The star of Gleick’s story is a shy, gangly Midwesterner named Claude Shannon. As a boy growing up in a northern Michigan town in the 1920s, Shannon became obsessed with the mechanics of transmitting information. He turned a barbed-wire fence near his home into a makeshift telegraph system, using it to exchange coded messages with a friend a half mile away. After earning a doctorate from MIT, he joined Bell Labs as a researcher. In 1948, the same year that saw the invention of the transistor, Shannon published a groundbreaking monograph titled “A Mathematical Theory of Communication.” The paper was, as Gleick writes, “a fulcrum around which the world began to turn.”
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