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The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood
 
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The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood [Format Kindle]

James Gleick
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DRUMS THAT TALK
(When a Code Is Not a Code)
 

Across the Dark Continent sound the never-silent drums:
the base of all the music, the focus of every dance;
the talking drums, the wireless of the unmapped jungle.
—Irma Wassall (1943)
 
No one spoke simply on the drums. Drummers would not say, “Come back home,” but rather,
 
Make your feet come back the way they went,
make your legs come back the way they went,
plant your feet and your legs below,
in the village which belongs to us.
 
They could not just say “corpse” but would elaborate: “which lies on its back on clods of earth.” Instead of “don’t be afraid,” they would say, “Bring your heart back down out of your mouth, your heart out of your mouth, get it back down from there.” The drums generated fountains of oratory. This seemed inefficient. Was it grandiloquence or bombast? Or something else?
 
For a long time Europeans in sub-Saharan Africa had no idea. In fact they had no idea that the drums conveyed information at all. In their own cultures, in special cases a drum could be an instrument of signaling, along with the bugle and the bell, used to transmit a small set of messages: attack; retreat; come to church. But they could not conceive of talking drums. In 1730 Francis Moore sailed eastward up the Gambia River, finding it navigable for six hundred miles, all the way admiring the beauty of the country and such curious wonders as “oysters that grew upon trees” (mangroves). He was not much of a naturalist. He was reconnoitering as an agent for English slavers in kingdoms inhabited, as he saw it, by different races of people of black or tawny colors, “as Mundingoes, Jolloiffs, Pholeys, Floops, and Portuguese.” When he came upon men and women carrying drums, carved wood as much as a yard long, tapered from top to bottom, he noted that women danced briskly to their music, and sometimes that the drums were “beat on the approach of an enemy,” and finally, “on some very extraordinary occasions,” that the drums summoned help from neighboring towns. But that was all he noticed.
 
A century later, Captain William Allen, on an expedition to the Niger River,(1) made a further discovery, by virtue of paying attention to his Cameroon pilot, whom he called Glasgow. They were in the cabin of the iron paddle ship when, as Allen recalled:
 
Suddenly he became totally abstracted, and remained for a while in the attitude of listening. On being taxed with inattention, he said, “You no hear my son speak?” As we had heard no voice, he was asked how he knew it. He said, “Drum speak me, tell me come up deck.” This seemed to be very singular.
 
The captain’s skepticism gave way to amazement, as Glasgow convinced him that every village had this “facility of musical correspondence.” Hard though it was to believe, the captain finally accepted that detailed messages of many sentences could be conveyed across miles. “We are often surprised,” he wrote, “to find the sound of the trumpet so well understood in our military evolutions; but how far short that falls of the result arrived at by those untutored savages.” That result was a technology much sought in Europe: long-distance communication faster than any traveler on foot or horseback. Through the still night air over a river, the thump of the drum could carry six or seven miles. Relayed from village to village, messages could rumble a hundred miles or more in a matter of an hour.
 
A birth announcement in Bolenge, a village of the Belgian Congo, went like this:
 
Batoko fala fala, tokema bolo bolo, boseka woliana imaki tonkilingonda, ale nda bobila wa fole fole, asokoka l’isika koke koke.
 
The mats are rolled up, we feel strong, a woman came from the forest, she is in the open village, that is enough for this time.
 
A missionary, Roger T. Clarke, transcribed this call to a fisherman’s funeral:
 
La nkesa laa mpombolo, tofolange benteke biesala, tolanga bonteke bolokolo bole nda elinga l’enjale baenga, basaki l’okala bopele pele. Bojende bosalaki lifeta Bolenge wa kala kala, tekendake tonkilingonda, tekendake beningo la nkaka elinga l’enjale. Tolanga bonteke bolokolo bole nda elinga l’enjale, la nkesa la mpombolo.
 
In the morning at dawn, we do not want gatherings for work, we want a meeting of play on the river. Men who live in Bolenge, do not go to the forest, do not go fishing. We want a meeting of play on the river, in the morning at dawn.
 
Clarke noted several facts. While only some people learned to communicate by drum, almost anyone could understand the messages in the drumbeats. Some people drummed rapidly and some slowly. Set phrases would recur again and again, virtually unchanged, yet different drummers would send the same message with different wording. Clarke decided that the drum language was at once formulaic and fluid. “The signals represent the tones of the syllables of conventional phrases of a traditional and highly poetic character,” he concluded, and this was correct, but he could not take the last step toward understanding why.
 
These Europeans spoke of “the native mind” and described Africans as “primitive” and “animistic” and nonetheless came to see that they had achieved an ancient dream of every human culture. Here was a messaging system that outpaced the best couriers, the fastest horses on good roads with way stations and relays. Earth-bound, foot-based messaging systems always disappointed. Their armies outran them. Julius Caesar, for example, was “very often arriving before the messengers sent to announce his coming,” as Suetonius reported in the first century. The ancients were not without resources, however. The Greeks used fire beacons at the time of the Trojan War, in the twelfth century BCE, by all accounts—that is, those of Homer, Virgil, and Aeschylus. A bonfire on a mountaintop could be seen from watchtowers twenty miles distant, or in special cases even farther. In the Aeschylus version, Clytemnestra gets the news of the fall of Troy that very night, four hundred miles away in Mycenae. “Yet who so swift could speed the message here?” the skeptical Chorus asks.
 
She credits Hephaestus, god of fire: “Sent forth his sign; and on, and ever on, beacon to beacon sped the courier-flame.” This is no small accomplishment, and the listener needs convincing, so Aeschylus has Clytemnestra continue for several minutes with every detail of the route: the blazing signal rose from Mount Ida, carried across the northern Aegean Sea to the island of Lemnos; from there to Mount Athos in Macedonia; then southward across plains and lakes to Macistus; Messapius, where the watcher “saw the far flame gleam on Euripus’ tide, and from the highpiled heap of withered furze lit the new sign and bade the message on”; Cithaeron; Aegiplanetus; and her own town’s mountain watch, Arachne. “So sped from stage to stage, fulfilled in turn, flame after flame,” she boasts, “along the course ordained.” A German historian, Richard Hennig, traced and measured the route in 1908 and confirmed the feasibility of this chain of bonfires. The meaning of the message had, of course, to be pre arranged, effectively condensed into a single bit. A binary choice, something or nothing:  the fire signal meant something, which, just this once, meant “Troy has fallen.” To transmit this one bit required immense planning, labor, watchfulness, and firewood. Many years later, lanterns in Old North Church likewise sent Paul Revere a single precious bit, which he carried onward, one binary choice: by land or by sea.
 
More capacity was required, for less extraordinary occasions. People tried flags, horns, intermitting smoke, and flashing mirrors. They conjured spirits and angels for purposes of communication—angels being divine messengers, by definition. The discovery of magnetism held particular promise. In a world already suffused with magic, magnets embodied occult powers. The lodestone attracts iron. This power of attraction extends invisibly through the air. Nor is it interrupted by water or even solid bodies. A lodestone held on one side of a wall can move a piece of iron on the other side. Most intriguing, the magnetic power appears able to coordinate objects vast distances apart, across the whole earth: namely, compass needles. What if one needle could control another? This idea spread—a “conceit,” Thomas Browne wrote in the 1640s,
 
whispered thorow the world with some attention, credulous and vulgar auditors readily believing it, and more judicious and distinctive heads, not altogether rejecting it. The conceit is excellent, and if the effect would follow, somewhat divine; whereby we might communicate like spirits, and confer on earth with Menippus in the Moon.
 
The idea of “sympathetic” needles appeared wherever there were natural philosophers and confidence artists. In Italy a man tried to sell Galileo “a secret method of communicating with a person two or three thousand miles away, by means of a certain sympathy of magnetic needles.”
 
I told him that I would gladly buy, but wanted to see by experiment and that it would be enough for me if he would stand in one room and I in another. He replied that its operation could not be detected at such a short distance. I sent him on his way, with the remark that I was not in the mood at that time to go to Cairo or Moscow for the experiment, but that if he wanted to go I would stay in Venice and take care of the other end.
 
The ...

Revue de presse

“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

“So ambitious, illuminating and sexily theoretical that it will amount to aspirational reading for many of those who have the mettle to tackle it…The Information is to the nature, history and significance of data what the beach is to sand.” –New York Times

“[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…Destined to be a science classic, best-seller Gleick’s dynamic history of information will be one of the biggest nonfiction books of the year.” –Booklist, starred review

“With his brilliant ability to synthesize mounds of details and to tell rich stories, Gleick leads us on a journey from one form of communication information to another…Gleick’s exceptional history of culture concludes that information is indeed the blood, the fuel, and the vital principle on which our world runs.” –Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Rich and fascinating.” –Washington Post

"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." –Wall Street Journal
 
“Gleick presses rousing tales from the history of human communication into the service of one Very Big Idea…he does what only the best science writers can: take a subject of which most of us are only peripherally aware and put it at the center of the universe.” –Time

“A wide-ranging, deeply researched and delightfully engaging history…” –Los Angeles Times

“The gifted science writer James 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, and in Gleick’s hands it’s also a mesmerizing one…As a celebration of human ingenuity, The Information is a deeply hopeful book.” –Nicholas Carr, Daily Beast

“A grand narrative if ever there was one…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…A prodigious intellectual survey.” –New York Times Book Review  
 
“A highly ambitious and generally brilliant effort to tie together centuries of disparate scientific efforts to understand information as a meaningful concept…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. The Information—not unlike other science books that tackle big human quests for understanding—at times bears more than a passing resemblance to a spiritual text.” –Slate

“When collected together in this coherent historical narrative, [his observations] do feel ‘revelatory,’ as his publisher claims…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.” –Columbia Journalism Review

"Accessible and engrossing."
—Library Journal

“The author’s skills as an interpreter of science shine…for completist cybergeeks and infojunkies, the book delivers a solid summary of a dense, complex subject.”
—Kirkus

“Extraordinary in its sweep…Gleick’s story is beautifully told, extensively sourced, and continually surprising.” –Brainiac, Boston Globe online

“Entertaining, funny and clever.” –New Scientist

“A brilliant, panoramic view of how we save and communicate knowledge...and provides thrilling portraits of the geniuses behind the inventions. Provocative and illuminating.” –People

“A commanding chronicle of the information revolution…tantalizing.” –philly.com
 
“An ambitious, sprawling work.” –Kirkus 
 
“Absorbing…The Information is lyrical, patient, impeccably researched, and full of interesting digressions.” –The Boston Globe  

“Tremendously enjoyable. Gleick has an eye and ear for the catchy detail and observation…offers a broad and fascinating foundation, impressive in its reach. A very good read, certainly recommended.” –The Complete Review

“A powerful and rigorous and at times very moving history of information…You can dip into The Information at just about any point and emerge with a magnificent detail.” –Time, Top 10 of Everything 2011

“Heady…This intellectual history is intoxicating—thanks to Gleick’s clear mind, magpie-styled research and explanatory verve.” –Cleveland.com 
 
“To write a history of information…it’s beyond ambitious—it’s audacious. But James Gleick pulls it off…a gracefully written book.” –USA Today

“A book about everything…Gleick sees the world as an endlessly unfolding opportunity in which ‘creatures of the information’ might just recognize themselves.” –Shelfari

“An interesting and detailed history of how we’ve moved from an alphabet to words, writing, dictionaries, etc.” –Alpha 
 
“Imaginatively conceived and staggeringly researched…a transformative work.” –The Phoenix.com 

“[Gleick] remains a gifted writer with a passion for a subject that would easily drown many of us.” –About.com

“Expertly draws out neglected names and stories from history…Gleick’s skill as an expicator of counterintuitive concepts makes the chapters on logic, the stuff even most philosophy majors slept through in class, brim with tension.” –Oregonlive.com 
 
“This is the page-turner you never knew you desperately wanted to read.” –The Stranger Slog
 
“This is an amazing book. If you have any designs on being a professor of information, you should read this book slowly and thoughtfully.” –ALA TechSource

“The most ambitious, compelling, insert-word-of-intellectual-awe-here book to read this year.” –The Atlantic

“Wide-ranging and fascinating.” –New York Journal of Books 

“The most comprehensive book written, to date, about information. An amazing erudite and yet highly readable account…amongst the most profound books written about technology.” –Tech Crunch, TCTV 

“Very fascinating…It will make readers see the world more intelligently than before. Essential.” –Choice, Current Reviews for Academic Libraries 

“In his fascinating new history of the rise and the breadth of today’s communication age, Gleick sheds light on the many ways we impart and receive information.” –New York Times Styles 

“Gleick is one of the great science writers of our age…The Information is an entertaining and instructive romp through the history of information technologies…for anyone interested in learning more about the important and ever-more-prominent role that information plays in our society, the book is not only a pleasure to read, it is well worth reading.” –American Scientist

“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.com best of 2011 

Magnificent…this elegant, insightful study reminds us that we have always been adrift in an incomprehensible universe.” –LA Times best books of 2011

The Information is lyrical, patient, impeccably researched, and jammed with interesting—um, well—information.” –Boston Globe Best of 2011

“A sprawling yet fascinating book by an acclaimed American science writer, The Information ranges from biology to particle physics and explores the links between information, communications, data and meaning from earliest times to the present day.” –The Economist


Praise for James Gleick’s
Chaos

“An awe-inspiring book. Reading it gave me the sensation that someone had just found the light switch.”
—Douglas Adams
 
“Enthralling. Full of beautifully strange and strangely beautiful ideas.”
—Douglas Hofstadter
 
Genius
 
“The clearest statemen...

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Commentaires client les plus utiles
3 internautes sur 3 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Prepare yourself for a new vision of your universe. 25 avril 2011
Par bernie
Format:Relié
Many great insights as to "The meaning of life, the universe and everything" begins with a vision or a universal concept that was just under our nose but required someone to tell us what we already knew and bring this to our forethought. Think back to economics classes before the classes economics was just to term for money handling. Now today we see that every Great War every great invention and even the small ones were encouraged and even made available due to economics. Before reading such books as "Homo Evolutis" by Juan Enriquez and Steve Gullans, we knew of evolution and its controversies but never thought that we would see it all around us and realize much of it is our doing. Now there is "The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood" by James Gleick also the author of "Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything." The title of this book is definitely an understatement of what you're about to be presented. Just keep in mind that as much fun as this book is to read it is how you use this" information" that gives the book its worth.

We will see that every little "bit" of the universe and everything in it is "information." Do not over look the prolog for an encompassing hint as what the book is about. No information related subject is glossed over we het extensive history and in-depth views of what information is, how it was all-around ups and where t is going. I will not go into every detail of you would not need to read the book

Be prepared for over 400 footnotes and an extensive bibliography which will take some time to "look the references up."
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4.0 étoiles sur 5 Du tam-tam au quantique 25 avril 2011
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
Un livre riche, très bien écrit et référencé qui nous emmène sur la trace du "bit" à travers l'évolution de la pensée sur la nature de l'information. Du tam-tam africain à l'ordinateur quantique, du déterminisme mécaniste de la révolution industrielle à l'entropie de Shannon en passant par l'incomplétude de Gödel, pour arriver finalement à la question du sens.
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1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Format:Format Kindle|Achat vérifié
Ayant une formation littéraire, j'étais un peu réticent à me lancer dans la lecture d'un livre sur une théorie à la fois mathématique et plus largement informatique... mais je n'ai pas eu le sentiment d'être trop perdu! Ce livre explique très bien les débuts de ce qu'est l'information en passant par l'arrivée de la théorie de l'information et jusqu'à notre monde virtuel d'aujourd'hui, si empli de ses informations, justement.
Très bonne lecture sans temps morts, dans un anglais journalistique fort agréable qui ne se perd pas dans la technicité ni en prose trop simpliste.

Un must à lire pour les fans de la pièce Arcadia de Tom Stoppard!
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Amazon.com: 4.2 étoiles sur 5  179 commentaires
263 internautes sur 279 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 History & Explanation of "Information" With Biographies 2 février 2011
Par Ira Laefsky - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit (De quoi s'agit-il?)
James Gleick, a prominent journalist, biographer of scientists and explainer of physics has usefully turned his attention to the single most important phenomena of the twenty-first century, the study and quantification of information. This book explains, provides a historical context and gives biographies of the most important explorers of information phenomena throughout the centuries. Gleick provides biographical sketches of lesser known figures in the history of information such as Robert Caudrey compiler of the first known English dictionary and John F. Carrington chronicler of "The Talking Drums of Africa"; he (Gleick) gives fuller personal histories of Samuel F. Morse, Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace; Gleick reserves the most extensive biographical treatment for those who "mathematized" the phenomena of information: Claude Shannon and Alan Turing.

Gleick, a science journalist and chronicler of physics provides interesting background material and simple enough explanations for anyone who wishes to learn about the areas of information theory that influence our times, technologies and businesses. He also gives enough detail for the interested undergraduate student whose field is not primarily in the sciences. But, the unification of science, phenomena, history and biography is also of considerable interest to those like myself who have extensive training in the "information sciences" but seek a wider context for their previously acquired knowledge.

One slight criticism, I have for this otherwise excellent and comprehensive review of the theory of information and its history, is in the area of its relation to physics and the structure of the world (universe). The relationship and application of information theory to physical phenomena is a theory first espoused by Konrad Zuse, a German computer pioneer and Edward Fredkin the proponent of "digital physics". Given that Gleick's attraction and interest for information theory was probably sparked by his study of the history and explanation of physical phenomena, and his penchant for biography I would have expected more background on these explorers of the nature of physical reality as information.

This excellent history of "information science" is a must read for all who seek to understand the phenomena and technologies of the coming century.

--Ira Laefsky, MSE/MBA
Information Technology Consultant and Researcher
Formerly on the Senior Technical Staff of Arthur D. Little, Inc and Digital Equipment Corporation
149 internautes sur 157 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Excellent at times, but uneven and fragmented 30 mai 2011
Par whiteelephant - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
I recommend this book's discussion of information theory, a topic that is sadly underrepresented in the popular press. Glieck provides a decent historical overview of Shannon and Turing, and the book starts to pick up steam when discussing Norbert Wiener and cybernetics. The subsequent chapter on informational and thermodynamic entropy is an excellent non-mathematical overview of a tricky topic. It is only surpassed by Chapter 12, which is a fascinating elucidation of algorithmic information theory, which as Chaitlin put it, was "the result of putting Shannon's information theory and Turing's computability theory into a cocktail shaker and shaking vigorously." It's unsurprising that this is Glieck's strength, due to his earlier writing on chaos.

Unfortunately the rest of the book falls far short of this strong standard. Glieck attempts to tackle too much, offering forgettable takes on topics including dictionaries, telegraphs, Charles Babbage, Wikipedia, memes, and information surfeit. These topics are not well-anchored to the central topic of information theory, and serve to muddle the work. But most disappointingly, the chapters on biology (Ch. 10) and quantum physics (Ch. 13) leave a ton to be desired. Glieck barely scratches the surface of the application of information theory to biology (particularly neuroscience), and the discussion of quantum information begs many more questions to be answered. What Glieck does introduce about these topics is disjointed and in need of serious editing. For instance, Glieck introduces Christopher Fuchs and quantum information theory, but before the discussion really goes anywhere, he shifts to a cursory discussion of black holes and information before shifting to an equally vacuous discussion of quantum computation and teleportation.

Thus, I can only half-recommend this book. There are parts I strongly recommend (Ch. 9,12), parts that are pretty good (Ch. 6-8), parts that are tangential and forgettable (roughly half), and other parts that are very disappointing and in need of serious expansion (Ch. 10,13).
194 internautes sur 207 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 A Fascinating History of Information Technology 14 février 2011
Par Michael L. Shakespeare - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit (De quoi s'agit-il?)
Where did the telegraph, telephone and computers come from anyway? Author James Gleick's new book, "The Information" sheds light inside the black box.

In a revealing work, backed by painstaking research, James Gleick, has combed the archives to show us some absorbing details and insights on how the structure of information progressed from clay tablets to telegraph to cloud technology.

This is a hefty book, but its theme can be shortly stated. Mr. Gleick believes "in the long run, history is the story of information becoming aware of itself."

Context can be everything in historical interpretation, as James Gleick makes clear in his convincing prolog that "the alphabet was a founding technology of information; the telephone, the fax machine, the calculator and, ultimately the computer are only the latest innovations devised for saving, manipulating, and communicating knowledge." Mr. Gleick's narrative builds into a fulfilling and thought-provoking story.

The author begins with the amazing tale of how African drums communicated, then shifts to Robert Cawdrey's "Table Alphabeticall in 1604. He shows us how time and space are minimized and global consciousness realized.

At more than 500 pages, with few illustrations, this book looks terrifying. But the pages dissolve quickly as Mr. Gleick introduces us to a range of vivid characters, such as colorful Charles Babbage, the inventor of the ever growing difference machine in 1822.

After twenty years of development it weighed 15 tons with over 25,000 precision parts. But by 1842 the British government had grown weary of Babbage's pork barrel project. "What shall we do to get rid of Mr. Babbage and his calculating machine?" asked Prime Minister Robert Peel. "Surely if completed it would be worthless as far as science is concerned... It will be in my opinion a very costly toy."

But another fascinating part of the story, of course, is of the strange men, and the strange world they inhabited at Bell Laboratories, doing research on code breaking and anti-aircraft gun control during World War II. There was ego and rivalry and brilliance aplenty in those days. We meet Alan Turing, and brillant oddballs like Norbert Weiner and Claude Shannon, who were brought in from other institutions, to imagine and to challenge each other.

This is a book full of great details, like Richard Dawkins's memes: ideas, tunes, catch phases and images that "propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain" through imitation. Claude Chappe's vast network of optical telegraph towers transferring messages by semaphore across revolutionary France in twelve minutes. And an amazing robot mouse developed by the inventor of information theory, Claude Shannon, that could learn to flawlessly navigate a maze back in 1950.

Some of the narrative may seem pretty heavy- going. For readers who are not versed in the subject, it may seem to be almost impenetrable. After a bit, one realizes this book is not written for the general reader.

Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with a scholarly conversation and nothing wrong with a book that assumes its readers will already know something about computer science. As a book for specialists this has its pleasures, from Mr. Gleick's learned discussion of boolean algebra to the German ENIGMA code machine in World War II and the workings of a telephone switchboard invented by the George W. McCoy, the world's first telephone operator.

Mr. Gleick's affection for his subject is so complete -- and completely convincing -- his style is so modest and his research is so thorough that "The Information" manages to be engaging, instructive and thought-provoking, all at once.

Scientific work may not be very glamorous, but "The Information" shows that it can be vitally important, and also surprisingly amusing.

The author could easily have written a fine book focused more narrowly on the development of computers. Mr. Gleick is the kind of historian who excels at showing how everything is connected. He tells us, "hardly any information technology goes obsolete. each new one throws its predecessors into relief." In this investigation, few books could provide a surer guide.

Mr. Gleick is familiar with the vast number of written sources. This book is clearly not intended to be the last word on information technology. But for any readers wanting a learned, entertaining and lucid introduction to a notoriously complex subject, it should certainly be their first.
264 internautes sur 306 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 1,729 put that in your pipe and smoke it. 16 février 2011
Par Aceto - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit (De quoi s'agit-il?)
James Gleick is in that tiny top tier of science and technology authors who work slowly, quietly and painstakingly to help us understand things both difficult and important. He does not spend his time dancing for the media. He does not toss off books on a set schedule while Gladwellhanding on tour for books with titles like "Burp!" And he is stylist enough to present the context of the human, the social. His works on chaos and on Feynman are bright treasure with a touch of fun.

Right out of the gate, Mr. Gleick introduces Claude Shannon. In the same year Bell Labs came out with the transistor, Shannon (of said lab) gave new meaning to an ancient word, "bit". Shannon, rare bird of a technologist and mathematician, was consumed by messages and their meaning, i.e. information content. He wanted to do for information what Newton (another Gleick tome) had done for force, mass and motion. He set about integrating information into science and mathematics, abstracting theory and structure. The BIG difference between Shannon and Newton is that mechanics were to be immutable yardsticks of the universe. Information was forged in the souls of its millions of creators. It was shaped by heartbeats, circuits, character sets and symbols. Encoding takes many forms and flourishes whether the slip of a slide rule or a slide trombone. It does not stay put and jumps from logical to physical and back again, but wearing different clothes. Astounded within pages, I buckled my academic seatbelt.

Then back he leaps to the Homeric, the African where poetry around fires and where thrumming drums could repeat and relay messages across generations or across a hundred miles in an hour. It would take millennia before they were shunted, transformed and abstracted, losing their essential character. It would take alphabet and electricity, before quantity, frequency, speed and duration would magnify an order or two each of magnitude and of scope.

For us the danger of the drums stopping is the threat of a bass solo. For Africa it would have been like cable going dark. What Africa had was a language family that was not alphabet centric. The Indo-European family gradually abstracted tone from language and tried to lash it to music (though words muscled in anyway). So we had to wait for a Morse to encode words into electric pulses. Alphabet was the intermediary between existing words and a code. Mr. Gleick takes us through some of the ideas and the details showing the complexity, power and beauty of drum language. Such is the heavy lifting we are paying this kind of author to do for us.

Yet even in telegraphy, the mind/body problem seeps in. Keyers could distinguish each other by hearing, nay feeling their personal touch. Imposter agents were discovered just this way during wars. A different layer of information was riding the dits and dots. Another meta construction was to match the most used letters and combinations with the simplest strokes, saving untold millions of taps. We did just the reverse with the Qwerty keyboard, designed to maximize the finger distance across keys to stop the hammers jamming. Now the mechanical is gone, but we cling to the past. Some people imagine, out of some odd sentiment, that this is only an urban legend of evil intent. The engineering strategy was to relieve the propensity to jam hammers, not to foist off a bad design. Now, that safeguard is no longer useful.

Mr. Gleick achieves fresh and deep insight by not looking at the past merely in terms of the present, e.g. a horse is a car without tires. Historians fall into this error; politicians do it to disinform, distort and distract. Instead, he trots out the great and forgotten Fr. Ong, S.J. along with Marshall Mcluhan to testify how those involved in the creation thought and wished. And he is guru enough (slayer of darkness) to describe the spread of alphabet as viral: "The alphabet spread by contagion." Brilliant illumination.

As he traces these metamorphoses, it is the meta layer that he focuses his beam upon. He shows us the how of building the philosophy and the technology of abstraction. One of the oldest recordings I have heard is of oral tradition poetry, an epic recited from memory thousands of lines long. The integrity of the replication was achieved partially from phrasing (wine dark sea) but mostly from sound itself, tone and meter. It was fast, driving and percussive, the antithesis of beat culture café recitation. Clay tablets, papyrus and parchment were a long way off to serve as a new abstraction of meaning from sound. Ever hear somebody babble that pseudo distinction "written AND verbal" ? They mean written and spoken. The distinction opposing verbal is symbolic, not written. When you confuse, you lose.

We tour the interplay of symbol, alphabet and counting marks into words, logic and mathematics. Mr. Gleick has just the right touch of detail to let us touch and feel, to play with his revelations, not just gliding over them, assuming we get it. We spend that extra minute on each example, like having a little Newton on our shoulder.

This book is not simply a history. I learned some history, but as a side dish. It is about, as the title says so neatly, The Information. One of the meta threads traced is the interplay of information with sheer physicality. The drums - their constituent materials and their medium produce together sound waves. Yet the same physicality that propels this information also exhausts it in volume, frequency and distance. Then it is a convergence of succeeding waves that moves forward. Babbage's calculating machine (he a charter member of the Philosophical Breakfast Club) propels by wheels, gears and cranks until the limits of brass are exhausted. We meet Lady Augusta Ada Byron King, Countess (what a natural pun about numbers) Lovelace. She is another almost forgotten genius of information, immortalized at least by programmers in their eponymous language, Ada.

So on to electricity. Mr. Gleick treats telegraph, telephone and television all as stepping stones leading us into the flood, as his subtitle suggests. Even now we are bumping up against the limits of electricity in speed and heat, at least in the materials that shape and carry it through chips and wires. When ENIAC first needed chilled water to cool its vacuum tubes we knew new limits. Whither computing? Organic computers. Physicality again. The quantum computer.

Concurrently we pursue the self correcting system and the self adapting system. As Turing asked nobody in particular, "Can machines think?" Now we hit new limits of the logical kind. Godel and his incompleteness theory snarl new knots. We are quoted Watson "Thought interferes with the probability of events, and, in the long run, with entropy." Salvation is thus yoked to damnation and I think Gleick is Faust.

Break your head on this brave book. Find your limits, as Einstein told us to do, so that we may thus overcome them. In a world of swirling negatives, find some informative energy and bathe in endorphins.

For those of you who appreciate a well made book, this one is set in a lovely and effect variant of Garamond of the 16th century, in turn based upon the Venetian models as published by Geoffrey Torey. This font is made modern as "Adobe Garamond" by Robert Simbach. Everything old is new again.
36 internautes sur 40 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 great book but not on kindle 30 juin 2011
Par M. Friedrich - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Format Kindle|Achat vérifié
All the other positive reviews cover the content but before buying the kindle version consider -- 40% of the book is notes and there isn't a good way to move back and forth between text and notes. So you can read the book and then read the notes without knowing what they referred to. I would recommend buying it on paper.
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