Book Review: Big Data – by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier


Big Data

The subtitle to this book is: “A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think.”

Viktor Mayer-Schönberger is a Professor of Internet Governance and Regulation at Oxford. His impressive resume speaks for itself:

Mayer-Schönberger was born in 1966 in Zell am See, where his mother owned a local cinema. After leaving secondary school in his hometown, he studied law for seven terms at the University of Salzburg. During this time, he competed successfully in the International Physics Olympiad and the Austrian Young Programmers Contest.

In 1986, he founded Ikarus Software and developed Virus Utilities, one of the best-selling software products in Austria. He subsequently earned law degrees at the University of Salzburg (Mag.iur., ’88, Dr. iur. ’91) and at Harvard Law School (LL.M. ’89). In 1992 he received a M.Sc. (Econ) from the London School of Economics, and in 2001 the venia docendi on (among others) information law at the University of Graz. He also worked in his father’s accounting business.

In 1998 he joined the faculty of Harvard Kennedy School, where he worked and taught for ten years. After three years at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, Mayer-Schönberger currently holds the Chair of Internet Governance and Regulation at the Oxford Internet Institute. As an expert on information law and regulation, he has been advising businesses, governments and international organisations.


Big Data is a book for anyone interested in the transformation of our economy to data-driven systems. Cameras record our every move. Remember how many pictures of the Boston Marathon bombers surfaced within hours of the event? Try to search on Google or Amazon for “replacement rollers for dishwasher racks” and then observe how Facebook relentlessly bombards you with ads for rollers for the next few months.

Big Data is not a scientific and data science book for the experts in the field. It’s for those of us, like me, who have a general interest in the subject and want to learn more about how big data is affecting us in our society. It is a great introduction full of references for further study and more detail. The book not only discusses the many benefits and advantages of the access we have to data today, but it also shows the downsides, the dark side of big data.

Speaking of the dark side: The book came out in March 2013 and it is already outdated. In June 2013, Edward Snowden burst onto the international stage by disclosing thousands of classified documents that he acquired while working as an NSA contractor. What we have since learned about the NSA would warrant several more updated chapters in Big Data. Now we know that there isn’t just big data, but rather, there is really, really big data.

Rating: *** (out of 4)


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