Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Thoughts on Soni & Goodman's A Mind at Play - A portrait of one of the few great American mathematicians, Has an interesting interplay of practical tinkering & abstract thought

I enjoyed reading “A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age,” by Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman. Shannon was one of the great American scientists and mathematicians and deserves tremendous praise for his ideas that underlie the Computer Age.

What I found most appealing about the book was the mixture of Shannon’s life in historical context with technical knowledge about information theory. The book interweaves Shannon’s early learning on electrical switches and wires at Bell labs with his later development of information theory. I found this conjunction between Shannon’s practical hands-on tinkering and the abstract mathematical work, for which he is famous, quite interesting and inspirational in terms of developing mathematical ideas.

The book also makes clear how much Shannon was impacted by his early training. Shannon benefited greatly from his initial experiences at MIT and his mentorship by the great scientific administrator Vannevar Bush. In a sense, Shannon embodied many of MIT’s characteristics when he returned to the institution. It is also interesting that while Shannon is famous for his work in communication theory, the substance of his PhD was actually related to genetics. Only now, many years later, do people realize the connection between genomics and information theory.

Overall, I found this book to be a great read that I would highly recommend to people interested in mathematical sciences and American scientists in general.

A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age Hardcover – July 18, 2017
by Jimmy Soni (Author), Rob Goodman (Author)