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VINE VOICEon 17 April 2013
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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on 7 November 2012
I came to this volume with only a vague idea about information and information theory but having been very impressed by Gleick's book on Chaos (Chaos: Making a New Science). This is an engaging work that explores our understanding of information and how it has changed over time. This is primarily done through looking at a number of key thinkers/contributors from the likes of Charles Babbage (1791 - 1871)and Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (1815-1852) to Alan Turing (1912-1954) and Claude Shannon (1916-2001).

This is an interesting overview that brings together both the history and theory of information and shows how we came to be living in the "Information Age". Well worth a read.
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on 26 November 2015
This must have been a labour of love for the author. For the reader it represents a challenge in its completeness. It puts me in mind of my favourite one-liner from the film "Amadeus", "too many notes Mr Mozart." To change the book by reducing its density would be to lose its point and purpose. If you have a concern for our data obsessed society and where it is leading us this is the book for you.
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on 13 December 2014
Enjoyed reading the book but felt it got a bit bogged down in places and didn't progress as quickly as it should. Also petered out somewhat towards the end so didn't feel it was as interesting or detailed a look at information and where next as initially it seemed to promise - early chapters proved more interesting and thought provoking than later ones when I thought it would and should have been the other way around. Still worth a read though all the same...
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on 18 March 2013
This is, at it's core, an excellent book. Chapters 1 to 9 are a party full of old friends from Babbage through to ... eh? What's this?!? DNA, and Oh No! Someone drunk in the corner waffling Just-So stories and old defunct theories? It's The Dawk!! Skip the rest of chapter 10.... 'Memes'? OK, skip that chapter...and here's who we expected to meet at this stage; Chaitin and Kolmogorov having a couple of whiskies. Fine. Gotta be self organising networks next ... surely. No? skip skip skip - oh, here's Duncan, "hi" skip skip skip "any one seen Erdős? couldn't make it? To short a time and I missed him? oh well."

I'm really sorry. Gleick is a really good writer, does a service to the sciences, was fully on form for most the book - but just spent to much space and, no doubt, time, on the wrong stuff in over a third of the book.
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on 5 January 2016
I read this coming off the high of reading "Quantum". It is not as compelling in its style, but it is very fascinating and I will probably read to again. The story behind the story behind computers.
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on 11 March 2014
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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on 15 November 2014
I like the idea of information being the opposite of entropy and this is developed to a certain point but then there is a lot about Wikipedia and DNA and various other things and we don't really get the theory of information stuff brought back in to bring it all together. James Gleick is obviously very intelligent (way more than me so why do I get to review HIM??) and a good communicator but I do think that a conclusion that tied up the loose ends and maybe gave a suggestion of where information is going would have been helpful.
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on 26 April 2016
Good journey through this fascinating topic. From not enough information to being overloaded with it. Not sure that the quantum computation stuff adds much to this, though. Anyway, enjoyed the read.
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on 6 November 2014
Fine introduction to information theory in the broadest sense. To dig a little deeper, try Grammatical Man.
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