James Gleick on the fascinating quest to understand and wield information

Tim Wu in Slate:

F2525_Gleickinfomration_gif The Bible's human authors are long since dead, along with anyone who knew them. The papers and ink originally used are long gone. Parts may be lost, but most of the text has outlasted not just paper and pen, but cities, governments, entire civilizations, and even many of the languages the text was written in. All decays and turns to dust, but the underlying information survives, immortal in a way different from almost everything else in our experience.

So that's Information. But just what is the stuff? Does it possess traits or properties that you might identify and describe? To answer such questions is James Gleick's goal in The Information, a highly ambitious and generally brilliant effort to tie together centuries of disparate scientific efforts to understand information as a meaningful concept. For a society that believes itself to live in an information age, the subject could hardly be more important. That the project doesn't fully succeed has more to do with the limits of our understanding than with Gleick's efforts.

In The Information the main character is, of course, information itself, or more precisely our understanding of it. That protagonist, over 426 pages, wanders through thousands of years and dozens of places. It starts, like humanity, in Africa, makes a stop in ancient Greece, and spends time in England to witness the writing of the first English dictionaries and Charles Babbage's effort to build a Difference Engine. Along the way our understanding develops, deepens, as information reveals itself bit by bit.

More here.