Tuesday, January 08, 2013

The Information

The Information Among my holiday reading was James Gleick's The Information. Blurb: "a chronicle that shows how information has become the modern era’s defining quality".

Ever since I read Everything Is Miscellaneous, I have been looking for another book which would have a similar impact on me in terms of explaining and clarifying the digital world. The Information is not  that book. Not unexpectedly for an English graduate, there's a book in here about linguistics struggling to get out.

I was very impressed with the first few chapters which explore the significance of coding information. I was particularly interested in the discussion of the movement from oral traditions to written information, and I originally intended to do this review as a talking head video to camera in homage to that - but hey, who's got time to fiddle about with video (or watch it) when I can just tap out notes? Soon after that the book starts to get bogged down in excessive extraneous detail, for example too much biographical information about Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace, too many anecdotes about the telegraph. I enjoyed this chapter a lot, but this book is not the place for it because it detracts from the mass market mission statement. Subsequent chapters plunge into the mathematical basis for information theory and become increasingly arcane (to a non-mathematician like me) before finally wandering off into the mists of quantum physics. Chapter 14 gets back on track with the best discussion about Wikipedia I have read, but ultimately the book fizzles out in an insipid fog.

Ultimately, this is a very well written and a disappointing book, around 100 pages too long. From this we learn that a decent editor is worth many thousand words.


  1. I've had a hardback copy of this book on my shelf for sometime... I'm not too sure that you have inspired me to read it!

  2. Although I read fairly few non-fiction, single-author books, it seems that the all start as being succinct, interesting and well-argued, before a decline by chapter 4 into jolly anecdotes interspersed with notes, then fizzling out to unreadability soon after. Is this because the first chapters are reviewed by the commissioning editor, or the ones shown on Amazon, or do few reviewers get beyond them?