December 4, 2009
A few months ago, the folks at The Wilson Quarterly approached me
about writing a piece for the magazine, which is now seeing the light of print on the cover of the current issue, alongside companion pieces by
Christine Rosen and Tyler Cowen.
The article takes its title from the prolegomena to Jonathan Swift's A Tale of a Tub, a satirical battle set in St. James' library between the ancients and the moderns - the ancients being the guardians of literary high-mindedness, and the moderns being the apostles of cheap literary thrills. Taking Swift's conceit as a starting point, the essay explores how the industrial revolution shaped our modern idea of the book and created a mass market for popular literature, then goes on to ask whether we may be witnessing the rise of the post-industrial book.
Alas, the story won't be available online for a while, so if you're interested you'll have to read this one the old-fashioned way: in the library.
New Paperback Edition
“A penetrating and highly entertaining meditation on the information age and its historical roots.”
—Los Angeles Times