book reviews

Book Review: A Mind at Play

A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information AgeA Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age

by Jimmie Sonni and Rob Goodman

5/5

Despite likely being the most brilliant man you’ve never heard of with the most comprehensive unknown impact on the advancement of technology, Claude Shannon, star of Jimmie Sonni and Rob Goodman’s A Mind at Play (Simon and Schuster 2017), was by all accounts a normal kid through high school and college. Sure, he could send Morse code with his body (you’ll have to read the book to see how that’s accomplished) and he had a passion for solving complex math problems most people couldn’t even read, but that changed when he was discovered by a string of mentors who helped him focus his intellect.

“…who could neither explain himself to others nor cared to.”

It didn’t hurt that he lived contemporaneously with such brilliant minds as Alan Turing, George Boole (of Boolean Logic fame), Albert Einstein, and anthropologist Levi Strauss. By the time he died, Shannon had produced a wide variety of groundbreaking research, taught at MIT, would be known as the Father of Information Theory, and was remembered for his prominence in engineering, mathematics, and cryptography.

“To picture Shannon at these times is to see a thin man tapping a pencil against his knee at absurd hours.”

“Prone to writing down stray questions on napkins at restaurants in the middle of meals.”

Understanding this book is easier though not necessary if you have a basic understanding of algebra. The authors share a limited number of formulas and do an admirable job of simplifying them to easily understood terms.

“Switches aren’t just switches but a metaphor for math [I get this one but not too well].”

“Logic just like a machine was a tool for democratizing force: built with enough precision and skill it could multiply the power of the gifted and talented.”

The fact that the book is at times long-winded and meandering (like discussing the history of the now-defunct Bell Labs) is a reflection of the authors’ successful effort to decode a man who is often distracted and chaotic in his personal and professional life. 

Overall, if you like Isaacson’s biography of Einstein or Nasar’s A Beautiful Mind about John Nash, you’ll love this book. If you like stories of the genius mind at play, how it unravels puzzles and solves life’s unique challenges, you’ll want to read this story.

View all my reviews

More on genius:

Einstein: His Life and Universe

Decoded

Runaway Brain

Born on a Blue Day–Insight into Learning


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and  Twenty-four DaysShe is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

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41 thoughts on “Book Review: A Mind at Play

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      • As a teacher, it was always an issue since no two people think and solve in the same manner. I personally try to figure out how something works first (as in a clock) and then try to problem solve to fix the issue. I stick to something until I find the solution. Some students gave up after one wrong attempt. My engineer father always said there was a better way to do something. How about you? How do you problem solve?

        Liked by 1 person

        • I find it almost fun, to sit down and unravel what happened. I think a lot of my students give up early because that’s what’s been modeled to them–when something goes wrong, throw your hands up and think the sky is falling, and then call for help. I show them how I smile, enjoy the activity, and more often than not, figure it out.

          Fun innit.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Indeed, yes. Those students involved in sports have the mindset to not give up and keep trying and playing. Even when I had piano recitals, I learned to keep going even if I made a mistake because chances were that I was the only one who noticed. In German class, I told my students that good language learners were risk-takers who tried even if they made a mistake. Having passion, smiling and enjoying what we do is key to students learning it is ok. The sky will not fall. Thanks for your feedback.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. If there is such a thing as a formula for genius then reading books like this probably would be a good place to start searching. Unless one is so fortunate to have super smart
    or motivational mentors.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jaqui, thank you for introducing Claude Shannon. Quite a remarkable guy with a deep passion. I had never heard of him I must admit.
    It is fascinating how some brilliant people seem content to stay in the shadow whilst similar brilliance seeks the light. Either way they help to change the way we live.
    miriam

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Jacqui – fascinating man to be introduced to … and you’re right I didn’t know about him. Thanks for letting us know – he had some interesting hobbies – cheers Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

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