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The Rise of the Right to Know

The Rise of the Right to Know

Politics and the Culture of Transparency, 1945–1975

Michael Schudson

ISBN 9780674986930

Publication date: 10/15/2018

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The American founders did not endorse a citizen’s right to know. More openness in government, more frankness in a doctor’s communication with patients, more disclosure in a food manufacturer’s package labeling, and more public notice of actions that might damage the environment emerged in our own time.

As Michael Schudson shows in The Rise of the Right to Know, modern transparency dates to the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s—well before the Internet—as reform-oriented politicians, journalists, watchdog groups, and social movements won new leverage. At the same time, the rapid growth of higher education after 1945, together with its expansive ethos of inquiry and criticism, fostered both insight and oversight as public values.

“One of the many strengths of The Rise of the Right To Know is its insistent emphasis on culture and its interaction with law…What Schudson shows is that enforceable access to official information creates a momentum towards a better use of what is disclosed and a refinement of how disclosure is best done.”
—George Brock, Times Literary Supplement

“This book is a reminder that the right to know is not an automatic right. It was hard-won, and fought for by many unknown political soldiers.”
—Monica Horten, LSE Review of Books


  • It’s hard to say anything new about the 1960s, but Michael Schudson has done it—in a big way. An originally conceptualized and eye-opening history, The Rise of the Right to Know identifies the emergence of transparency or openness in the 1960s and ’70s as a leading principle in American political culture. Across a wide range of political and social spheres, he traces the historic shift in our culture from the hidden to the open, the elite to the populist, the expert to the personal, and the rarefied to the accessible—rooted in the liberal, democratic demand that citizens have a right to know about the decisions that shape their lives. This book made me rethink the postwar era and its importance as very few works of scholarship have.

    —David Greenberg, Rutgers University


  • Michael Schudson is Professor of Journalism at Columbia University.

Book Details

  • 368 pages
  • Belknap Press

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