Winner of the Neumann Prize for the History of Mathematics
"We owe Claude Shannon a lot, and Soni & Goodman’s book takes a big first step in paying that debt." —San Francisco Review of Books
"Soni and Goodman are at their best when they invoke the wonder an idea can instill. They summon the right level of awe while stopping short of hyperbole." —Financial Times
"Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman make a convincing case for their subtitle while reminding us that Shannon never made this claim himself." —The Wall Street Journal
“A charming account of one of the twentieth century’s most distinguished scientists…Readers will enjoy this portrait of a modern-day Da Vinci.” —Fortune
In their second collaboration, biographers Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman present the story of Claude Shannon—one of the foremost intellects of the twentieth century and the architect of the Information Age, whose insights stand behind every computer built, email sent, video streamed, and webpage loaded. Claude Shannon was a groundbreaking polymath, a brilliant tinkerer, and a digital pioneer. He constructed the first wearable computer, outfoxed Vegas casinos, and built juggling robots. He also wrote the seminal text of the digital revolution, which has been called “the Magna Carta of the Information Age.” In this elegantly written, exhaustively researched biography, Soni and Goodman reveal Claude Shannon’s full story for the first time. With unique access to Shannon’s family and friends, A Mind at Play brings this singular innovator and always playful genius to life.
A key figure in the development of digital technology has his achievements, if not his personality, burnished in this enlightening biography. Journalists Soni and Goodman, authors of Rome's Last Citizen, explore Claude Shannon's breakthroughs as a scientist at MIT and Bell Labs in the 1930s and '40s in electronics and telecommunications. His noteworthy discoveries include a way to rationally design circuits using Boolean algebra, and information theory, which understands communications as bits and shows how to compress them and remove noise methods that underlie DVDs, the Internet, and much else. The authors' rundown of the science behind these advances, probing everything from the structure of language to the transatlantic telegraph, is lucid and fascinating. Unfortunately, Shannon's retiring demeanor and uneventful life don't make for a dramatic narrative. The authors' interpretation that Shannon's mental "playfulness" stimulated his scientific creativity also seems misconstrued: his serious accomplishments were achieved before the age of 33, when he was working at assigned tasks; during his later life he pursued various interests whimsical robots, chess-playing machines, a scientific study of juggling but achieved nothing noteworthy. Still, Soni and Goodman open an engrossing window onto what a mind hard at work can do.