— “At the stillpoint of the turning world.”

Read the Acclaimed Book by Flo Conway & Jim Siegelman!

Now in Paperback, Kindle & Nook Editions from Basic Books*
    Also available in Italian, Japanese, Chinese, and a new French edition
          from the first publisher of Norbert Wiener’s “Cybernetics”!
         And, coming soon, in Korean . . . .

Dark Hero of the Information Age:
In Search of Norbert Wiener, the Father of Cybernetics

by Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman

The story of the eccentric mathematical genius who founded the revolutionary science of cybernetics and then spent his life warning the world about its dangerous human consequences . . . .

In the middle of the last century, Norbert Wiener, ex-child prodigy and brilliant MIT mathematician, founded, the science of cybernetics, igniting the information age explosion of computers, automation, and global telecommunications. Wiener was the first to articulate the modern notion of “feedback.” His work heavily influenced legends of twentieth-century science and society: computer pioneer John von Neumann, information theorist Claude Shannon, anthropologists Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, and labor kingpin Walter Reuther. His best-selling book, Cybernetics, catapulted him into the public spotlight, as did his chilling visions of the future and his ardent social activism to safeguard “the human use of human beings.” Yet today, the man, his work, and his prescient warnings have been virtually forgotten.

In this remarkable biography, award-winning journalists and communication researchers Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman set out to rescue Wiener’s genius from obscurity and to explore the many ways in which his revolutionary ideas continue to shape our lives. Based on a wealth of primary sources and exclusive interviews with Wiener’s family and closest colleagues, the book reveals an extraordinarily complex figure, whose high-pressure childhood, manic depression, and troubled relationships had a profound effect on his scientific work. Conway and Siegelman also uncovered secret government documents that show how the FBI and the CIA pursued Wiener at the height of the Cold War to thwart his social activism and the growing influence of cybernetics at home and abroad.

In an epilogue, the authors bring Wiener’s concerns up to the moment. They describe the flawed “smart” weapons that have caused the deaths of American soldiers and innocent civilians in Iraq and throughout the Middle East; acts by terrorists who have turned America’s own technologies back on us abroad and at home; the debate over offshore outsourcing of industries and technical services to China, India, and Eastern Europe; and promising new digital and analog technologies, biotechnologies, and nanotechnologies that may enhance human life or, in some scenarios, extinguish it. These technical advances, which Wiener foresaw decades ago, promise immense benefits, but they also pose greater perils today than they did in his time. The authors reaffirm Wiener’s message that people, enterprises and nations today must make their first priority, not technology for technology’s sake, or for the power and profits it may bring, but to use the new knowledge and technology wisely and responsibly for the betterment of all humankind.

No one interested in the intersection of technology and culture will want to miss this epic story of one of the twentieth century’s most brilliant and colorful figures.

* Basic Books (September 2006), published in cooperation with Stillpoint Press
ISBN 0465013716 / 978-0465013715
Softcover, 464 pages
$17.95/$25.50 (CAN) Buy It Now @ Amazon.com  ($15.36 – you save 14%)
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Praise for Dark Hero of the Information Age!

“I cannot imagine a new history more significant in the here and now than this one, eight years in the making. The wisdom and grace of its presentation, moreover, put me in mind of Edward Gibbon.”

– Kurt Vonnegut

“The information age was launched in 1948 with a brilliant book called Cybernetics by Norbert Wiener, a pioneer in computers and communications. This fascinating biography of Wiener captures his brilliance and his dark side, and it shows how his new way of thinking made him one of the most influential innovators of our times. It’s a truly exciting tale.”

– Walter Isaacson, author of

Steve Jobs and Einstein: His Life and Universe

Dark Hero of the Information Age is superb. Norbert Wiener, who was my mentor for a decade, was a brilliant and complex man, and the authors relate Wiener’s ideas in illuminating detail. It is certainly a thrilling book—and the story is still continuing today.”

– Oliver Selfridge, MIT Media Lab

pioneer of Artificial Intelligence

“This exciting book offers a timely correction to the misapprehensions and neglect surrounding Norbert Wiener’s deeply felt concerns for the social and human consequences of automation and cybernetics.”

– Stuart Bennett, Honorary Research Fellow

The University of Sheffield

“Norbert Wiener was a great thinker and a tortured person. His work was an inspiration to me, as it was to many, but his personal history was only known through the filter of watered down anecdotes. I read Dark Hero of the Information Age with great interest and emotion; it is a revelation of the man behind the mind.”

– Benoit Mandelbrot

pioneer of chaos theory and fractal geometry

author of The (Mis)behavior of Markets

Dark Hero of the Information Age is doubly fascinating for the drama of Wiener’s erratic personal odyssey and the way in which each episode expands our understanding of the benefits and perils of contemporary technology. Conway and Siegelman weave a user-friendly narrative, written for non-experts who want to understand where we are now and how we got there, yet I believe the experts too will find themselves surprised into a new thoughtfulness.”

– Mary Catherine Bateson

Institute for Intercultural Studies, author of

Willing to Learn: Passages of Personal Discovery

Editors’ Choice . . . [Dark Hero] shines. . . . A fascinating account of how a personal crisis can destroy a scientific revolution. . . . Wiener was both brilliant and personally intriguing. . . . As a character, he was larger than life.”

– The New York Times Book Review

“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

“[Dark Hero] gives us a new and intimate portrait of Wiener . . . and describes his stormy relationships with his friends and family. Conway and Siegelman have done a thorough job of historical research, interviewing most of the surviving witnesses, and documenting the narrative with detailed references to published and unpublished papers, letters, and interviews. . . . The book reads more like a novel than a conventional biography. . . . The authors . . . have succeeded in bringing Wiener to life as a great figure in the world of science as well as a tragic hero in a domestic drama. They show him as he was, a mixture of Galileo and Othello. . . . They answer the crucial questions: what cybernetics was, what Wiener intended to do with it, and why it seems to have disappeared from the scene after Wiener’s death. . . . Aspects of Wiener’s vision of the future are coming true. We see, as he predicted, millions of skilled human workers displaced by machines and sinking into poverty. We see the basis of the wealth of nations moving from the manufacture of goods to the processing of information. We see the beginnings of an understanding of the mysteries of the human brain. We still have much to learn from Wiener’s vision.”

– Freeman J. Dyson
New York Review of Books

“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

“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.’ ”

– Simon Singh
New Scientist

“If you are looking for the flesh-and-blood Wiener, you will find it here—not just Wiener the tremendous brain, Wiener the icon, Wiener the gauche and eminently laughable eccentric . . . or Wiener the short, stocky man, bearded in a day when few had beards, waddling through the halls of MIT popping peanuts. If you are looking for the human face of the man, then I highly recommend the book. . . . There are dozens of Wiener anecdotes floating around, some of them true; if, dear reader, you wish to augment your personal stock, you will find stories here in abundant measure. . . . What emerged from [the authors’] labors is Wiener as a prodigious brain and—yes—eccentric, but also Wiener the rebel, the quarry of the McCarthy witch hunters, the humanitarian . . . the seer, the prophet.”

– Philip J. Davis
(Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics)

“An extremely comprehensive and significant biography [written] in an admirably readable but authoritative style. The authors refer to Masani’s work as ‘scholarly,’ but their own is equally deserving of the term. . . . They do not show mathematical formulae, but they refer to mathematical principles by name, with discussion of the significance, and ample references. This is certainly an outstanding work.”

– Dr. Alex Andrew, Director General
World Organisation of Systems & Cybernetics

“[Dark Hero] has the originality to insist not only on the psychological side of the difficulties encountered by Wiener . . . but also on the unsuspected influence of his family life. On the other side, the scientific point of view is not forgotten and is presented with accuracy and clarity. . . . This excellent and original book is of great interest not only for the neophytes but also for those who had the privilege to know him or the opportunity to study his works.”

– Robert Vallée, President
World Organisation of Systems & Cybernetics

“A fascinating and rewarding biography. . . . It has painted a picture of an extraordinary man to whom I . . . owe a great deal. . . .Wonderful portraiture of Wiener. . . . I learnt an enormous amount about the origins and early days of cybernetics, and of those who were part of this. . . . . A vital and fascinating piece of story telling . . . a detective story . . . a good read.”

— Dr. Ranulph Glanville, University College London
Vice President, American Society for Cybernetics
Cybernetics and Human Knowing

Dark Hero . . . is about the most famous person you’ve probably never heard of. . . .‘If Wiener had caught fire with his flights of prophecy, labor might have been prepared. The education and training for new technology, where we’re failing . . . in relation to so many countries, might have happened a generation ago.’. . . The point of remembering Wiener isn’t doomsaying. . . . It’s to see that changes in the economy were predicted—and that it is still possible ‘to plan for the next generation of jobs, to preserve and remake the industries essential to the nation’s prosperity and security, and to ensure that people have meaningful work at a livable wage in a global technological age.’ If anyone listens.”

– Cleveland Plain Dealer

“The founder of cybernetics is largely forgotten. That’s a pity….Let us recall the thought and life of a man who, though not conventionally heroic . . . combined brilliance with [a] determination to behave ethically. . . . Today, self-correcting. . .systems surround us. So it’s hard for us to appreciate the impact of Wiener’s ideas in the mid-20th century, when he pointed out the similarity between machines with sensory systems that collected information to fine-tune their behavior and biological systems—like human beings—that did the same thing. . . . Wiener believed that scientists and technologists had an ethical responsibility both to the truth and to humanity; through all his life, he attempted to meet the terms of that contract.”

– Technology Review

“[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

“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.”

– Booklist

“Interesting history . . . well worth reading. Conway and Siegelman have dug up a lot of interesting material on the early days of cybernetics, and they certainly capture the enthusiasm of the early years of our information age. They also uncover many facts about Wiener’s life that were not commonly known.”

– Notices of the American Mathematical Society

“Hopefully, with this well-written and important biography . . . Wiener will no longer be a forgotten hero of the information age.”

– ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

“A well-written, well-researched portrait of the personal and professional life of an often-forgotten, but central, player in the politics and ideas of twentieth-century science, technology, and engineering. . . . The authors . . . do an excellent job of conveying in nontechnical terms Wiener’s contributions [and they] convincingly account for [cybernetics’] disappearance in . . . the larger political context. . . . The use of the term information science within the library profession as well as the technological revolution within libraries are clear indications of the debt librarians owe to Wiener. Librarians and information scientists will be particularly interested in the account of the relationship between Wiener and Claude Shannon, the ‘father of information theory.’ . . . Wiener’s most significant and profound contributions may reside in the issues he raised concerning the very nature of the individual in the twenty-first century, and in his resistance to the inhumane uses of science and technology by the government and other ruling institutions. . . . In the information age, librarians and information scientists are among the first to confront the issues of control over information, privacy, and identity (for example, the Patriot Act). Wiener’s words and actions provide models for information professionals concerned with this responsibility. . . . Wiener is relevant to us because he was a prophet, not because he was a prodigy.”

– College and Research Libraries

“Fascinating . . . . What engaged me virtually from the first sentence . . . was the poignant, beautifully told story. . . . Conway and Siegelman meticulously document . . . that Wiener was the descendant of famous Eastern European rabbis and Talmudic scholars [and] the purported descendant of Moses Maimonides, the greatest religious scholar of the Middle Ages. . . . Delightful sentences . . . pepper the whole book. . . . The poetry and prose flow together seamlessly . . . in this summing up of Norbert Wiener’s life.”

– Cleveland Jewish News

“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.”

– The Hindu Business Line

Menzione d’onore, Premio Letterario Serono 2006 (Italian Edition)

L’Eroe Oscuro dell’Età dell’Informazione
Alla ricerca di Norbert Wiener, il padre della cibernetica

Traduzione di Paola Bonini.

Codice Edizioni (October 2005) ISBN 88-7578-032-3 Softcover, 550 pagine, 32 €

“[Dark Hero] is a portrait in full relief of the eccentric character of Norbert Wiener.”

– Il Manifesto

“An archaeological and investigative work . . . carefully done by Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman. . . . Enthralling reading.”

– La Stampa

“A marvellous romance of life. Written very well, with a clear literary inspiration, it is not only a well-documented biography, it is an excellent scenario of the twentieth century, with its contradictions and its irresistible intensity.”

– Le Scienze

“To follow Wiener during his rise and fall as a scientist and as a man is a fascinating intellectual adventure.”

– Il Giornale

“[Conway and Siegelman] give voice again to ideas and thoughts of an absolutely ahead-of-his-time mind. . . . Interesting . . . we recommend it to everyone who would like to have [a] different point of view of our technological present.”

– La Repubblica


(Japanese Edition)

NikkeiBP (December 2006) ISBN: 987-4822283001/3 672 pages, ¥ 2,940

“The first biography describing the brilliant life of Norbert Wiener and the start of our modern information society. . . the history of the information sciences in the 20th century, and Wiener’s association with John von Neumann, Claude Shannon and others.”

“Norbert Wiener, lionized as a child prodigy, developed cybernetics but died in despair. . . . Still his ideas live on the Internet.”

New from Éditions Hermann—the first publisher of Norbert Wiener’s “Cybernetics”!

Héros pathétique de l’âge de l’information.
En quête de Norbert Wiener, père de la cybernétique

Traduction de Nicole Vallée-Levi
Présentation de Robert Valllée

Éditions Hermann (August 2012) ISBN : 9782705682941 425 pages, 35.00 €

“The first cybernetician . . . the little genius, Norbert Wiener . . . fits all the stereotypes: he could read at age 3, began Greek two years later, and at age 11 declared to a . . . reporter who came to interview him that philosophy was far more interesting than fairy tales. In adulthood, he collected labels: absent-minded scholar, unpredictable and moody. In their biography translated into French under the title Héros pathétique de l’âge de l’information . . . American journalists Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman highlight the painful dimensions of a man so touched by manic-depressive syndrome that the mere recitation of verses in German could wreak havoc on him. . . . The brilliant MIT professor resides in the history of science for bringing cybernetics to the baptismal font with the publication in 1948 of his major work, Cybernetics: or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. By defining the elementary unit of communication, the message, he set off a true technological revolution across disciplines. His lifework, however, was not fated for a long triumph. Cybernetics not only saw itself quickly supplanted by the specialized disciplines it had generated, but it raised for Wiener its own disquieting dangers that the human race would be run by its machines.

– Le Monde des Livres

“Norbert Wiener is well studied today in mathematics, philosophy, and sociology. And economists would do well to emulate Wiener, who observed the formation of financial bubbles [and] advised investors to “watch your hat and coat.”. . . Visionary, definitely.

– Libération

New in 2021 from China Citic Press Group

神 童 、数 学 家 、抑 郁 症 患 者 、

CITIC Press (August 2021) ISBN : 978-7-5217-2919-1 88.00 元

“Wiener defined the basic dimensions of control and computation as we know them today and pointed out the relationship between control and related disciplines. He did pioneering work in the fields of automation and artificial intelligence. His contributions to scientific development and his concern for the future of humankind should not be forgotten by us.”

—Zheng Nanning, Chairman, Chinese Society of
Automation, Academician of the Chinese Academy
of Engineering, Director of Artificial Intelligence
and Robotics, Xi’an Jiaotong University,
Awardee of Technological Sciences Prize

“The reason this book is particularly fascinating is that Wiener experienced ups and downs in his life. Every chapter expands our understanding of contemporary technology and awareness of its benefits and harms. The authors describe real history, especially revealing the fact that cybernetics research originated from fire command and control. This book provides references for non-professionals who want to understand information technology and its history, and I believe that even experts will gain something.”

—Fei Aiguo, Chairman, Chinese Academy of
Command and Control, Academician of the
Chinese Academy of Engineering,
Researcher of the Air Force Research Institute

“Wiener is the founder of the information age, but he has not received the praise he should have because he was ahead of his time and he was concerned about confidentiality. His strong opposition to commercialism put him at a disadvantage among many scientists at the time. People can’t help thinking, ‘If Wiener is still there, then he’s right.’ Who will comment today, as he did, on the development of technology and the rise of artificial intelligence?

—Dai Qionghai, Chairman, Chinese Society of Artificial Intelligence,
Counselor of the State Council, Academician of Chinese Engineering
Academy, Professor of Tsinghua University

“This book reveals how a personal crisis can destroy a scientific revolution. If Wiener did not experience many setbacks, then we would not have many of our current sought-after technical skills. The source of those skills was Wiener.”

—Chen Junlong, IEEE Norbert Wiener Prize winner,
Editor-in-Chief, “IEEE Transactions on Cybernetics,”
Academician of the European Academy of Sciences