From the bestselling author of the acclaimed Chaos and Genius comes a thoughtful and provocative exploration of the big ideas of the modern era: Information, communication, and information theory.
Acclaimed science writer James Gleick presents an eye-opening vision of how our relationship to information has transformed the very nature of human consciousness. A fascinating intellectual journey through the history of communication and information, from the language of Africa’s talking drums to the invention of written alphabets; from the electronic transmission of code to the origins of information theory, into the new information age and the current deluge of news, tweets, images, and blogs. Along the way, Gleick profiles key innovators, including Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace, Samuel Morse, and Claude Shannon, and reveals how our understanding of information is transforming not only how we look at the world, but how we live.
A New York Times Notable Book
A Los Angeles Times and Cleveland Plain Dealer Best Book of the Year
Winner of the PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award
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.