The Information by James Gleick

Dear Commons Community,

I have just finished reading The Information by James Gleick., the author of the highly acclaimed Chaos and Genius. I had read several of its reviews and decided to pass on it but my colleague, Joel Spring (Queens College) suggested that I give it a try.  It was a good suggestion.  Gleick covers a lot of ground in establishing the importance of “the information” as a prime mover and universal substance.  Yes he attributes a physicality to “the information”.  For instance,

“all things physical are information theoretic in origin.”

“every burning star, every silent nebula, every particle …is an information processor”

“We are all patrons of the Library of Babel now and we are the librarians too…the library will endure ;  it is the universe”.

He traces the history of “the information” from the Greeks to the present and includes many of the major figures in computer science, physics, communications, and mathematics.  Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Richard Feynman, Samuel Morse, Charles Babbage, Ada Byron Lovelace and Marshall McLuhan all are part of  the story of “the information”.   One of Gleick’s conclusions is a play on Moore’s Law that with the dawning of computer technology in the 1960s, all information has grown and will continue to grow exponentially.  One of the best lines for me was Gleick’s quote of Stephen Hawking in response to Einstein’s famous “God does not play dice”.  Hawking’s reply “God not only plays dice..He sometimes throws them where they cannot be seen”.

In sum, I found it a most interesting read.  If you are debating whether to plunge into this 500 plus page journey into “the information” here are two reviews by Janet Maslin and Geoffrey Nunberg.




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