James Gleick's tour-de-force: The Information, a natural history of information theory


11 Responses to “James Gleick's tour-de-force: The Information, a natural history of information theory”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I’m thrilled that this is available. I heard it was in the works, but didn’t know it was out yet. Shannon is a giant! Is Jaynes in there?

    Does anyone know if this would work as an ebook? I’m traveling soon, and was recently given a Kindle. It would be nice to save the weight. Non-fiction books often don’t work well as ebooks, because pictures and equations don’t translate well. “Chaos,” for example, had pretty color pictures in the middle, but I would rather lose those than the diagrams and equations in the text. That would be really hard to follow.


  2. Espen says:

    I bought the Kindle version of this one two weeks ago (the beauty of e-books, you can buy it the day after it is out anywhere in teh world) and inhaled it flying from Frankfurt to Shanghai. I loved the Babbage and Shannon parts, but found the last two-three chapters rather unsatisfying – Gleick runs out of steam, and fails to provide a vision for the future built on the discoveries of the past.

    That being said, the biography parts are fantastic – especially the way he shows how ideas flowed – and how many of these people knew each other and learned from each other. For one thing, this is the first book I have read that explains what Babbage was trying to do – and what Shannon understood.

    Highly recommended.

    • Anonymous says:

      I completely agree. I just finished The Information on Wednesday night. I think Gleick got to quantum information (Chapter 13) and lost his momentum. I loved the discussions of complexity and randomness though. Gleick’s predilection for the hard sciences steered him astray here, I was hoping he’d drift a bit into the softer side of science and talk about discussions of information & communication in social science and philosophy. I am utterly dismayed that Bateson’s pithy “information is the difference that makes a difference” didn’t make an appearance. The sociologist Harold Garfinkel wrote a manuscript in the 50s (just released as a book in 2008), ‘Towards a Sociological Theory of Information’ that directly engages Shannon, Wiener, Bateson and other information folks of that era to develop a provocative and comprehensive (albeit difficult to grok) theory of information that doesn’t abandon “meaning.” Not to mention there are threads of information in Pragmatist philosophy (via Peirce’s Logic of Information), Wittgenstein, and the budding discipline of the Philosophy of Information. Perhaps there is more history to be told….

  3. zuludaddy says:

    Just got this myself, and what with all the great reviews everywhere have bumped it up to the top of the books-purchased-but-not-yet-read list.

    Interesting cocktail fact: first translating dictionary was Icelandic-Portuguese/Portuguese-Icelandic. I will buy an ice cream cone to the first person to guess why this was the case (there is a correct answer).

  4. julian_t says:

    Icelandic-Portugese dictionary? I’m guessing cod… or fishing in some form.


  5. EMJ says:

    I’m with julian_t – dried cod trade? or religion?

    Either way this goes on the reading list – thanks for the suggestion.

  6. turn_self_off says:

    This reads like the book is the Connections tv series in book form.

    Really tempted to get myself a copy.

  7. zuludaddy says:

    One ice cream cone to julian_t.

    It was exactly the cod fishing in the North Atlantic that brought the Portuguese to Iceland – bacalao, and all that…

    I think Mark Kurlansky’s Cod: A History of the Fish That Changed The World has citations, but it is a fact I learned when studying the [Icelandic] language…

  8. dining_phil says:

    I think the Icelandic language has the first reference to a haeme paige, but I have not been able to look it up. Great book. I also love the idea of tcp over magic.

  9. schlocktober says:

    “Chaos” had a profound impact on my life. I don’t think I’d be teaching math if I had never read it.

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