Cataloging the World: Paul Otlet and the Birth of the Information Age

Alex Wright (Author)

Product Details

Oxford University Press, USA
Publish Date
June 01, 2014
5.7 X 1.2 X 8.3 inches | 1.05 pounds

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About the Author

Alex Wright is a professor of interaction design at the School of Visual Arts and a regular contributor to The New York Times. He is the author of Glut: Mastering Information through the Ages.


"The story of Paul Otlet (1868-1944), Belgian librarian and utopian visionary, who, long before the digital age, dreamed of a worldwide repository of media, accessible to all. As Wright explains in this shrewd, brisk biography, cataloging books was only one of Otlet's aims--he 'saw little distinction between creating a new classification of human knowledge and reorienting the world's political system.'... Wright ends his illuminating story in the present, where Otlet's thoughts about the connection of information to knowledge, and knowledge to insight, are still urgent." --Kirkus Reviews

"Alex Wright has placed Paul Otlet's life and work in up-to-this-minute context to bring us the illuminating biography of a pioneering information activist whose grand vision of a world of universal knowledge, freely available to all, is here to remind us that we would be foolish to settle for anything less." --George Dyson, author of Turing's Cathedral

"This wonderful, carefully researched, and well-written book draws us into the question: to what extent does the ambitious work of Paul Otlet make him the prophetic analog father of the Internet? Alex Wright is careful not to overstate the significance of Otlet. But the ambiguity of Otlet's influence, not to mention his long and eventful life and passionate dreams of world peace, in fact makes him more, not less, interesting." --Charles B. Strozier, Professor of History at John Jay College and the Graduate Center at The City University of New York, and author of Heinz Kohut: The Making of a Psychoanalyst

"Alex Wright's beautifully written book illuminates the life and work of Paul Otlet, one of a group of information theorists and utopians whose achievements during the early part of the last century prefigure the digital world, and whose innovation underpin the 'information society' in which we live. Cataloging the World is a lively, sympathetic but rigorous exploration of the ways in which what might seem merely of historical interest proves of immediate and engrossing relevance." --W. Boyd Rayward, University of Illinois and University of New South Wales

"With profound insight, Alex Wright reveals that within the labyrinth of Paul Otlet's Mundaneum lies hidden an anticipation of the hyperlinked structure of today's Web. This is not only a captivating biography of Otlet's prophetic vision of a global networked information system but a vivid account of how similar systems took shape in the minds of Conrad Gessner, Leibniz, Vannevar Bush, Tim Berners-Lee, and many others." --Wouter Van Acker, Griffith University

"Finally a historical study of the Information Age not starting with Vannevar Bush. Alex Wright's balanced study of Paul Otlet's dream to catalogue the world as one of the many successive projects of unifying knowledge on a global level is a joy to read after the autohagiographies of engineers that claimed their share in the 'invention' of the Internet and World Wide Web in purely computer-and-information-technical terms." --Dr. Charles van den Heuvel, University of Amsterdam

"An excellent study of a Belgian, Paul Otlet, who in the late nineteenth century began 'a vast intellectual enterprise that attempted to organize and code everything ever published'... Relevant of course to the origins of the web, Wikipedia, and current sites such as" --Marginal Revolution

"A remarkable read in its entirety, not only in illuminating history but in extracting from it a beacon for the future." --Brain Pickings