What We Are Reading Today: Founded in Fiction; The Uses of Fiction in the Early United States

What We Are Reading Today: Founded in Fiction; The Uses of Fiction in the Early United States
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Updated 16 June 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Founded in Fiction; The Uses of Fiction in the Early United States

What We Are Reading Today: Founded in Fiction; The Uses of Fiction in the Early United States

Author: Thomas Koenigs

What is the use of fiction? This question preoccupied writers in the early United States, where many cultural authorities insisted that fiction reading would mislead readers about reality. Founded in Fiction argues that this suspicion made early American writers especially attuned to one of fiction’s defining but often overlooked features—its fictionality. Thomas Koenigs shows how these writers explored the unique types of speculative knowledge that fiction could create as they sought to harness different varieties of fiction for a range of social and political projects.

Spanning the years 1789–1861, Founded in Fiction challenges the “rise of novel” narrative that has long dominated the study of American fiction by highlighting how many of the texts that have often been considered the earliest American novels actually defined themselves in contrast to the novel. 

Their writers developed self-consciously extranovelistic varieties of fiction, as they attempted to reform political discourse, shape women’s behavior, reconstruct a national past, and advance social criticism. Ambitious in scope, Founded in Fiction features original discussions of a wide range of canonical and lesser-known writers, including Hugh Henry Brackenridge, Royall Tyler, Charles Brockden Brown, Leonora Sansay, Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Montgomery Bird, George Lippard, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Jacobs.


What We Are Reading Today: Metrics at Work by Angele Christin

What We Are Reading Today: Metrics at Work by Angele Christin
Updated 01 August 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Metrics at Work by Angele Christin

What We Are Reading Today: Metrics at Work by Angele Christin

When the news moved online, journalists suddenly learned what their audiences actually liked, through algorithmic technologies that scrutinize web traffic and activity. Has this advent of audience metrics changed journalists’ work practices and professional identities?

In Metrics at Work, Angèle Christin documents the ways that journalists grapple with audience data in the form of clicks, and analyzes how new forms of clickbait journalism travel across national borders.

Drawing on four years of fieldwork in web newsrooms in the US and France, including more than one hundred interviews with journalists, Christin reveals many similarities among the media groups examined— their editorial goals, technological tools, and even office furniture.

Yet she uncovers crucial and paradoxical differences in how American and French journalists understand audience analytics and how these affect the news produced in each country.

American journalists routinely disregard traffic numbers and primarily rely on the opinion of their peers to define journalistic quality.

Meanwhile, French journalists fixate on Internet traffic and view these numbers as a sign of their resonance in the public sphere.


What We Are Reading Today: Shock to the System

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Updated 31 July 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Shock to the System

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Author: Michael K. Miller

How do democracies emerge? Shock to the System presents a novel theory of democratization that focuses on how events like coups, wars, and elections disrupt autocratic regimes and trigger democratic change. Employing the broadest qualitative and quantitative analyses of democratization to date, Michael Miller demonstrates that more than nine in 10 transitions since 1800 occur in one of two ways: Countries democratize following a major violent shock or an established ruling party democratizes through elections and regains power within democracy.
This framework fundamentally reorients theories on democratization by showing that violent upheavals and the preservation of autocrats in power—events typically viewed as antithetical to democracy—are in fact central to its foundation.
Through in-depth examinations of 139 democratic transitions, Miller shows how democratization frequently follows both domestic shocks (coups, civil wars, and assassinations) and international shocks (defeat in war and withdrawal of an autocratic hegemon) due to autocratic insecurity and openings for opposition actors. He also shows how transitions guided by ruling parties spring from their electoral confidence in democracy.


What We Are Reading Today: The Unusual Suspect by Ben Machell

What We Are Reading Today: The Unusual Suspect by Ben Machell
Updated 29 July 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The Unusual Suspect by Ben Machell

What We Are Reading Today: The Unusual Suspect by Ben Machell

Ben Machell’s The Unusual Suspect details the remarkable story of socially isolated British college student Stephen Jackley who started robbing banks as the 2007 financial crisis unfolded, becoming a bank robber, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. 

Motivated by a belief that global capitalism was ruining lives and driving the planet towards ecological disaster, he dreamed of changing the world for the better through his crimes. 

The police, despite their concerted efforts, had no idea what was going on or who was responsible. That is, until Jackley’s ambition got the better of him.

Eventually agreeing to return to his native Britain after an arrest on American soil, Jackley wrote of his fears for the world, humanity “standing on the brink of massive change,” detailing his deeply revealing, morally complex motivations for the robberies. It was only later that psychiatric evaluation revealed that, unbeknownst to everybody, Stephen had been living with undiagnosed Autism Spectrum Disorder.


What We Are Reading Today: Winners and Losers; The Psychology of Foreign Trade

What We Are Reading Today: Winners and Losers; The Psychology of Foreign Trade
Updated 28 July 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Winners and Losers; The Psychology of Foreign Trade

What We Are Reading Today: Winners and Losers; The Psychology of Foreign Trade

Author: Diana C. Mutz

Winners and Losers challenges conventional wisdom about how American citizens form opinions on international trade. While dominant explanations in economics emphasize personal self-interest— and whether individuals gain or lose financially as a result of trade — this book takes a psychological approach, demonstrating how people view the complex world of international trade through the lens of interpersonal relations.

Drawing on psychological theories of preference formation as well as original surveys and experiments, Diana Mutz finds that in contrast to the economic view of trade as cooperation for mutual benefit, many Americans view trade as a competition between the United States and other countries—a contest of us versus them. These people favor trade as long as they see Americans as the “winners” in these interactions, viewing trade as a way to establish dominance over foreign competitors. For others, trade is a means of maintaining more peaceful relations between countries. 

Just as individuals may exchange gifts to cement relationships, international trade is a tie that binds nations together in trust and cooperation.

Winners and Losers reveals how people’s orientations toward in-groups and out-groups play a central role in influencing how they think about trade with foreign countries, and shows how a better understanding of the psychological underpinnings of public opinion can lead to lasting economic and societal benefits.


What We Are Reading Today: Hoax by Brian Stelter

What We Are Reading Today: Hoax by Brian Stelter
Updated 27 July 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Hoax by Brian Stelter

What We Are Reading Today: Hoax by Brian Stelter

In Hoax, CNN anchor and chief media correspondent Brian Stelter tells the twisted story of the relationship between Donald Trump and Fox News. From the moment Trump glided down the golden escalator to announce his candidacy in the 2016 presidential election to his acquittal on two articles of impeachment in early 2020, Fox hosts spread his lies and smeared his enemies. 

Stelter spoke with over 250 current and former Fox insiders in an effort to understand the inner workings of Rupert Murdoch’s multibillion-dollar media empire. 

At the center of the story lies Sean Hannity, a college dropout who, following the death of Fox News mastermind Roger Ailes, reigns supreme at the network that pays him $30 million a year. 

Including never before reported details, Hoax exposes the media personalities who, though morally bankrupt, profit outrageously by promoting the President’s propaganda and radicalizing the American right. It is a book for anyone who reads the news and wonders: How did this happen?