The need to transmit and process information efficiently has given rise to technologies from talking drums to alphabets, from Charles Babbage’s difference engine to Vannevar Bush’s differential analyzer, from the telegraph to the internet. In The Information, James Gleick shows how many of the information-related concepts that we now take for granted evolved. This is an ambitious book that ranges over many disciplines and can be read on many levels. Not being a mathematician, I read it for the historical aspects, and for insights about the problem-solving approaches of visionaries like Babbage, Samuel Morse, and Claude Shannon, the Bell Labs researcher (and wartime cryptologist) who essentially created information theory. It’s part of Gleick’s skill as a writer that he can make abstract notions more concrete by putting a human face on them.
Indexed. Pantheon Books. 526p. $29.95. 978-0-375-42372-7.