One-A-Day Gift Guide: Understanding The Internet

Two books that change how you see technology. The internet, from the bottom up and the top down.

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It's hard to know if any book, even a great one, will really reach another person, or change how he or she sees the world. But if you're buying a gift for someone who loves tech, here are a couple good bets.

James Gleick's The Information is sweeping history of the concept of data, and one that can spin a reader's rudimentary, intuitive understanding of the principles of computing, logic, physics and mathematics into a series of deeply rewarding revelations about the way things work. From the NYT's review:

Gleick makes his case in a sweeping survey that covers the five millenniums of humanity’s engagement with information, from the invention of writing in Sumer to the elevation of information to a first principle in the sciences over the last half-century or so. It’s a grand narrative if ever there was one, but its key moment can be pinpointed to 1948, when Claude Shannon, a young mathematician with a background in cryptography and telephony, published a paper called “A Mathematical Theory of Communication” in a Bell Labs technical journal.

Andrew Blum's Tubes will appeal to a slimmer audience. It's a book for people who like things explained, and who like to reexplain those things later (again and again and again). It's a port-to-port textual diagram of how the internet fits together, where and how it physically exists, and what that means to regular people. From the Guardian's review:

What may surprise many readers is just how few shrines the internet has. It takes Blum only several trips to get around most of the world's big "exchanges", the meeting points for networks, dispelling any notion that the internet's virtual ubiquity has a physical equivalent. He excels at rooting the internet in real-world locations, explaining why Frankfurt and London's Docklands have become such an integral part of it.

Contact John Herrman at

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