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Information: The New Language of Science Hardcover – 9 Oct 2003

4.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Orion (9 Oct. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0297607251
  • ISBN-13: 978-0297607250
  • Product Dimensions: 14.9 x 2.8 x 22.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 579,215 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


In INFORMATION, physicist Hans Christian von Baeyer sets out to explain why this is regarded as one of the most fundamental and philosophical questions in science: information is the irreducible seed from which every particle, every force and even the fabric of space-time grows. This is deep stuff, but von Baeyer romps through a huge range of will never think of information the same way again. (NEW SCIENTIST (November issue))

I was fascinated to learn how topics such as randomness, entropy and logarithms were interwoven. By the end I had a hugely explaned idea of information, the strange compressible stuff that comes out of tangible objects - a DNA molecule, a piano - and then ultimately lodges itself in the brain and into consciousness. (Jerome Burne FINANCIAL TIMES (8.11.03))

...fascinating...Von Baeyer is incapable of penning an ugly sentence. (Graham Farmelo GUARDIAN (15.11.03))

If you're looking for a simplified introduction to some of the most unusual ideas in physics at the moment, this...[is] a good place to start. (Richard Wentik FOCUS (January '04))

The book's most appealing feature is its focus on big questions...There is a nice balance between accepted science and speculative ideas...von Baeyer has provided an accessible and engaging overview of the emerging role of information as a fundamental building block in science. (Michael A. Nielson NATURE (January 2004))

Each chapter is a well-structured and elegantly written essay that circumnavigates its topic with poetic quotation, literary allusion, biographuical anecdote, personal reminiscence, mathematical paradox and metaphysical musing, all expressed in a clear and vivid prose style. (Tony Hoare TIMES HIGHER EDUCATION SUPPLEMENT (2.1.04))

Book Description

The gripping primer to the emerging field of information theory.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
An interesting and well written book, It takes the reader chronologically through the history of the concept of information.
The pace is quite quick and Hans Christian von Baeyer skillfully puts the necessary scientific insights and backgrounds into theories without making it a heavy tome. For each classical figure in scientific history who has given us a step change, we also get a brief overview of their character and how their efforts have formalised 'information' as we see it today.
We also get the contrasts of simply measuring the bits (even q-bits) of information through to determining what we know from expressing things as huge unknowns, there is also a good section on quality of information and noise.
Later in the book we get the 'economy' of information where we try to express the most in most efficient way.
An example is the mention of Samual Morse as an inovator in the telegraphic age for the efficiency of his code (together with a background regarding his enthusiasm for expressing and informing...) Then having moved forward into our present information age of high speed processing and communications, the final chapters of the book move into the realms of quantum theory and how we may move forward again in our processing and manipulation of information in the next few decades.
A good book based on a good scientific background, but expressed in a relaxed and informal style where you feel the personal input of each person in history who has moved us forward in our insight...
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is one of the best books I have read on information theory. Being aspecialist on information theory and coding, I can confidently recommendthis book to anyone who is interested in a bit more that just thetheoretical aspects of information. The clarity and the relevance of theexamples given by the author definitely make the book very readable (evenfor people who are not fascinated by books). I believe this book is a mustread for people who wish to find out about the true power of informationand what it actually means despite its very abstract nature.
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Format: Paperback
This book strikes me as a tour de force. If it were written in a scientific style, it would probably constitute a serious contribution to knowledge. But in its accessible form, it is a gift to the layman. It is abounding with profound insights into the nature of information. Marvellous.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program) 3.0 out of 5 stars 1 review
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good but not great 12 Oct. 2007
By Chris Crawford - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a good book but not a great book. The author does a decent job of laying out all the basic concepts of modern thinking about information: classical concepts of entropy, the Second Law of Thermodynamics, Claude Shannon's revolutionary reformulation of the problem, and modern concepts of qubits. The writing is brightened by some brilliant metaphors and sparkling descriptions. However, it fell short of my expectations in several areas.

It made no mention of Maxwell's Demon, a paradox created by James Clark Maxwell around 1870. This thought experiment presented a means by which the Second Law of Thermodynamics could be subverted -- meaning that the Second Law isn't really a law! Now, everybody knew that this couldn't be, yet nobody could come up with a way to kill Maxwell's Demon until 1951, when he was finally done in with a quantum mechanical explanation based on the necessity of the Demon using information to perpetrate his crime against the Second Law. This was a crucial point in the development of our concepts of information -- it demonstrated that the Second Law is fundamentally a "conservation of information" law. Yet this book breathes nary a word of this profound development.

Another striking omission was the Uncertainty Principle, the realization that triggered the quantum mechanics revolution and provides the fundamental basis for recognizing information as a finite quantity. This major milestone in the development of concepts of information merits only a passing mention in this book.

Another gaping hole was the treatment of biology. There is a perfunctory discussion of genetic information content, but completely missing was any discussion of the biosphere capturing the negentropy (information) from the sun.

Lastly, I felt that the explanation of the relationship of entropy to information -- through such concepts as orderliness -- was weak. The author addresses this concept, but instead relies on looser terms such as "form", so the point isn't driven home as clearly as it could have been.

Then there are the digressions. The pages devoted to Democritus' atomic hypothesis are, I think, wasted; all readers know about atoms and the material doesn't affect any subsequent discussions. Similarly, the discussions of special relativity and general relativity, while intrinsically interesting, are not germane to the subject at hand and only serve to confuse the reader. And I think that the discussion of Bayes Theorem does nothing to advance the reader's understanding.

I think the book is best in its overall presentation of the paradoxes that quantum mechanics created regarding information. The discussion of Schroedinger's Cat (a classic paradox about information and reality) is good, and the detailed treatment of quantum interference is definitely the strongest point of the book. It's also a good point to emphasize, because it feeds into subsequent discussions.

Sadly, the discussion of the qubit doesn't illuminate the nature of this truly mysterious concept. I concede that this is a difficult concept to explain without the use of mathematics, but I think that a better job could have been done if the subject had been explained more slowly and thoroughly.

In the author's defense, I note that tackling all this without a single equation is quite a feat. He does refer to logarithms, but otherwise he keeps the math out of the picture, most likely at the insistence of his editors. Explaining information concepts without mathematics is like playing a sport with one hand tied behind your back -- it's theoretically possible but impossible to do well.

So, would I recommend this book? As always, it depends upon the audience. I would NOT recommend this book to anybody who is already familiar with the basics: Second Thermo, Uncertainty Principle, Shannon, and so forth. Its explanations of the modern concepts (black holes and information, qubits, information as a physical quantity) is inadequate to the needs of a prepared reader.

I would, however, recommend this book to the beginner who knows nothing about information theory. If you've heard about this stuff and are curious about the foundations, this is one of the better books to start with. However, if you want to understand the concept of the qubit or how it might be used to build computers, this book won't help.
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