Read A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age by Jimmy Soni Rob Goodman Online


The life and times of one of the foremost intellects of the twentieth century: Claude Shannon—the neglected architect of the Information Age, whose insights stand behind every computer built, email sent, video streamed, and webpage loaded.Claude Shannon was a groundbreaking polymath, a brilliant tinkerer, and a digital pioneer. He constructed a fleet of customized unicycleThe life and times of one of the foremost intellects of the twentieth century: Claude Shannon—the neglected architect of the Information Age, whose insights stand behind every computer built, email sent, video streamed, and webpage loaded.Claude Shannon was a groundbreaking polymath, a brilliant tinkerer, and a digital pioneer. He constructed a fleet of customized unicycles and a flamethrowing trumpet, outfoxed Vegas casinos, and built juggling robots. He also wrote the seminal text of the digital revolution, which has been called “the Magna Carta of the Information Age.” His discoveries would lead contemporaries to compare him to Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton. His work anticipated by decades the world we’d be living in today—and gave mathematicians and engineers the tools to bring that world to pass.In this elegantly written, exhaustively researched biography, Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman reveal Claude Shannon’s full story for the first time. It’s the story of a small-town Michigan boy whose career stretched from the era of room-sized computers powered by gears and string to the age of Apple. It’s the story of the origins of our digital world in the tunnels of MIT and the “idea factory” of Bell Labs, in the “scientists’ war” with Nazi Germany, and in the work of Shannon’s collaborators and rivals, thinkers like Alan Turing, John von Neumann, Vannevar Bush, and Norbert Wiener.And it’s the story of Shannon’s life as an often reclusive, always playful genius. With access to Shannon’s family and friends, A Mind at Play brings this singular innovator and creative genius to life....

Title : A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age
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ISBN : 9781476766683
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 384 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age Reviews

  • Hadrian
    2019-05-22 14:46

    Biography of Claude Shannon, called the "father of information theory". At age 21, he published a Masters' thesis where he described how Boolean logic (where variables can only be true or false) could be conveyed through circuits. This was the gap between conveying information digitally, and is the cornerstone of digital computer design. In 1948, he published another seminal work, about the limitation of how information can be conveyed through a specific channel, and how much of that can be distorted by 'noise', or outside interference. The authors take the effort to explain how and why Shannon's discoveries are so important, and they break down more complicated ideas so the lay reader (like me) can understand them. They also place his life in context - Bell Labs, MIT, Princeton, and so on, which was a welcoming intellectual environment. At the same time, they also take care to relate how Shannon approached issues, and how he thought about things - tinkering, practical, willing to take something apart to put it back together. They even include loving chapters about his hobbies, like juggling.

  • Charlene
    2019-05-26 09:53

    Now this is how to write a biography! I recently read a biography of Paul Dirac that glossed over his achievements and highlighted his personal relationships. If you know anything about Dirac, you would know how absurd it is to focus on his personal relationships. The author could have at least given his achievements equal billing. In this biography, Soni brought to life all the aspects of Shannon's life-- his inner life is shown through glimpses of what Shannon thought about various things (very entertaining), family life was nicely detailed, as was his relationships with coworkers and friends. Most importantly, his work has been beautifully explained (so that anyone with a curious mind can understand it) and preserved. Shannon's mind was a mind at play indeed, and oh how brilliant a mind it was! I was moved to tears on many occasions as I relearned all the concepts that this one man brought to our existence. With his ideas, Shannon changed the face of the world itself. In the same way that Aristotle changed the way the world thought after starting civilization down the road of deductive reasoning, Shannon changed the very way we thought about everything when he realized everything was a 0 or 1, a true or false, and could be put into a logic table. Thank goodness for his obsession with Boolean algebra, which set him on a path that gave rise to information theory. I only wish Shannon could have lived long enough to see more applications of his work. The digital world of today is something I truly wish he could have witnessed.

  • Brian Clegg
    2019-06-15 14:59

    If you are familiar with the history of computing, there are a few names that you'll know well enough biographically to turn them into real people. Babbage and Lovelace, Turing and von Neumann, Gates and Jobs. But there's one of the greats who may conjure up nothing more than a name - Claude Shannon. If Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman get this right, we're going to get to know him a lot better - and get a grip on his information theory, which sounds simple in principle, but can be difficult to get your head around.If you haven't heard of Claude Shannon, you ought to have. He was responsible for two key parts of the theoretical foundations that lie beneath the computing and internet technology most of use everyday. Arguably, without Shannon's theory, for example, it would be impossible to slump down in front of Netflix and watch a video on demand.I suspect one reason that Shannon's work is less familiar than it should be is that it lies buried deep in the ICT architecture. I was primarily a programmer for a number of years, but as someone writing applications - programs for people to use - I didn't have to give any thought to Shannon's theories. They were embodied by engineers at a lower level than I ever needed to access. In fact, I'm ashamed to say that when I was programming, though I could give you chapter and verse on Bill Gates, I'd never heard of Shannon, even though he was still alive back then.What Soni and Goodman do really well is to give us a feel for Shannon, the man. The writing has an impressive ability to put is into the home town of Claude Shannon, or the corridors of Bell Labs as he rides his unicycle along them. At first glance, Shannon might seem quite similar to Richard Feynman in his combination of playfulness with amazing insight. But it soon becomes clear that Shannon was a far less likeable character - more introverted, dismissive of those he considered an intellectual inferior and with no real interest in helping his country in the war or with codebreaking, more undertaking this if and only if he could be offered something he found mentally stimulating. Soni and Goodman seem to find his obsession with juggling, unicycles and building strange contraptions endearing, but I'm not sure that's really how it come across.I am giving this book four stars for the biographical side, which works very well, but there are some issues. One is hyperbole - there is no doubt that Shannon was a genius and made a huge contribution to our understanding of information, but we really don't need to be told how incredible he was quite as often as this book does. At one point he is compared with Einstein - with Einstein arguably coming across as the less significant of the two - this seems to miss that part of Einstein's genius was the breadth of his work from statistical mechanics through relativity to quantum physics. While Shannon's personal interests were broad, his important work lacked that range.The bigger issue was that I had hoped for a scientific biography, but I only really got a biography with a bit of science thrown in. The coverage of Shannon's information theory was (ironically) rarely very informative. I would have loved to have had the same level of exploration of the theory as we get of the person - but it's just not there. Of course, the theory isn't ignored, with a few pages given to each of the two big breakthroughs - but there could have been a whole lot more to make what can be a difficult concept more accessible.I ought to stress that using the term hyperbole should not in any sense reduce the importance of Shannon's work. Hearing of Shannon's initial inspiration that logic and electrical circuitry were equivalent comes across rather like Darwin (and Wallace)'s inspiration on evolution by natural selection. It appears blindingly obvious, once you are told about it, but it took a long time for anyone to do so - and it's hugely important. Shannon's second big step, which provides a generalised model for information transmission with noise and makes the whole understanding of information communication mathematical was inspirational and up there with Turing's universal computer. What's more, it has applications well outside the IT world in the way it provides a link between information and entropy. If there were a maths Nobel prize, as Soni and Goodman suggest, Shannon definitely should have won one.This is a man we needed to find out more about - and we certainly do. I just wish there had been more detail of the science in there too.

  • Peter Mcloughlin
    2019-06-05 07:43

    A good biography of an overlooked but seminal figure of physics and mathematics, Claude Shannon. His 1948 work on communication and information laid the foundation for the digital world we all inhabit figures like Shannon, Turing, and Von Neuman made modern computing possible. Shannon was an introvert but also a playful wiseguy in his work but mostly avoided the limelight. His work was general and eclectic basically anything that interested him he would work on. Nice biography of a curious character.

  • Jacqui
    2019-06-10 12:33

    Despite likely being the most brilliant man you've never heard of with the most comprehensive unknown impact on the advancement of technology, Claude Shannon, star of Jimmie Sonni and Rob Goodman's A Mind at Play (Simon and Schuster 2017), was by all accounts a normal kid through high school and college. Sure, he could send Morse code with his body (you'll have to read the book to see how that's accomplished) and he had a passion for solving complex math problems most people couldn't even read, but that changed when he was discovered by a string of mentors who helped him focus his intellect."...who could neither explain himself to others nor cared to."It didn't hurt that he lived contemporaneously with such brilliant minds as Alan Turing, George Boole (of Boolean Logic fame), Albert Einstein, and anthropologist Levi Strauss. By the time he died, Shannon had produced a wide variety of ground-breaking research, taught at MIT, would be known as the Father of Information Theory, and was remembered for his prominence in engineering, mathematics, and cryptography."To picture Shannon at these times is to see a thin man tapping a pencil against his knee at absurd hours.""Prone to writing down stray questions on napkins at restaurants in the middle of meals."Understanding this book is easier though not necessary if you have a basic understanding of algebra. The authors share a limited number of formulas and do an admirable job of simplifying them to easily understood terms."Switches aren't just switches but a metaphor for math [I get this one but not too well].""Logic just like a machine was a tool for democratizing force: built with enough precision and skill it could multiply the power of the gifted and talented."The fact that the book is at times long-winded and meandering (like discussing the history of the now-defunct Bell Labs) is a reflection of the authors' successful effort to decode a man who is often distracted and chaotic in his personal and professional life. Overall, if you like Isaacson's biography of Einstein or Nasar's A Beautiful Mind about John Nash, you'll love this book. If you like stories of the genius mind at play, how it unravels puzzles and solves life's unique challenges, you'll want to read this story.

  • Todd N
    2019-06-01 08:36

    I find it more than a little upsetting that my hero Claude Shannon isn’t a household name. To paraphrase Fake Steve Jobs, “I invented the bit. Ever heard of it?”Just like that 1919 eclipse proved Einstein’s equations were right, our entire modern digital world proves that Shannon’s equations were right.He also laid the foundation for digital electronics by applying Boolean algebra to circuits with switches and relays in what must be the most widely cited masters thesis ever. I’ll bet it’s still the beginning of every digital circuit class.Dr. Shannon had what every American genius needs: a first-rate mathematical mind, an engineering bent, a Midwestern upbringing with infinite amounts of free time, and access to a Land Grant college.He also had a great mentor in Vannevar Bush, a mixture of politician, administrator, and scientist that doesn’t exist anymore today. And if he or she did exist today, I’m sure Congress would send him or her into exile immediately.Aside from inventing the field of information theory, Shannon did all kinds of other cool stuff like early work on genetics, signal cryptography, computer chess, radar, wearable computers, stock analysis, and machine learning in the form an artificial mouse that learned a maze. (This was in from the 40s through the 80s, by the way.) He also tinkered around with inventions, making his own juggling machines, unicycles, mechanical turtle, and a trumpet that shot out flames.So it’s about time this guy got a decent biography. (Fortunes Formula by William Poundstone is also very good and has a decent amount of Prof. Shannon in it.)I studied some of his work on communications in college, so I was familiar with that. But I had no idea about his full career or his method of working.I found myself taking notes on things he did (like always carrying a notebook), but then I found out that there is a talk Prof. Shannon gave on “creative thinking” in 1952. The authors posted it in a Medium article here: My summary of this talk are at the end of this review.A few other random notes from this book:* Great quote someone said about Bell Labs: “There are two kinds of researchers here. Ones being paid for what they did, and ones being paid for what they are going to do.”* The section on mechanical analog computers that could solve differential equations was very interesting. The idea of sitting in a room all night with one listening to it whirr away on a problem seems so steampunk. It’s a forgotten cul de sac in computing history. * I found it very interesting how the mathematicians pretty openly looked down on their military work during WWII. They found it boring and couldn’t wait to get back to real math work.* The book uses a bunch of words to explain Markov chains without saying “Markov chains” to show redundancy in the English language. Isn’t this a thing that most people know by now? A lot of bots and automatically generated text use Markov chains, so I assumed this is a technical term that is semi-known outside of tech circles.* Once Prof. Shannon visited Palo Alto, and he wondered how anyone got any work done because the weather is so nice. * When Prof. Shannon’s daughter dropped a box of toothpicks, his comment to her was that it’s possible to estimate pi from the toothpicks lying randomly on the ground. Now that’s good parenting.* Here is a link of him showing off his mechanical mouse learning the maze: recommended. Written by non-technical authors, but they obviously did their homework.—-Creative ThinkingThree requirements to be “up the curve” and among the few people who create most of the ideas:1. Training and experience2. Intelligence or talent3. Motivation, drive, or desire to find out what makes things tickMore qualities that provide drive in a great scientist:1. Constructive dissatisfaction: a slight irritation when things don’t look quite right or things could be better2. Pleasure in seeing net results or methods of arriving at results3. So strong desire to find out the answers, willing to work on it all weekend if necessary.Methods of thinking that aid in creative work and in finding answers to problems:1. Simplify: remove everything from the problem but the essentials, even if it is simplified to the point where it doesn’t resemble the original problem2. Seek similar known problems: Analogous problems will probably have analogous solutions3. Restate the problem: Change words, viewpoint, angles of approach. This is important to avoid ruts of mental thinking and it is why people new to a field can solve issues quickly4. Generalize: Once an answer to a specific problem is found, see if it can be applied more generally. This is done in mathematics all the time.5. Structural analysis: Break down the problem into smaller steps, theorems, stages, etc.6. Invert: Assume the solution is true/false and try to prove/disprove the premise with it.

  • Nooilforpacifists
    2019-05-23 09:40

    Blecch. It's a good thing I knew something about Information Theory before reading this book. Because not only didn't authors Soni & Goodman, but they failed to communicate what little they had (especially how the switch to digital transmission could overcome most signal-to-noise issues, by making use of technologies like complex modulation or forward error correction, both invented after Shannon's most productive years). This bio instead focuses in Shannon-the-mad-genius, slighting the genius. In a brief summer at Bell Labs, I met people who had worked with him (indeed, the Labs kept an office for him at least until divestiture). They told me more than this facile, skin-deep volume ever could. To be fair, both mentioned Shannon's "Ultimate Machine", now in the MIT museum: a largish box with a single switch. When you flicked the switch "On", the box lid would open, a hand would snake out, turn the switch "Off", then the hand would reteat and the lid close. Yet, unlike this book's authors, Shannon's contemporaries understood the box's purpose--limits to Artificial Intelligence: could a machine-brain shut itself down. No carnival trick, this crude demonstration remains relevant today, even as AI has advanced spectacularly. Find me a Shannon bio written by authors who understand AI, or at least its technological and legal ramifications. Skip this one.ADDED Aug. 18th: The authors also confuse Beethoven with Mozart, calling the former a child prodigy pushed by his father.

  • Dave Tutelman
    2019-06-14 14:40

    I approached this book eagerly, because I feel a connection with the man and his work. I did graduate study at MIT, and worked under people mentioned in the book. I also worked at IBM and Bell Labs (in the same New York building), and did original work in fields that Shannon had just about invented. So I was primed to read it!It was a major disappointment. For a book about a man like Shannon, you need to get two things right -- or at least one of them. It has to be a good biography, and it should give an understandable explanation of his contribution.This book did neither well. I can understand not nailing it as a biography. Shannon was a very private individual, so it might have been hard to make him "come alive" based on factual research. But you could never make a movie of the book; a director would need almost every scene to add invented action and dialog. There is almost nothing of the man himself here. (At least not when he was doing his work. The "victory march" comprising the last third of the book did it better, but that was not the part I was interested in.)As for explaining Shannon's work... Soni and Goodman are speechwriters with a background in political science. Why would we expect them to understand information theory. We shouldn't! As long as they stayed very vague about the significance of information theory a la Shannon, they seemed to have a decent grasp on it, if not very precise. But as soon as they started talking about what it meant, they got lost and even got things wrong. I don't think that serves any proper purpose. Being vague isn't great, but part of their audience might get it, and even appreciate the non-rigor. But promulgating errors does nobody any good._________________This was to be the end of my review. But I suspect I'll be challenged on my statement about errors. So let me list just enough to make my point; there were more that I flagged.*** A potientiometer doesn't rotate anything. It may be used to measure rotation, but it doesn't cause the rotation.*** Parabolic antennas were called "satellite dishes" in the text. Literally. But it described a time years before there were any communication satellites in existence. And the antennas in question were on a totally different scale from satellite dishes, so it even fails as an analogy.*** The attempt to present significance (and it IS deep significance) on pages 128-129 confuses and inaccurately combines time quantization (sampling) and amplitude quantization (coding). They are completely separate. Shannon made signifcant contributions in both areas, and our digital age today requires both. The writers don't understand (or, if they do, don't convey) the distinction.

  • Debjani
    2019-05-20 07:37

    Very interesting book about reclusive genius Claude Shannon. I studied Shannon's noise theorems in college and it was delightful to come across this book displaying his multifaceted personality and his childlike wonder of the world.

  • Anirud Thyagharajan
    2019-05-18 12:52

    Wow! What a journey this has been. Such a beautifully written account with tastefully interspersed explanations.A multitude of takeaways from this book, ranging from admiration to hero worship; introducing early impeccable trends in research, not caring for laurels and publicity from people, and dedicating a life to doing what you love the best. I probably first encountered Shannon during sampling theory, and later into channel capacity and coding theory, but I really, really wish this book had been written much earlier than that; early enough to trigger a change in ambition.Shannon was probably eclipsed by the likes of Einstein, Turing and Neumann, but his humility, playful curiosity and fundamentalism (apart from a monstrous technological prowess) set him apart from others in his league.

  • William Moses Jr.
    2019-05-17 13:44

    Claude Shannon may be a name known only to some, but his influence is felt by most. Anytime you use a computer or device that communicates with another device, information flows between them in the form of bits and bytes. Claude Shannon contributed an understanding of how to quantify the information being sent (what exactly is information) and developed some pretty useful insights into how to efficiently transfer information between two devices. Essentially, he is the father of information theory.That is his magnum opus and he was only 32 when he wrote up his seminal paper on information theory. Many times when I read about geniuses like this, who achieve something so extraordinary so early, the rest of their life reads like a tragedy. Their fall from grace, or their problems with the law or drugs, or some other very sad thing. But not Shannon. From what I've read, he seemed like a man at peace with himself who was polite and liked tinkering with things and playing with ideas. Sure, that doesn't make for a lot of drama, but it makes for a very interesting case study, since I haven't seen many people so accomplished and yet so happy.As if that wasn't enough, the ideas behind information theory weren't Shannon's only major contribution to science. He is also responsible for linking Boolean algebra and circuits. Before him, building circuits that worked as intended was something of an art. After he wrote up his *master's thesis*, it was less an art and more a science.All in all, Shannon lead an interesting life. Not only did he lead a happy life, but he worked in both the theory of research and oversaw direct applications of science (as when he helped build a machine to beat the odds at roulette at casinos). This guy was an interesting guy who enjoyed life and this biography captures that. However, the reason I gave this book 4 stars (actually 4.5 stars) instead of 5 is because it feels like the authors kept harping on about how amazing and smart and great Shannon was throughout the first part of the book. I mean, yes, it's important that we understand the magnitude of his achievements, but when I start to feel like for every 1 sentence describing Shannon I'm going to have to read 3 more about how great he is, it really detracts from the enjoyability of the book. But in the end, this book is definitely worth reading.

  • Scott Hartley
    2019-05-26 15:02

    Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman take us through the life of one of the most important, but overlooked, figures behind today's Information Age. Many have become familiar with the likes of Alan Turing, the computer scientist and mathematician who cracked the ENIGMA code, but few know as much about Claude Shannon, who was his contemporary on America's side of the pond. Shannon drew remarkable connections between logic, mathematics, philosophy and his passion for mechanics and tinkering. He made fundamental discoveries linking Boolean logic and what physical circuits could handle. This allowed for the basis of Boolean values (zeros and ones) in 32 or 64 character strings we now know as bits. This is what unlocked the ability for the computing and Information Age to begin. And he came up with this discovery in his Master's thesis, no less. A brilliant man, and a brilliant book. It's not a farfetched claim to say that Claude Shannon is one man behind everything you've ever touched in the digital world, and perhaps ever will. I recommend Soni and Goodman's book.

  • Amar Pai
    2019-05-28 10:47

    Eh. Felt like the book ended halfway through. Then it’s all juggling and awards ceremonies. I don’t care about Shannon the juggler. Not a great scientific bio.

  • Blaine Morrow
    2019-06-10 08:00

    This will serve as an introduction to the life of Shannon, though not so much to his thoughts or writing.

  • Roberto Rigolin F Lopes
    2019-05-22 09:40

    Shannon played hard juggling ideas with rigorous mathematics. He approached the games with ingenious intuition and fierce courage building up very simple models which were incrementally developed further. Of course he also did pathbreaking synthesis connecting boolean logic to electronic circuits. As a result, now you can read review of books using computers and digital links. It is always delightful see genius at play and Shannon did it to the hilt.

  • Drtaxsacto
    2019-05-29 07:49

    Claude Shannon was a remarkable person in a lot of ways. According to the author he was the initial thinker on information theory. He was able through math and tinkering to develop some remarkable insights into how information moves. He helped to create understandings of the relationship of redundancy and noise in understanding how information works. Redundancy is something which one does not think about much until one begins to consider how information works. T_e B_ _ ck des_ is a statement with some redundancy in it. Without the four letters in the phrase one can still understand the phrase - those four letters are ultimately redundant - we don't need them to get meaning. There is a second key concept in noise. All information does not come from a clear channel. When the first transatlantic cable was laid the electrical wires used to conduct the information were plagued with problems, interference of frequencies and with even corrosion of the wire itself - thus the cable lasted barely a month.Shannon worked hard on figuring out a digital reference point for both redundancy and noise problems in a number of creative ways.His lecture upon receiving the Kyoto Prize is an example of the humility of this thinker - it mixes humor with a series of insights that I found worth reading after reading about Shannon's life. ( was an constant tinkerer. He went first to the University of Michigan's Engineering school (my dad was there about the same time) where he was asked to understand the physical dimensions of problems beyond the theory. He then settled into a long career in Bell Labs and at MIT. But his home (Entropy House) had a play room to contain his projects. I learned from this book that one of his silly things was creating a black box with a switch on it - when someone turned on the switch it would make noise and move around and then have a hand reach out and turn off the switch.Shannon also was a juggler and a uni-cycle rider. He seems to have let his creative mind explore all reaches of issues.Soni has a gift to explain some of the math that Shannon developed and yet at the same time to help us understand how a creative genius like Shannon functioned. This was an informative read.

  • nivedita
    2019-06-02 09:02

    Who is the father of the information age, the catalyst behind the internet, cell phones, music, and videos? Many teens wouldn't know or have heard of Claude Shannon. I hadn't known the existence of this playful mastermind, much less anything about the information age till I saw this book. Not having read "A Mathematical Theory of Communication" and without a mathematical foundation of that level, the book surprisingly was very understandable and exposed us to how Claude lived and what he went through; starting from when he built an elevator in his backyard to building small-time artificial intelligence (for example Theseus the Maze solving mouse). Soni and Goodman, with their well researched work, enlighten the readers who know and have studied Shannon as well as the ones who have never heard of him. By bringing together information (the surprise element in a message as Shannon defines) and communication, Shannon put us on the path where 'dataism' might as well be the new religion of the era. It didn't hurt that from a young age he had a passion for challenges and solving problems that posed difficult to others as said in the book. With many brilliant mathematical and scientific minds to interact with (such as George Boole, Alan Turning, Levi Strauss, John von Neumann, and Albert Einstien) Shannon must have derived inspiration to pursue his intellectual creativity. And how could we forget about the one and the only Vannevar Bush his mentor, friend and the one who gave him that first significant push into a changing world? Shannon was a minimalist, only writing the needed in his paper. Big picture first, details later. Many of his "details" have now become huge fields (for example, the Sampling Theorem, which tells about how to sample video, music, and pictures so as to store and send it around efficiently, in digital form is mentioned as a passing remark). Claude was a natural at many types of sign languages (like the ability to send Morse Code through his body as told in the book). A true genius! It was this playful prodigy, along with his years of studies and intellectual pursuit, that brought us to where we are now, for that, we are forever in his debt. The theory behind a lot of what we hear and see today, all goes back to him. Without him, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, and Spotify, perhaps wouldn't have existed (and most teens can't imagine the world without these Social Media)! Thank you, Soni and Goodman, for spreading Shannon's story.

  • Athan Tolis
    2019-06-06 09:39

    Loved reading this biography of Claude Shannon. On top of writing a proper biography that has clearly had the benefit of significant support from its subject’s immediate family, the authors have produced a tremendous profile of Shannon’s character and personality. Furthermore, this book succeeds 100% in making the connection between his scientific achievements and his personal traits, such as his curiosity and modesty, to say nothing of his mischievousness.On a personal level, I found it interesting that he did not have much time for the “New Math” that his children were taught in school. As an amateur mathematician I find school math to be too much oriented toward “recipes,” but perhaps I must bow to America’s most intuitive tinkerer, father of the highly abstract communication theory and godfather of the connected era we live in. Also quite funny that he dealt in stocks.This is not a “professional biography” in the style of “Birth of a Theorem,” but the authors make a decent fist of covering that angle well for the layman. The technical bits that are explained are explained very well. For example, the authors walk you both through an example of the application of Boolean arithmetic to electrical circuits and through the relative lack of randomness in everyday language.My one gripe is that some of Shannon’s highest and most enduring achievements (for example his theorems on the limits of communication) are mentioned only in passing, perhaps because they are difficult to convey in everyday language. At a minimum, and for the sake of completeness, they ought to be in an appendix.

  • John
    2019-05-24 10:39

    I was curious about Claude Shannon, as his role was examined in "The Idea Factory," which covered the amazing contributions of the Bell Labs. Soni and Goodman's coverage was good, and I enjoyed better understanding both the theory of Shannon's contributions, as well their significance. But, I didn't feel as if I ever really got to know Claude Shannon. He was an introvert, and very guarded. But I would have liked to learn more about what made him think the way he did. Did he ever mend the falling out he had with his mother over a plate of burned cookies? If not, then why not? What was his relationship with his older sister, a college math professor? How did she view her younger brother? Perhaps the family did not share these things. However, I would have enjoyed seeing more of what made this person so unique in his outlook and approach. That said, I enjoyed the book and am glad Soni and Goodman took the time to provide insights into a major American mathematician, inventor and theorist.

  • Dennis
    2019-05-20 12:58

    Shannon, as other great scientists, was curious, passionate, and dedicated: this book paints perfectly his figure.As for other biographies - one above all Walter Isaacson's "Einstein", that recently shaped the NatGeo TV series "Genius" - I really advice this book for the ones who studied the topics - in this case, Information Theory - and wants to understand how it was conceived, and gain a greater insight about it, as well as for the ones who don't even know who Shannon is, but are interested in science milestones and the life of great scientists. A consideration for those who did not study the above mentioned topic: here the father of information theory is depicted as the genius he truly was.Despite the fact that sometimes unfair comparisons are made (for example with respect to Einstein or others, in terms of tho was the "most brilliant" scientist), the authors did not exaggerate the impact that Shannon 1948 paper -A Mathematical Theory of Communication- had on the study of those topics and on the life of future generations of scientists.Even if such comparisons are quite useless in science, it is not undeserved (especially in order to make the idea for all the readers) the match between the brilliant scientist and juggler breakthrough [Shannon's] and other major discoveries, that are not product of sudden enlightenment, but of years of studies and of the most original and brave thinking, alongside the constant seeking for a underlying logic that rules the world as we know it.

  • Vicky Chijwani
    2019-06-01 07:37

    Living as we do in a digital age, the insight that all information — words, sounds, pictures, even DNA — can be represented with just a stream of 0s and 1s is something we take for granted. I know I do.But as I sat inside a giant flying machine 30,000 ft up in the air, reading A Mind at Play on a magical piece of glass behind which electrons scurried about in perfectly-orchestrated ways, projecting light onto my retinas, while music poured from tiny bits of metal lodged in my ears — immersed in Claude Shannon's legacy, as it were — it struck me how much we owe to the curious mind that took information theory and juggling with equal seriousness. (I'm not joking - Shannon actually published a paper on the math of juggling and built a juggling robot in the 1970s.) So this rather well-written biography of one of the founding fathers of the digital age, whom we only briefly encounter in our textbooks, offers a rare peek into that brilliant mind, along with memorable cameos from other 20th century titans like Alan Turing, John von Neumann, and Einstein.

  • Siddhartha Banerjee
    2019-06-11 07:34

    For someone in CS, it's hard not to know the stories behind the most famous Master's thesis, or the founding of information theory and entropy. I thought I knew Shannon's work and the context of his contributions. I barely scratched the surface. This book does a great job of talking about Shannon's other endeavours - playing the stock market, his later interest in AI, Theseus the mouse, multiple chess playing machines, uncountable unique unicycles, and even a paper on the history of juggling - while tying them all together under a common theme that well fit the man: that of a mind at play. I definitely recommend this book as a quick read for all those who might be interested in the life and times of the eccentric individual that founded our information age.

  • Terralynn Forsyth
    2019-06-05 07:52

    In-depth and entertaining overview of one of the most creative and humblest scientific thinkers of the 20th century. A timely read for anyone looking for a bit more historical grounding that the buzz of the "Information Age" seems to attract. This book did a great job of explaining the technicalities of Shannon's work in an understandable way, while cultivating an interest in exploring Information Theory deeper. I appreciated the author's ability to outline Shannon's personal character, humility, and the wider applications these personal attributes can have on creative work. Side note: listened to on audio format (Audible) and found it a good choice.

  • Nicolas
    2019-06-12 11:46

    Claude Shannon is one of the names I wish I had known a long time ago. He's credited as the "father of Information Theory" and was the first person to apply Boolean logic to electrical circuit design. His life was one of straightforward success, and Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman do an excellent job of transcribing Shannon's relatively secluded life into this biography. I'm impressed this book was a collaboration; the writing style and vocabulary is consistent throughout.Shannon didn't seek fame or fortune. He dove into problems because he personally wanted to find solutions. A practical mathematician, he frequently built his own gadgets and devices to model and demonstrate solutions.

  • Chelsea Ursaner
    2019-05-24 09:56

    Before reading A Mind at Play, I would have said Essentialism by Greg McOwen was the book that's had the greatest impact on me this year. This was the perfect complement. Claude Shannon is a total essentialist. He focuses on just a few things at a time, leaves lots of room for exploration and play, and doesn't let self-consciousness use up mental energy. On top of that though, his choices of 'the essential few' were entirely driven by what interested him. Pure curiosity and following his passion. Super inspirational person and a very well written biography.. I'm so thankful to have stumbled across it!!

  • Leo Barajas
    2019-05-31 06:33

    This is one of the better biographical accounts of a scientist that I’ve read. The authors did a phenomenal job at describing his life for what it was. The focus was not so much on the technicalities of his achievement rather the circumstances and background that enabled him to make the achievements. Although his pioneering discoveries in information are profound, Shannon also lived a life of lighthearted pursuits. The writers conveyed him as so much more than his achievements. A genius that embodied the purity and fun of a scientific life.

  • Pratyush
    2019-06-04 14:41

    The book feels stretched a lot of times and at the end of the book, I still don't know Shannon, except that he had an aversion to publicity, was humble and wanted to play around. In the author's defense, there probably isn't enough material in Shannon's life to justify a full scale book considering that a large portion of his life is still classified. They did try hard to do justice and unfortunately, one can see their effort in the book. Not a bad read, but Isaacson's Einstein is a much much better biography in both, content and style.

  • Alexander Smith
    2019-05-20 13:34

    In some sense, this book is hard to judge. It's the first attempt at a complete synopsis of Claude Shannon's life and character. While one might be tempted to believe the true nature of Shannon's life is actually in the papers and toys he created, as Shannon might proclaim, but this would do a serious disservice to those who wished to understand his wit and humor. Shannon had a particularly quiet philosophy and procedure of life. This book prods at trying to tell us this from an annoyingly silent source on that very topic.

  • Edward B.
    2019-06-01 10:39

    A solid biography of the work and life of someone who made the modern world possible and deserves to be better known.The writing is not compelling, but it's not too dry either.The content is a good balance of the technical and the personal and the context of the time.I think that James Gleick's The Information does a better job of explaining what Shannon's Information Theory is and just how far-reaching it is and why it's so important.But I'm glad to have read this biography as well.

  • Fernando
    2019-06-02 07:52

    A very well written biography, the author did an excellent job in reporting facts accurately and keep the pace with the narrative. I enjoyed every chapter, and I don't generally read biographies. I have to say that I'm a little biased being an engineer working at the Bell Labs campus. I see Claude Shannon statues and reminders of his accomplishments all around. His contributions to the field of telecommunication, computer science, and many other disciplines are great and he is an inspiration to many. I believe the book is a very good read for a wide audience.