Book ID: CBB321840730

Information and Intrigue: From Index Cards to Dewey Decimals to Alger Hiss (2014)


In Information and Intrigue Colin Burke tells the story of one man’s plan to revolutionize the world’s science information systems and how science itself became enmeshed with ideology and the institutions of modern liberalism. In the 1890s, the idealistic American Herbert Haviland Field established the Concilium Bibliographicum, a Switzerland-based science information service that sent millions of index cards to American and European scientists. Field’s radical new idea was to index major ideas rather than books or documents. In his struggle to create and maintain his system, Field became entangled with nationalistic struggles over the control of science information, the new system of American philanthropy (powered by millionaires), the politics of an emerging American professional science, and in the efforts of another information visionary, Paul Otlet, to create a pre-digital worldwide database for all subjects. World War I shuttered the Concilium, and postwar efforts to revive it failed. Field himself died in the influenza epidemic of 1918. Burke carries the story into the next generation, however, describing the astonishingly varied career of Field’s son, Noel, who became a diplomat, an information source for Soviet intelligence (as was his friend Alger Hiss), a secret World War II informant for Allen Dulles, and a prisoner of Stalin. Along the way, Burke touches on a range of topics, including the new entrepreneurial university, Soviet espionage in America, and further efforts to classify knowledge.

Reviewed By

Review Jon Agar (October 2016) Review of "Information and Intrigue: From Index Cards to Dewey Decimals to Alger Hiss". Technology and Culture (pp. 1019-1020). unapi

Review R. Bruce Craig (2015) Review of "Information and Intrigue: From Index Cards to Dewey Decimals to Alger Hiss". Journal of American History (pp. 276-277). unapi

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Authors & Contributors
Aspray, William F.
Atkins, Helen Barsky
Black, Jeremy
Burke, Colin
Cortada, James W.
Cronin, Blaise
Circumscribere: International Journal for the History of Science
Science Communication
Technology and Culture
Substantia: An International Journal of the History of Chemistry
Oxford University Press
University of Washington
New York University
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Information Today
Lexington Books
Information technology
Information science
Communication technology
Methods of communication; media
Diffusion of innovation; diffusion of knowledge; diffusion of technology
Babbage, Charles
Garfield, Eugene
Morse, Samuel Finley Breese
Otlet, Paul
Shannon, Claude Elwood
Turing, Alan Mathison
Time Periods
20th century
21st century
19th century
20th century, late
17th century
18th century
United States
Soviet Union

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