…rich and fascinating…The book explains more fully and more systematically than any other how the foundations of our information order were laid.
The Washington Post
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.
The New York Times
Gleick ranges over the scientific landscape in a looping itinerary that takes the reader from Maxwell's demon to Godel's theorem, from black holes to selfish genes. Some of the concepts are challenging, but as in previous books…Gleick provides lucid expositions for readers who are up to following the science and suggestive analogies for those who are just reading for the plot. And there are anecdotes that every reader can enjoy…
The New York Times
In 1948, Bell Laboratories announced the invention of the electronic semiconductor and its revolutionary ability to do anything a vacuum tube could do but more efficiently. While the revolution in communications was taking these steps, Bell Labs scientist Claude Shannon helped to write a monograph for them, A Mathematical Theory of Communication, in which he coined the word bit to name a fundamental unit of computer information. As bestselling author Gleick (Chaos) astutely argues, Shannon's neologism profoundly changed our view of the world; his brilliant work introduced us to the notion that a tiny piece of hardware could transmit messages that contained meaning and that a physical unit, a bit, could measure a quality as elusive as information. Shannon's story is only one of many in this sprawling history of information. With his brilliant ability to synthesize mounds of details and to tell rich stories, Gleick leads us on a journey from one form of communicating information to another, beginning with African tribes' use of drums and including along the way scientists like Samuel B. Morse, who invented the telegraph; Norbert Wiener, who developed cybernetics; and Ada Byron, the great Romantic poet's daughter, who collaborated with Charles Babbage in developing the first mechanical computer. Gleick's exceptional history of culture concludes that information is indeed the blood, the fuel, and the vital principle on which our world runs. (Apr.)
We sometimes forget that our information technologies and our desire and ability to communicate have long and complicated histories. Gleick, best-selling author of Chaos: Making a New Science and Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman, acknowledges this by exploring the history of information, in all its modern ambiguity, and covering ideas, people, and technologies involved in its development. Gleick discusses African talking drums, information theory and its contributions to physics and biology, cryptography, alphabets and scripts, dictionaries, telegraphs, and more. Although accessible and enjoyable, from chapter to chapter the book sometimes feels loose and unstructured, as the author jumps too quickly from one subject to another. Too often he emphasizes biographical information about historical individuals at the expense of a coherent historical account. VERDICT Despite the disjointed narrative, this is recommended for general readers interested in the history of information technology and enamored of the information age who wonder what it means to characterize our era as such.—Jonathan Bodnar, Georgia Inst. of Technology Lib. & Information Ctr., Atlanta
“Magnificent…this elegant, insightful study reminds us that we have always been adrift in an incomprehensible universe.” –Los Angeles Times, Best Books of 2011
“Grand, lucid and awe-inspiring…information is about a lot more than what human beings have to say to each other. It’s the very stuff of reality, and never have its mysteries been offered up with more elegance or aplomb.” –Salon, Best of 2011
“With his ability to synthesize mounds of details and to tell rich stories, Gleick ably leads us on a journey from one form of communicating information to another.” –Publishers Weekly, Top 100 Books of 2011
“Ambitious, illuminating and sexily theoretical.” –New York Times
“Gleick does what only the best science writers can do: take a subject of which most of us are only peripherally aware and put it at the center of the universe.” –Time
"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 . . . and it is a toolkit for disassembling the world. It is a book that vibrates with excitement." --Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing
“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.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Extraordinary in its sweep . . . Gleick’s story is beautifully told, extensively sourced, and continually surprising.” —The Boston Globe
“Audacious. . . . Like the best college courses: challenging but rewarding.” —USA Today
“Challenging and important. . . . This intellectual history is intoxicating—thanks to Gleick’s clear mind, magpie-styled research and explanatory verve.” —The Plain Dealer
“Gleick’s skill as an explicator of counterintuitive concepts makes the chapters on logic . . . brim with tension.” —The Oregonian
“The Information puts our modern ‘information revolution’ in context, helping us appreciate the many information revolutions that preceded and enable it. The internet certainly has changed things, but Gleick shows that it has changed only what has already changed many times before. . . . His enthusiam is contagious.” —New Scientist
“Impressively, reassuringly, Gleick’s substantial, dense book comes as close as anything of late to satiating [the] twin demand for knowledge and clarity.” —The Irish Times
“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.” —The Daily Telegraph (London)
“The page-turner you never knew you desperately wanted to read.” —The Stranger
“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. . . . 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.” —The Observer (London)
“Enlightening. . . . Engagingly assembled.” —Nature
“ Mesmerizing. . . . As a celebration of human ingenuity, The Information is a deeply hopeful book.” —Nicholas Carr, The Daily Beast
“An amazing erudite and yet highly readable account of why and how information plays such a central role in all our lives, Gleick’s The Information is amongst the most profound books written about technology over the last few years.” —TechCrunch TV
“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.” —Tim Wu, Slate
“[Gleick] is wrestling with truly profound material, and so will the reader. This is not a book you will race through on a single plane trip. It is a slow, satisfying meal.” —David Shenk, Columbia Journalism Review
“Gleick connects the dots that connect information to us, and there are many dots. . . . 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, The Technium
“Packed with the rich history of human thought and communication through the ages.” —PopMatters
Think your inbox is jammed now, your attention span overtaxed? It's only the beginning, writes pop-science writer Gleick (Isaac Newton, 2003, etc.) in this tour of information and the theory that goes along with it.
It has been a long progression toward the infoglut of today. The author chooses as a logical if unanticipated starting point the talking drums of Africa, an information technology that delivers a satisfying amount of signal in all the noise. From those drums to Morse code, and indeed to binary signaling, is a pretty short hop—and one that Gleick takes, writing along the way about such things as how Samuel Morse and his partner decided which letters were the most used in English, and therefore merited the shortest sequences of dot and dash. The author tours through the earliest information technologies—the intaglio scratches of stone and bone on prehistoric caves, the emergent ideographs of the first Chinese scripts and so on—before getting into the meatier mathematics of more recent times, which led Charles Babbage, say, to ponder the workings of the first oh-so-clunky computers. As Gleick writes, Babbage surrounded himself with fellow science nerds who agreed to write and send scientific papers to one another every six months, though if a member were delayed by a year, "it shall be taken for granted that his relatives had shut him up as insane." The discussion becomes more complex with the intersection of modern physics. In the emergence of Claude Shannon and Alan Turing's first stirrings of modern information theory, the author's skills as an interpreter of science shine. None of his discussion will be news to readers of Tim Wu's exemplaryThe Master Switch(2010) or of the oldCoevolution Quarterly, but Gleick covers the ground in a way that no other book quite manages to do.
Gleick loves the layered detail, which might cause some to sigh, "TMI." But for completist cybergeeks and infojunkies, the book delivers a solid summary of a dense, complex subject.