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75 of 77 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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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars an interesting but partial story, 20 Dec 2012
By 
Rob Kitchin - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Information (Paperback)
The Information is billed as the `story of how human beings use, transmit and keep what they know', discussing a series of information revolutions: `the invention of writing, the composition of dictionaries, the creation of charts that made navigation possible, the discovery of the electronic signal, and the cracking of the genetic code.' At best it only does a fraction of this and from a very particular perspective. The book is principally a treatise on information theory within mathematics and physics and how information is encoded and communicated in a technical and theoretical sense. It is especially concerned with the reduction of information to constituents parts, how this is encoded and transmitted, and the notion that information is the constituent component of life and the universe. This is a view of information shorn of meaning and context. Consequently the reader does not get the full story of information revolutions with respect to the written word, and the visual (art, maps, photography, television, film) and aural (voice, music) is all but absent. Oddly, there is no discussion of broadcast media such as radio and television, though there is a fair amount of discussion dedicated to the telegraph and internet. There is no discussion of discourse or how information is used. The book then is filled with absences. What is included, however, is often fascinating and intriguing, although my feeling is that the level is often not for the average lay reader - it is quite advanced and requires a fair degree of pre-requisite knowledge. In this sense, it's sold as a popular science book, but given its technical nature and length I suspect it has far more sales than readers who manage to get from start to end. Overall, an interesting book but doesn't quite live up to its billing.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Not a casual read but fascinating and rewarding, 6 May 2014
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Not a light read paperback but very informative, many 'didn't know thats' and quite fascinating. This book will also be a useful reference book to keep on the bookshelf for those moments when someone is curious and asks questions such as 'who created the alphabet'.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good read on Information Theory, but rambles a bit., 6 April 2014
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Mr. S. TREW "www.thetrews.com" (Northern Ireland) - See all my reviews
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Some very interesting facts. He does tend to go off on a tangent at times, but this did not spoil my enjoyment of the book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book, 11 Mar 2014
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Chess Quant (Sydney, Australia) - See all my reviews
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Great book, some other reviews here note that it lags a little bit later in the book, but I thought it held up rather well. Certainly though the earlier part is fantastic, but I thought it continued on fairly well to the rest of it.

One of the most enjoyable pop science books I have read in sometime.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Prepare yourself for a new vision of your universe., 11 Aug 2013
By 
bernie "xyzzy" (Arlington, Texas) - See all my reviews
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Many great insights as to "The meaning of life, the universe and everything" begins with a vision or a universal concept that was just under our nose but required someone to tell us what we already knew and bring this to our forethought. Think back to economics classes before the classes economics was just to term for money handling. Now today we see that every Great War every great invention and even the small ones were encouraged and even made available due to economics. Before reading such books as "Homo Evolutis" by Juan Enriquez and Steve Gullans, we knew of evolution and its controversies but never thought that we would see it all around us and realize much of it is our doing. Now there is "The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood" by James Gleick also the author of "Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything." The title of this book is definitely an understatement of what you're about to be presented. Just keep in mind that as much fun as this book is to read it is how you use this" information" that gives the book its worth.

We will see that every little "bit" of the universe and everything in it is "information." Do not over look the prolog for an encompassing hint as what the book is about. No information related subject is glossed over we het extensive history and in-depth views of what information is, how it was all-around ups and where t is going. I will not go into every detail of you would not need to read the book

Be prepared for over 400 footnotes and an extensive bibliography which will take some time to "look the references up."
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, 10 July 2013
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I'll be adding this one again. Really, really interesting and generated a desire to go out and read more books on these subjects.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and well-informed, 17 April 2013
By 
Jeremy Walton (Sidmouth, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Information (Paperback)
Here's a book which examines several aspects of the history of information and communication, beginning with African drums and ending up with Wikipedia. Along the way, the author discusses the work of such pioneers as Charles Babbage (who invented the mechanical computer), Ada Lovelace (who worked with Babbage and is considered the world's first computer programmer), Samuel Morse (inventor of the single-wire telegraph), and Claude Shannon, who - as the original information theorist - is the real hero of the book. Focussing the story on the personalities is a shrewd touch, as it keeps the tale interesting, even for the non-specialist who might otherwise get bogged down in the technical details of things such as entropy measurement, quantum computing, and the propagation of memes.

The other thing that keeps the reader's attention is Gleick's entertaining, assured writing style (already familiar to those of us who've read his excellent biography of Richard Feynman). For example, here is his stimulating comment on a letter from Lovelace to Babbage (p119):

"She was programming the machine. She programmed it in her mind, because the machine did not yet exist. The complexities she encountered for the first time became familiar to programmers of the next century."

His description (p231) of the first attempt by Shannon (or indeed anyone) to construct a scale of information content - ranging from the digit wheel in an adding machine (3 bit), through the human genome (estimated conservatively at 100 Mbit), up to the Library of Congress (100 Tbit) - is similarly arresting; the fact that Shannon did this in 1949, just before his book on information theory appeared, and was the first person to suggest that a genome was an information store, is extraordinary.

I greatly enjoyed this book. The concepts and technologies it discusses are complicated, but Gleick explains them cleverly, and brings out the excitement in the pursuit of an understanding of the way we use, transmit and keep what we know, and the effect it has on our lives.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Hard going but so worth it, 25 Mar 2013
This is a difficult concept to get your head around, but it is perhaps the area of science that will define the next few decades... so worth the time.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Crackin read, 21 Feb 2013
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For someone working in any field of technology or anyone even vaguely interested in how we got to this point of information proliferation, this is just class.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A master class in joined up thinking, 18 Feb 2013
By 
Mr. Timothy W. Dumble (Sunderland, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Information (Paperback)
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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The Information
The Information by James Gleick (Paperback - 1 Mar 2012)
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