George Boole, Claude Shannon, and information

Paul Nahin writes books that are somewhere between popular and academic. His books are popular, but not light reading. They tell a story, but they go into more detail than most popular books. (I haven’t read everything Nahin has written, but I’ve noticed this pattern in his books I have read.)

Nahin’s latest book is The Logician and the Engineer: How George Boole and Claude Shannon Created the Information Age. The title may be a little misleading. The book includes brief biographies of Boole and Shannon, but it is more about the ideas of Boole and Shannon (and others) than about the lives of these men. It discusses logic and information theory, and contains a fair amount of history, but it is not a rigorous historical account. Nahin uses Boole and Shannon a device for writing his book, something like the way Douglas Hofstadter uses Gödel, Escher, and Bach in Gödel, Escher, Bach.

The Logician and the Engineer dives into logic and probability from the perspective of an electrical engineer. The book moves seamlessly between abstract mathematics and electronic circuits. You don’t need to know much about electronics before reading the book, but you will see how logic concepts correspond directly to hardware. This is the heart of the book, and it is well done.

The last chapter of the book quickly discusses thermodynamics, and quantum computing. You could say The Logician and the Engineer is a book about basic electrical engineering, sandwiched between a historical introduction and a view of the future.

Other posts about Nahin’s books:

Einstein on radio
Richard Feynman and Captain Picard try to prove Fermat’s Last Theorem

6 thoughts on “George Boole, Claude Shannon, and information

  1. Have you read James Gleick’s The Information ? How does this compare to Gleick’s book with regard to coverage on Shannon’s ideas ?

  2. I have tried to read the Information and found it too verbose, jumping to one tangent to another. It was very hard to follow. It is too bad since I found information theory fascinating. I hope this new book John mentioned is better. I did really enjoy GEB.


  3. I was just about to post the exact comments about the similarity to the themes in “the information”. I too, attempted to read it and got way too bored with the pace and the verbosity of it.

  4. Sounds like this book is similar to Nahin’s “An Imaginary Tale The story of sqrt(-1)”. Except he wrote the math symbol for sqrt(-1) :-).

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