A Washington Post Book of the Year
Winner of the Merle Curti Award
Winner of the Jacques Barzun Prize
Winner of the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award
“A masterful study of privacy.”
—Sue Halpern, New York Review of Books
“Masterful (and timely)…[A] marathon trek from Victorian propriety to social media exhibitionism…Utterly original.”
Every day, we make decisions about what to share and when, how much to expose and to whom. Securing the boundary between one’s private affairs and public identity has become an urgent task of modern life. How did privacy come to loom so large in public consciousness? Sarah Igo tracks the quest for privacy from the invention of the telegraph onward, revealing enduring debates over how Americans would—and should—be known. The Known Citizen is a penetrating historical investigation with powerful lessons for our own times, when corporations, government agencies, and data miners are tracking our every move.
“A mighty effort to tell the story of modern America as a story of anxieties about privacy…Shows us that although we may feel that the threat to privacy today is unprecedented, every generation has felt that way since the introduction of the postcard.”
—Louis Menand, New Yorker
“Engaging and wide-ranging…Igo’s analysis of state surveillance from the New Deal through Watergate is remarkably thorough and insightful.”
Masterful (and timely)…Privacy is clearly a protean concept, and Igo deftly reviews the definitions that scholars have offered in their efforts to cage its elusive essence. She judges these attempts helpful but less than conclusive. Her own ambitious solution is to embrace privacy’s multifariousness. In her marathon trek from Victorian propriety to social media exhibitionism, she recounts dozens of forgotten public debates…Utterly original.
A mighty effort to tell the story of modern America as a story of anxieties about privacy… Igo is an intelligent interpreter of the facts…She shows us that although we may feel that the threat to privacy today is unprecedented, every generation has felt that way since the introduction of the postcard.
[An] excellent new book on privacy in America…Igo follows the different ways in which Americans have been scrutinized—in the home, school, and workplace; by the state, the press, and marketing firms, corporations and psychologists, data aggregators and algorithms…Her book can…help us better understand our own debates over privacy today.
A masterful study of privacy in the United States.
Engaging and wide-ranging…Igo’s analysis of state surveillance from the New Deal through Watergate is remarkably thorough and insightful.
A highly readable new history of privacy in America [that] offers insight into the ways attitudes have evolved as different forms of identification, and different expectations of privacy, have emerged.
Luminous… For a century and a half, people in this country have been arguing at high volume about privacy… Today, we are watched as never before, through surreptitious governmental data collection and through corporate profiles of our desires and habits. Yet we also divulge private matters aggressively, seeking freedom through publicity.
Monumental…In vigorous, smooth-flowing prose, case by case and landmark by landmark, Igo tells this story with an authority and insight no previous comprehensive account has achieved…The Known Citizen is the best history yet to appear of the long road leading to that unprecedented privacy crisis, and she concludes by observing that no matter how altered the modern landscape is, we cannot do without privacy.
While most studies of privacy dwell on laws, court decisions, and other regulations, the premise of Igo’s book is that we might gain a better vantage point if we think about privacy as part and parcel of a larger culture…Igo tracks shifts in popular expectations about privacy across disciplines, decades, and media forms.
Igo brilliantly interrogates the long history of privacy’s much-heralded demise and its shape-shifting meaning in the modern United States…A tour de force of cultural history that maps out privacy’s sprawling legal, social, and moral terrain with tremendous insight and verve…This is a major achievement and an essential guide to the competing and often contradictory dynamics of exposure and recognition in our intensively mediated society.
Brilliant…Capture[s] the shifting cultural moods around privacy…to reveal their relevance in the American public sphere…A literary and historical gem that deserves a wide readership.
Sweeping [and] meticulously researched… Igo gives us the definitive biography of an idea that all readers should both cherish and fear… The Known Citizen is essential reading.
From prison cells to memoirs, from suburban living to the big data revolution, this remarkable book chronicles how Americans have defined, debated, and litigated privacy for more than a hundred years. The Known Citizen shows that drawing the line between the private self and public citizen has been the essential modern social question.
A masterful history of the role that privacy has played in the lives of American citizens. Following the ‘known citizen’ over time, Igo brilliantly reveals what it means to be modern—to claim protection against the prying eyes of marketers or the national security state while making one’s self more visible by a social security number or disclosing intimate secrets on social media. An amazing book!
In this deeply researched and wonderfully astute history of the rise of privacy as a problem in American society, Sarah Igo shows us how privacy in our liberal culture has always been about both protection of one’s self from public view and control of the narrative by which one wants to be known.
- 2019, Winner of the Merle Curti Award
- 2019, Winner of the Jacques Barzun Prize
- 2019, Winner of the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award
- 592 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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