Common as Air by Lewis Hyde
Revolution, Art, and Ownership

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Common as Air offers a stirring defense of our cultural commons, that vast store of art and ideas we have inherited from the past that continues to enrich our present. Suspicious of the current idea that all creative work is “intellectual property,” Lewis Hyde turns to America’s founding fathers—men like John Adams, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson—in search of other ways to value 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 founding fathers, democratic self-governance itself demanded open and easy access to ideas. So did the growth of creative communities, such as 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 to see beyond today’s narrow debates over cultural ownership. What it reveals is nothing less than an inspiring vision of how to reclaim the commonwealth of art and ideas that we were meant to inherit.


About Lewis Hyde

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Lewis Hyde is the author of The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property, This Error Is the Sign of Love, and Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art (FSG, 1998). A MacArthur Fellow and former director of undergraduate creative writing at Harvard University, Hyde teaches during the fall semesters at Kenyon College, where he is the Richard L. Thomas Professor of Creative Writing. During the rest of the year he lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he is a faculty associate at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society.
Published August 17, 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 320 pages
Genres: History, Law & Philosophy. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Common as Air

Kirkus Reviews

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A MacArthur Fellow constructs an elegant argument opposing the modern drive to privatize our common cultural heritage.

Aug 10 2010 | Read Full Review of Common as Air: Revolution, Ar...

The New York Times

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Lewis Hyde draws on the founding fathers for arguments against the privatization of knowledge.

Aug 20 2010 | Read Full Review of Common as Air: Revolution, Ar...

Star Tribune

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Hyde, who attended the University of Minnesota in the 1960s, examines how the interests of the wealthy have superseded the common good.

Aug 14 2010 | Read Full Review of Common as Air: Revolution, Ar...

Los Angeles Times

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A penetrating book concludes that copyright and patent protections have gotten out of control.

Oct 31 2010 | Read Full Review of Common as Air: Revolution, Ar...

The Daily Beast

Although the book focuses on the Founding Fathers, Hyde is as intellectually omnivorous as he was in his 1983 cult classic .

Aug 27 2010 | Read Full Review of Common as Air: Revolution, Ar...

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