Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Nod To Claude

I was looking at a book on Claude Shannon, the father of information theory.

He was a graduate of the University of Michigan.  (Not essential information, just thought I'd mention it).  His "Mathematical Theory Of Communication" published in 1948 in the Bell System Technical Journal, (and later turned into a book, helped create the modern world of computers.

While Shannon's best known work is actually less technical than that of a lot of other scientists, mathematicians and engineers, it still made me wonder how one writes a popular book on a complex subject.  Sure, many readers will be conversant, but the general reader will likely not have an advanced degree in mathematics.

So a popularizer has to explain things to the public.  If the explanation gets too tricky, you lose readers. But if the explanation is too simple, you don't get the ideas across properly.

In other words, how much do you want to dumb it down?  I don't know how the writers go about it, but I would guess it could go two ways.  First, you understand what's going on (and if you don't, should your be writing the book?).  From there you either start with the full complexity and keep simplifying till you think the audience can get it, or you start with it as simple as possible and keep adding more and more tricky bits until you think you've gone far enough.

It probably doesn't matter how simple you make it. Most people will probably stay away, regardless.


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