The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood, by James Gleick (2011)

Genre: Nonfiction
Interest level: Adult
The InformationI can only say astonishing. Mind-bending. And breaking. In exploring the genesis of the idea and the reality of information, Gleick took on a hugely ambitious, and frankly audacious, task, and in my view he succeeded masterfully – only because he practically held my hand while I struggled to keep up with his ideas. It took me four weeks to read this (I ran out of time on my library copy and borrowed it to finish). We began with the idea of nuance and redundancy in the language of African drumming, and set off to follow the thread of information, bits and our modern world. Along the way Gleick draws links between a myriad of topics in human history: writing and literacy, telegraph and telephony, code-breaking, DNA, thermodynamics, electrical engineering, mathematics, physics, botany, entropy (I think I asked 10 people to help me understand entropy in information), illness and epidemics, six degrees of separation. He brings to life the names that have peopled this history: Alan Turing, Claude Shannon, Charles Babbage and Ada Byron Lovelace, among others. I am left feeling both smarter and dumber, though. I’ll have to read this again, and this is one I’d love to do as a group effort, because if nothing else, I’ve learned from Gleick that ideas are like Lego blocks. It’s by thinking and talking about them that we build even greater ones. Cool.
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