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Gleicking "The Information"
March 14, 2011 - 10:15pm

Gleick
verb, Gleick'd, Gleicking

  1. to synthesize large amounts of information and present in an informative, educational and enjoyable format
  2. to connect theories and ideas across disciplines with historical developments
  3. to write artfully about the intersection between science, history and ideas for a popular audience

Reading James Gleick's masterful new book, The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood (Random House), it seems eminently reasonable to propose a new word based on his name.

Gleick's ambitions in The Information are not modest. They are nothing less than a biography of the discipline of information science. Examining, or rather interrogating, the idea of information must have seemed daunting. Where to start, where to end, what to include, what to leave out? This challenge would have stopped most authors, or every other author, before a project like this could commence. In Gleick's hands, the story of information moves from noise to signal, from a subject too big to comprehend to one with a narrative, protagonists, narrative arc, and an unstoppable forward momentum.

From African drumming to Web, Gleick demonstrates how our understanding of what information is has evolved with our material and intellectual cultures. It moves from the early scientists who first defined, quantified and measured information, to the companies that built industrial empires on bits and bytes rather than steel. The Information is a terrific companion to 2010's best work of nonfiction, Tim Wu's The Master Switch. The chapters in both books about the rise of the telegraph and the influence of Bell labs are alone worth the price of admission.

The Information will be one of the top 5 books of 2011. Computer scientists and historians of science will be (or should be) working this book into syllabuses. Invite Gleick to campus, ask him to keynote your conference, give The Information to the humans around you that carry around your favorite brains.
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