The Information

The Information (2011) by James Gleick is a sprawling book covering how information has been transmitted, studied and formed through time. It’s an interesting but somewhat disjointed book that covers related stories about information through time.

Gleick starts off discussing how drums were used to communicate very rapidly in Africa. It is, as with many of the other chapters, very interesting in its own right. Gleick goes on to look at how written language changed the world and then elaborates on the dictionaries used to catalogue language. From there he moves on to information processing and has a chapter on Babbage and his calculating and computing machines. From there the book continues chronologically to discuss the rise of the telegraph. This goes into communication theory as developed by Shannon and other engineers and scientists, particularly those at Bell Labs. The book then goes on to discuss computability and the halting problem.

Then Gleick switches to biology and how the genome is also a conduit for information. Using biology goes on to a discussion of memes and then returns to a discussion of how some physicists now see the universe as just information. Finally the book returns to how people now handle the vast flood of information that the internet has provided.

The book isn’t as coherent as some of Gleick’s other books like Genius or Chaos but it’s still strongly connected. The ideas presented within the book are mostly fairly well-known but Gleick brings a fresh view to them and he’s a very good science writer. The book is well worth a read for anyone who has enjoyed Gleick’s other books. Anyone with much of an interest in science is going to find the book enjoyable.

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