Saturday, September 9, 2017

Book Review: 'The Information' by James Gleick


"Then it will be, if they do not believe you, nor heed the message of the first sign, that they may believe the message of the latter sign." -- Exodus 4:8 (NKJV)

If you love books about the history of science that tie many ideas, theories, and developments together and aren't a scientist, you'll have a good time with The Information.

If the subject is in your field, you'll find it much too elementary to be of interest.

If you don't know much about information theory, some parts will seem impenetrable to you . . . but that's okay. Just keep reading. You'll eventually read something that you can understand.

I thought that two aspects of the book were unusually fine: the ability to connect developments in so many scientific and engineering fields to common themes . . . and providing a single illustration that nicely crystallized the essence of a major idea, theory, or development.

If you don't get to the book's end, you may be wondering why some of the material is included. For instance, the book opens by explaining about African drumming. That example seems quite isolated at the time, but the concepts then are applied to many more detailed examples from cryptology to information sampling to enable signal compression.

Although there was no aspect of the science that was new to me, I came away with a new appreciation for bridges among the paradigms that I hadn't thought about before. That was well worth the time I spent in reading.

I was also glad that the book ended up by focusing on the "glut" of so-called information . . . most of which isn't worth recording . . . or still worse, which may mislead people.

If the book has a glaring weakness, it's that it doesn't venture into enough speculation about what the future may hold for information, storage, analysis, and verification . . . especially in an increasingly non-reading society.

My figurative hat is off to Mr. Gleick. I admire him for conceiving of and accomplishing so much in this area.



Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Donald Mitchell. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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