The Information, James Gleick
James Gleick

The Information

736 printed pages
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Winner of the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books 2012, the world's leading prize for popular science writing.
We live in the information age. But every era of history has had its own information revolution: the invention of writing, the composition of dictionaries, the creation of the charts that made navigation possible, the discovery of the electronic signal, the cracking of the genetic code.
In ‘The Information’ James Gleick tells the story of how human beings use, transmit and keep what they know. From African talking drums to Wikipedia, from Morse code to the ‘bit’, it is a fascinating account of the modern age’s defining idea and a brilliant exploration of how information has revolutionised our lives.
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But it was only the second most significant development of that year. The transistor was only hardware.
An invention even more profound and more fundamental came in a monograph spread across seventy-nine pages of The Bell System Technical Journal in July and October. No one bothered with a press release. It carried a title both simple and grand—“A Mathematical Theory of Communication”—and the message was hard to summarize. But it was a fulcrum around which the world began to turn. Like the transistor, this development also involved a neologism: the word bit, chosen in this case not by committee but by the lone author, a thirty-two-year-old named Claude Shannon. The bit now joined the inch, the pound, the quart, and the minute as a determinate quantity—a fundamental unit of measure.
But measuring what? “A unit for measuring information,” Shannon wrote, as though there were such a thing, measurable and quantifiable, as information.
thou must learne the Alphabet, to wit, the order of the Letters as they stand, perfectly without booke, and where every Letter standeth: as b neere the beginning, n about the middest, and t toward the end. Nowe if the word, which thou art desirous to finde, begin with a then looke in the beginning of this Table, but if with v looke towards the end. Againe, if thy word beginne with ca looke in the beginning of the letter c but if with cu then looke toward the end of that letter. And so of all the rest. &c.
Its compiler, John Bullokar, otherwise left as faint a mark on the historical record as Cawdrey did.♦ He was doctor of physic; he lived for some time in Chichester; his dates of birth and death are uncertain; he is said to have visited London in 1611 and there to have seen a dead crocodile; and little else is known.
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