The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood


From the reviews:

The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood

The Information is so ambitious, illuminating and sexily theoretical that it will amount to aspirational reading for many of those who have the mettle to tackle it. Don’t make the mistake of reading it quickly. Imagine luxuriating on a Wi-Fi-equipped desert island with Mr. Gleick’s book, a search engine and no distractions. The Information is to the nature, history and significance of data what the beach is to sand.

—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

Gleick is one of the great science writers of all time, and that is, in part, because he is a science biographer. Not a biographer of scientists (although there is much biographical insight to scientists, mathematicians, lexicographers, writers and thinkers in The Information), but a biographer of the idea itself, and the way that it ricochets off disciplines, institutions and people, knocking them into new, higher orbits, setting them on collision courses….

The Information isn’t just a natural history of a powerful idea; it embodies and transmits that idea, it is a vector for its memes (as Dawkins has it), and it is a toolkit for disassembling the world. It is a book that vibrates with excitement, and it transmits that excited vibration with very little signal loss. It is a wonder.

—Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing

This is a work of rare penetration, a true history of ideas whose witty and determined treatment of its material brings clarity to a complex subject.

—Tim Martin, The Telegraph

No author is better equipped for such a wide-ranging tour than Mr. Gleick. Some writers excel at crafting a historical narrative, others at elucidating esoteric theories, still others at humanizing scientists. Mr. Gleick is a master of all these skills.

—John Horgan, The Wall Street Journal

To grasp what information truly means—to explain why it is shaping up as a unifying principle of science—Gleick has to embrace linguistics, logic, telecommunications, codes, computing, mathematics, philosophy, cosmology, quantum theory and genetics. He must call as witnesses not only Charles Babbage, Alan Turing and Kurt Gödel, but also Borges, Poe and Lewis Carroll. There are few writers who could accomplish this with such panache and authority. Gleick, whose 1987 work Chaos helped to kickstart the era of modern popular science, is one.

—Philip Ball, The Observer

Gleick connects the dots that connect information to us, and there are many dots. He covers the history of communications of every sort, and the history of information science, which are the most enjoyable parts. At the core of the book is Claude Shannon and his theory of information. Gleick has done better than anyone else in trying to explain the paradoxical nature of information. But it is not easy to understand, in part I believe, because what Shannon meant by information is not what most of us mean by it.

Still, here in one volume is the great story of the most important element at work in the world, and its story is well told. I had forgotten what a fantastic stylist Gleick is. It’s a joy to read him talking about anything.

—Kevin Kelly, Technium

Gleick doesn’t quite try to present a final answer to the question of what information is. Instead, his book gives us a succession of enticing glimpses that require real synthesizing work on the part of the reader. This is, I think, on purpose: Unlike many contemporary nonfiction writers, Gleick is uninterested in creating the illusion that all can be made simple with just the right anecdote. He likes to emphasize that, despite our various vanities, we barely understand the universe we live in and help create….

The web Gleick has woven is a rare one, a whole that envelops and exceeds its many parts, which certainly suits his topic. His contribution—too easily underrated in a work that synthesizes the ideas of others—lies in linking fields of science that aren’t connected in a formal sense. By the close of the book you cannot think of information as you might have before. It has become, quite palpably, something different than almost anything we encounter: resistant to decay and capable of perfect self-reproduction. It outlasts the organic beings who create it, and, by replication, the inorganic mediums used to store it. Gleick’s deepest subject, it occurred to me as I finished reading, is immortality.

—Tim Wu, Slate

A wide-ranging, deeply researched and delightfully engaging history … of how we have come to occupy a world defined in bits and bytes. For Gleick, information has always been our medium; since cave dwellers painted the first animal forms on their walls, we have existed in two parallel universes, the biosphere and the infosphere.

—David L. Ulin, The Los Angeles Times

Extraordinary in its sweep … Gleick’s story is beautifully told, extensively sourced, and continually surprising.

—Josh Rothman, The Boston Globe

Impressively, reassuringly, Gleick’s substantial, dense book comes as close as anything of late to satiating [the] twin demand for knowledge and clarity.

—Shane Hegarty, The Irish Times

The fact is, although we live in an information age, we don’t really know what information even means.

Into the breach steps the gifted science writer James Gleick. In his formidable new book, The Information, Gleick explains how we’ve progressed from seeing information as the expression of human thought and emotion to looking at it as a commodity that can be processed, like wheat or plutonium. It’s a long, complicated, and important story, beginning with tribal drummers and ending with quantum physics, and in Gleick’s hands it’s also a mesmerizing one.

—Nicholas Carr, The Daily Beast

[A] tour de force…. This is intellectual history of tremendous verve, insight, and significance. Unfailingly spirited, often poetic, Gleick recharges our astonishment over the complexity and resonance of the digital sphere and ponders our hunger for connectedness.

—Donna Seaman, Booklist

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