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74 of 76 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great style but also worthy substance
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...
Published on 26 April 2011 by Slow Lorris

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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
I've been a fan of James Gleick's work ever since his book on Chaos came out. Thus I was looking forward to reading his book on Information. Unfortunately, for the first time I was disappointed. It's difficult to put a finger on a specific reason why I should have only got part way through the book before abandoning it. I'm used to reading larger books than this, so it...
Published 23 months ago by Alan Lenton


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5.0 out of 5 stars A book, 2 Jan 2013
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This review is from: The Information (Hardcover)
it starts, has a middle and an end
Also the price printed inside is 25 - so it looks like I spent a lot more than I did!
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Information, 31 Dec 2012
By 
Micki B (Essex, England) - See all my reviews
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Excellent read, I'm not an academic with any work related interest in the subject matter, just a being who enjoys gentle enlightenment from such distinguished people, arranged and written for me to understand.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Complexity topic made highly accessible, 13 Dec 2012
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I can't recommended this book enough - thoroughly enjoyable read with lots of food for thought. Deservedly award-winning best book popularising science.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Deep, but rewarding, 18 July 2011
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This review is from: The Information (Hardcover)
This latest from James Gleick feels like the results of a lifetime of research, and loving interest. He takes us through a history of passing on information in thought-provoking chapters from alphabets through to things like this message to what could be most of the human race (but won't be, not here!). If you like Gleick, science, communication, or just a damn good meaty read, try this out.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not drowning but waving..., 18 May 2011
By 
Dr. G. SPORTON "groggery1" (Birmingham UK) - See all my reviews
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This curious book breaks down towards the end, when Gleick's arguments about information expansion become slight, devoid of evidence and as incoherent as a google search for 'truth'. This is a shame, as up until then the narrative describing exactly why we were developing technology for the sake of information was genuinely fascinating, and a tale well told. It seems we rarely found what we were looking for, but often something more useful, or perhaps this only seemed so because we found ourselves using it.

Away from the arm-waving threats about the banality of volume, Gleick does the technical background very well, and for once someone does some justice to scientific method presented in a book aimed at a more general audience. The central thesis draws attention to the magnifying power created when two separate spheres of knowledge, language and numbers, can be reconfigured as representations of each other. The resulting turbulence is still being felt, and whilst I note the raving towards the end, it is surely far too soon in our experience of the Internet to know what its implications will be. This is where Gleick really does become difficult to follow: despite citing all those historical accounts of other moments when his critical predecessors also saw the demon in the sheer volume of stuff available, he doesn't seem to position himself in the same place, but as if facing something unprecedented in the guise of the Internet (well, they thought that too, only it was the expansion of print, or the availability of real time information via the telephone). The best bit is exactly that: the rise of the bit as the quantum unit of consciousness, and its apparent capacity to efficiently resolve so much of what we currently know that we have come to assume it can accommodate just about anything (with this assumption currently feeding the mania for 3D printers and rapid prototyping).

The Internet will continue to fascinate us for some time to come, but as it degenerates in prominence and quality, we will treat it with the 'respect' we show some of the other technologies that once beguiled us. Of course, we will eventually neglect it, except as reference point if we go beyond our immediate understanding (probably gained by some more knowledge localising tech), but as Gleick shows, guessing the future of technology turns out to be rather tricky.
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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Just a series of anecdotes on an information theory theme, 20 May 2011
By 
J. Patterson (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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I pressed on with this book to the end primarily in order to entitle me
to pass judgement on it here. It contains no serious analysis whatsoever
and is oblivious to the "philosophy" underlying information, which has become
an enormously important notion in a wide range of fields -- much wider than
this author acknowledges.
Anyone who needs more than a book to pass the time on a journey or assorted
scraps of information enabling them to hold their end up in a dinner-party
conversation about information would be completely wasting their time with this
volume, as I did.
A far superior book on the history and nature of information is Holding on to Reality
by Albert Borgmann. Borgmann is a "proper philosopher" and as such actually has
something to say about what he's presenting and also knows what is important
and what isn't. Strongly recommended.
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11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars awesome!, 1 April 2011
This review is from: The Information (Paperback)
I fell in love with Gleick's 'Chaos' book several years ago so the arrival this new book was extremely exciting, and it lives up to this. 'The Information' is not simply the story of information theory, it's a biography of an idea, beautifully told, and enlightening at every step of the way.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Unnatural selection, 22 Nov 2011
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I was enjoying James Gleick's easy way with sophisticated concepts when I came crashing back to earth and began to suspect a facile over-simplification: his chapter on the "selfish gene" is just wrong. Richard Dawkins was not the originator of the idea, but rather it's populariser: it's like attributing the basics of information theory to Marshall McLuhan rather than to Shannon Conway. The gene-oriented theory of natural selection has a distinguished pedigree, none of it derived from original work by Richard Dawkins. George C. Williams, for instance, was best known for his vigorous critique of group selection, a blind alley in evolutionary theory. The work of Williams in this area, along with W. D. Hamilton, John Maynard Smith and others led to the development of a gene-oriented view of evolution in the 1960s. It is a great pity that Gleick fails to acknowledge the intellectual origins of the "selfish gene". What other gross misrepresentations have I missed, outside the area of my own training and expertise?
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Too much information?, 25 April 2011
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I think the core idea of this book is about the separateness of 'information' and 'meaning'.

Imagine a random string of numbers, infinite in length with no discernible pattern. Is it possible to write a small, compact computer program to predict the next number in the string at any given point? No, the minimum length of a computer program that could accurately print out the string in the correct order is equal in length to the string itself.

However, think about the number Pi. Infinite yet utterly non-random. A very small, finite computer program can compute it to infinite length and accuracy just by continuously dividing the circumference of a circle by its diameter.

Then consider how much 'information' and 'meaning' the two numbers contain. If you think about it, Pi - computable by looping a single mathematical operation - actually contains a small, finite quantity of information - the information contained in the program. It is only a ratio between two numbers and we only need a small amount of code to predict it to infinite accuracy. But in terms of the amount of 'meaning' this information represents, well Pi basically underpins our understanding of the mechanics of the universe = it has an awful lot of 'meaning'. Conversely, the random string is a massive amount of information with little or no value to us = it has no 'meaning'. To me, this is a new and fascinating way of looking at the universe, leading to some very exciting conclusions.

In this absorbing book, James Gleick takes us on a guided history tour of how modern science finally came to understand the importance of 'information', to the point where it is now regarded as a fundamental quantity just like energy. There are fascinating chapters on the work of Alan Turing and Claude Shannon as well as a brilliant exposition on the concept of entropy, clearly linking it to information theory. As entropy increases, so does the amount of information in the universe. Ultimately we are, just like Maxwell's philosophical Demon, fighting a losing battle in trying to structure and sort it.

This is the book I should have read before I tackled Seth Lloyd's "Programming The Universe". Unfortunately, as I now know, this was not to be. Lloyd's book was published first and - because entropy is always on the up and up - nobody, least of all me, can turn back the hands of time!
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5 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Confused waffle ..., 2 Dec 2012
Gleick attempts to pull together a number of strands but fails miserably. The book starts off promisingly enough but Gleick quickly loses the plot, maybe by trying (and failing) to pull together disparate scientific fields only vaguely connected. There are the usual anecdotes, which make parts of the book readable, but much of it is pretentious tedious waffle. At times it is obvious that he is out of his depth in understanding the science he is trying to present. The book peters out without reaching any definitive conclusion.

Read something else instead.
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The Information
The Information by James Gleick (Hardcover - 31 Mar 2011)
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