Information Ages

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The personal computer is the logical culmination of centuries of accomplishments by poets, philosophers, and mathematicians, according to Michael E. Hobart, professor of history at Bryant College, and Zachary S. Schiffman, Northeastern Illinois University history professor. These scholars trace the evolution of the alphabet, writing, printing, and mathematics since the ancient Greeks and Mesopotamians in INFORMATION AGES: LITERACY, NUMERACY, AND THE COMPUTER REVOLUTION.

The thesis of what its authors call “an historical essay” is that developments in many fields in several centuries were necessary to pave the way for contemporary computer technology. Hobart and Schiffman look at the information transmitted by such works as THE ILIAD in preliterate Greece, the development of classification and list making in Mesopotamia, the importance of classification in the philosophy of Aristotle, the invention of printing in the fifteenth century, Rene Descartes’ mathematical theories, the ideas of such nineteenth century mathematicians as Charles Babbage and George Boole, and the more recent contributions of Alan Turing and John von Neumann toward the creation of the modern computer. Once the authors reach the present, they offer a clear, concise explanation of what a digital computer actually is and how it works.

Aimed at a general educated reader curious about intellectual history, INFORMATION AGES does not always show the relationships between these developments as clearly as Hobart and Schiffman might hope, and some of the material seems slightly repetitious. The authors are justified, however, in never clearly defining information. They demonstrate how this elusive concept has constantly changed and will continue to be in flux. This enlightening study ends with a sixteen-page bibliographic essay.

Source for Further Study

Publishers Weekly. CCXLV, September 28, 1998, p. 945.