimistic and practical look at the big data revolution - just the thing to get your head around the big changes already underway and the bigger changes to come' (Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing)

'In Big Data, Mayer-Schonberger and Cukier break new ground in identifying how today's avalanche of information fundamentally shifts our basic understanding of the world. Argued boldly and written beautifully, the book clearly shows how companies can unlock value, how policymakers need to be on guard, and how everyone's cognitive models need to change' (Joi Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab)

'This brilliant book cuts through the mystery and the hype surrounding big data. A must-read for anyone in business, information technology, public policy, intelligence, and medicine. And anyone else who is just plain curious about the future' (John Seely Brown, former Chief Scientist, Xerox Corp. and head of Xerox Palo Alto Research Centre)

'The book teems with great insights on the new ways of harnessing information, and offers a convincing vision of the future. It is essential reading for anyone who uses - or is affected by - big data' (Jeff Jonas, IBM Fellow & Chief Scientist, IBM Entity Analytics)

'Big Data is a must-read for anyone who wants to stay ahead of one of the key trends defining the future of business' (Marc Benioff, Chairman and CEO,

An excellent primer (Financial Times)

Fascinating (Observer)

Raises profound questions (Evening Standard)

An elegant and readable primer (New Scientist)

Viktor Mayer-Schonberger is at Oxford, Kenneth Cukier is at The Economist and together they make a great team. They haven't just identified a new trend. They also understand double-edged swords. Much of their book goes into how, possibly to regulate Big Data, when most of our legal system, so far, has no awareness of the significance of the 'excess' data we slough off in such vast quantities (Literary Review)

Informative . . . Mayer-Schonberger and Cukier make interesting observations about data-crunching techniques (Guardian)

Book Description

We are witnessing the beginnings of a revolution. Big data - the explosion of information that digitization has sparked - is changing our world in ways we are just starting to appreciate

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gives a first look at an important subject 11 April 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In "Big Data", Mayer-Schönberger and Cukier discusses the shift in our society towards the ability to generate, store and analyze considerably larger amounts of data than before. There has been a trend towards more data for decades (even centuries, I suppose), but recent technological advances has given rise to a visible qualitative shift in the way which we manipulate data. Statistics used to focus more on getting the most out of few data, whereas in recent decades, there has been rising interest in trying to get information out of large, unruly sets of data (often labeled "machine learning" or "data mining"). The information extracted in such cases are often more vague, but as the authors argue, can nonetheless, based on sheer size and available computing power, lead to essential insights.

Most of Mayer-Schönberger and Cukiers book consists of discussions of examples where an innovative use of a large, unwieldy data set yields large insights or value added. The examples are diverse, ranging from air-ticket price prediction to constructing ocean navigation maps or predicting exploding sewer lids. They make it quite obvious that the usefulness of big data is not a hypothetical future possibility, the data are with us now, are already a part of our society, and will only increase in importance in the future. These facts make the book relevant: Big data is a rising trend, and the more people become conscious of this, the more we'll be able to harness its potential.

The book is not flawless, however. There were two main points which I found problematic:

1. The authors divide their discussions into basically seven chapters on the benefits of big data, two on the dangers of big data, and finally a summing up.
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
By Robert Morris TOP 500 REVIEWER
According to Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier, "There is no rigorous definition of big data. Initially the idea was that the volume of information had grown so large that the quantity being examined no longer fit into the memory that computers use for processing, so engineers needed to revamp the tools they used for analyzing it all...One way to think about the issue today -- and the way we do in the book -- is this: big data refers to things one can do at a large scale that cannot be done at a smaller one, to extract new insights or create new forms of value, in ways that change markets, organizations, the relationship between citizens and governments, and more." Much more.

Mayer-Schönberger and Cukier identify and examine several "shifts" in the way information is analyzed that transform how we understand and organize society. Understanding these shifts helps us to understand the nature and extent of big data's possibilities as well as its limitations. For example, more data can be processed and evaluated. Also, Looking at vastly more data reduces our preoccupation with exactitude. Moreover, "these two shifts lead to a third change, which we explain in Chapter Four: a move away from the age-old search for causality." They devote a separate chapter to each of these shifts, then shift their and their reader's attention to a term, indeed a process that helps frame the changes: datafication, a concept they discuss in Chapter Five.

Then in Chapters Six and Seven, they explain how big data changes the nature of business, markets, and society as what they characterize as a multi-dimensional "treasure hunt" continues to extract insights from data and unleash dormant value by a shift from causation to correlation.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eye-Opening! 7 Jun 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I had heard about "Big Data" from a friend who attended the Hay Literary Festival. I am not normally reading business books but I was intrigued and read it. I was not disappointed at all. "Big Data" is not a typical business book (although the authors do talk about the business implications quite a bit); rather I felt it is more a science book - explaining a very different approach to understanding the world we live it. I found it absolutely fascinating - and when I told a friend about it, he said he had read a review of it in the "New Scientist" recently, so I think I wasn't wrong at all. Highly recommended - full of original ideas and the stories are great.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This is a well written book (one of the authors works for the Economist magazine, which prob explains it) and I find the topic interesting. This is a good introduction in that respect.

The problem is that the content becomes very repetitious very quickly. Apart from the fascinating examples given, the rest of the 'real' content could have been written in a couple of paragraphs. Instead it's padded out to eight or so chapters. It became a little tedious reading the same thing over and over again (forget about causality, big data is better than small data, data may have secondary uses aside from the primary purpose for which it was collected, etc)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great entry point for a huge topic 10 Dec 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I agree with other reviewers that the topic is superficially treated, and certainly for anyone that works in the field or has academic interest in Big Data the book will fall short. However for the uninitiated like me this is a great conceptual introduction to the subject and if read right after Who owns the Future by Jared Lanier the two books come together to form a very interesting and thought provoking package dealing with the future, the role which large companies such as Google, Facebook and Amazon play and how these companies have profited from data freely given, or otherwise by the public. It is certainly worth reading both in tandem.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars great for beginners
As someone who's just getting started on all this big data "stuff", I found the book to be both insightful and informative, helping me have a 30,000 foot understanding and... Read more
Published 21 days ago by Francisco
4.0 out of 5 stars Eloquent and thought provoking
An excellent, easy to read and thought provoking book, laying out the pros and cons of the currently topical buzz phrase, Big Data. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Mike Hickling
4.0 out of 5 stars Thanks for the reviews...
Somewhat ironically I suppose, reading all of your reviews and the short excerpt provided from the book has pretty much saved me having to read the tome itself. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Mike C
2.0 out of 5 stars Read the synopsis and you have it
Initially interesting but repetitive, anecdotal and shallow. Pulp journalism about a phenomenon that warrants more intelligent debate. Not worth it.
Published 3 months ago by Tim Swanwick
5.0 out of 5 stars Very thought provoking
Unlike most of the stuff written about big Data this provides a wider perspective about the implications for decision-making, that is both psychological and philosophical - but... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Genesis Consulting
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating future
I've been aware of the rise of big data and some of its implications, but this book helped to spell them out in an engaging and quite fascinating manner. Read more
Published 3 months ago by K M Martin
4.0 out of 5 stars Good introduction but needs to go deeper
There are too few examples of big data in action. When you read through this book you wonder how many more times the author will cite google flu prediction system. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Master DN Itzhak
5.0 out of 5 stars Good concepts
This is a good book on big data concepts and definitions, nothing technical. I would recommend it for the one who wants to find out more about what big data is.
Published 4 months ago by Kubilay Tsil Kara
2.0 out of 5 stars Long on big statements, short on content
Headline says it all. Interesting topic. Poorly written book.

This book could be trimmed to half the length for a more successful read.
Published 5 months ago by Lord Wilburforce
5.0 out of 5 stars very good overview to the topic
A very good overview to the topic with a quite good references from practice point of view. Interesting examples. Requirements for a big data mindset.
Published 5 months ago by Amazon Customer
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