Common As Air
A New York Times “notable” book for 2010.
Winner of the Boston Authors Club Julia Ward Howe award,
best book of 2010 by a Boston author.
Common as Air offers a stirring defense of our cultural commons, that vast store of art and ideas we have inherited from the past and continue to enrich in the present. Suspicious of the current idea that all creative work is “intellectual property,” Lewis Hyde turns to America’s founders—men like Franklin, Adams, Madison, and Jefferson—in search of other ways to imagine the fruits of human wit and imagination. What he discovers is a rich tradition in which knowledge was assumed to be a commonwealth, not a private preserve.
For the founders, democratic self-governance itself demanded open and easy access to ideas. So did the growth of creative communities like that of eighteenth-century science. And so did the flourishing of public persons, the very actors whose “civic virtue” brought the nation into being.
In this lively, carefully argued, and well documented book, Hyde brings the past to bear on present matters, shedding fresh light on everything from the Human Genome Project to Bob Dylan’s musical roots. Common as Air allows us to stand on the shoulders of America’s revolutionary giants and see beyond today’s narrow debates over cultural ownership. What it reveals is nothing less than a vision of how to reclaim the Commonwealth of art and ideas that we were meant to inherit.
Praise & Reviews
“An eloquent and erudite plea for protecting our cultural patrimony from appropriation by commercial interests.”
—Robert Darnton, New York Times Book Review. Read the full review (view in pdf)
“A stunning book…. Essential reading, no matter where you stand in the ongoing debate about the ownership of art and ideas.”
—Anna Deavere Smith.
“Brilliant and absorbing…. [Hyde’s] argumentation is dazzling, dense with lucid ideas, erudition, wry humor.”
—Mark Kramer, Star Tribune (Minneapolis).
“An infectiously enthusiastic writer.”
—Michael Schaub, NPR. Read the full review (view in pdf)
“Hyde is an essayist in the Thoreau tradition. In his simple, plainspoken wisdom, he is a great American, which is to say he is an excellent democrat. His mere existence is a living demonstration of the civic republican tradition in American life….”
—Jim Cullen, History News Network. Read the full review (view in pdf)
“‘Necessary’ is the best and only real adjective to describe Lewis Hyde’s latest work.”
—Chris Michel, The Brooklyn Rail. Read the full review (view in pdf)