Recent Reviews of "Dark Hero of the Information Age"
“A brilliant mind and an anguished life. . . . Wiener . . . founding theorist of the information age . . . defined the parameters of what we know today as computer science [and] collaborated on major advances in robotics and automation. . . . But often . . . Wiener missed out on credit he should have had because he was chronically ahead of his time. . . . Wiener’s interest in cybernetics in the Soviet Union . . . brought him unwelcome government attention in the anti-Communist 1950’s. And his ardent opposition to secrecy and commercialism left him at odds with many scientists. (One can only wonder what he would have said about the commercialization of science today.) . . . Wiener [was] a great mathematician, gifted with imagination and insight that soared over the artificial boundaries that divide disciplines in science. . . . His may have been one of the great minds of the 20th century.”
- The New York Times ("Science Times" section)
“Vivid accounts from his children and colleagues . . . shed light on Wiener’s inner life. Reading about his traumatic experiences makes unpacking the mechanics of electronic computing even more worthwhile.”
“One of the central concerns of the current “information age” is the difficulty of ordering and making sense out of the glut of information that flies at us from every direction, at all hours, in increasingly creative and invasive ways. Wiener, the man who gave us the tools to create and nurture this age by founding the science of cybernetics, has fallen prey to that glut, with his legacy and impact largely forgotten and misunderstood. . . . Conway and Siegelman . . . reassess [Wiener’s] legacy, painting a compelling, readable portrait of ‘a dark hero who has fallen through the cracks in the information age and his fight for human beings that is the stuff of legend.’ . . . [They] celebrate Wiener’s genius and his voracious appetite for various modes of scientific and social inquiry. . . . At the same time, the authors humanize their subject with revealing but tasteful ruminations on his manic depression, his physical limitations and his sometimes petty and competitive nature. Perhaps most importantly, Conway and Siegelman chronicle Wiener’s own awakening to the implications of the science he was pioneering and to the dangers they posed to his future and to ours.”
- Publishers Weekly
“Highly informative and lyrically written, Dark Hero is a monumental achievement, sure to engage those curious about our age’s scientific wellsprings. Readers will walk away with a deeper understanding of the science behind the tech revolution and events prompting it. They’ll learn how science can be politicized, and what that means for research. They’ll learn of Wiener’s emotional struggles despite gigantic mental gifts. Prodigy is wondrous. But what price must nature’s ‘fabulous monsters’ pay for such gifts? Dark Hero holds some gripping answers.”
- Albuquerque Journal
“[Wiener] put the ghost in the machine. . . . [He] was a visionary . . . best known for his theory that says machines and other automated devices should be designed to work in the same way as a human brain works. . . . Cybernetics . . . forever altered the course of automation used in everyday devices from electric coffeepots to computers.”
- Investors Business Daily
“A compelling and lucid account of Wiener’s prodigy and prophecy. . . . Conway and Siegelman capture Wiener’s frailties and his genius with clear, engaging prose that explains the man and his work without grinding to a dull reductionism or bogging in difficult details. As it marshals the scenes of this storied life . . . Dark Hero . . . forms its own beguiling equation: a series of dark moments and flashing brilliance that sums roundly at Wiener’s lifelong concern, the human use of human beings. It is a tremendous achievement in itself—and a wonderful portrait of a man as necessary to our new century as he was to our last.”
- Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Conway and Siegelman . . . successfully document the fascinating details of [Wiener’s] personal life and rightly emphasise his attempts to warn the public and politicians of the social implications of technology. . . . Today, with so many new technologies emerging, perhaps it is more important than ever to remember his message that technology ‘is a two-edged sword, and sooner or later it will cut you deep.’ ”
- New Scientist
In this compelling biography . . . the authors limn the development of the brilliant mind that created the basic framework for a . . . science of communication. . . . At a time when information technology is delivering new powers to government security agencies and new clients to unemployment offices, readers will read this life story with great interest.
“A brilliant biography. . . . The authors . . . bring back the forgotten Dark Hero of the Information Age. . . . [Wiener’s] rebellion was something that Einstein would approve of.”
This letter is in response to Clive Thompson's review of ''Dark Hero of the Information Age: In Search of Norbert Wiener, the Father of Cybernetics,'' by Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman (March 20). Although the reviewer is kind to the authors, I would take issue with his characterization of Wiener as a ''lesser-known scientist'' and as simply a ''backroom influencer.'' I was particularly disturbed by his final sentence, describing Wiener as ''smaller than history.'' The reviewer seems to have missed (or ignored) the main contribution of Norbert Wiener's life effort — namely, to promote ''the human use of human beings.''
Conway and Siegelman have produced a superb book that promotes this humanism of the father of cybernetics and that should be required reading in both science and humanities curriculums. And, speaking of cybernetics, the reviewer seems to be out of touch with the current activity in a number of journals and the American Cybernetics Society. Contrary to his appraisal, cybernetics is alive and well — one might even say thriving.