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The Known Citizen


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About the Author

Sarah E. Igo is the Andrew Jackson Professor of History and Director of American Studies at Vanderbilt University.


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. -- David Greenberg * Washington Post *
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. -- Louis Menand * New Yorker *
[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. -- Katrina Forrester * Harper's *
A masterful study of privacy in the United States. -- Sue Halpern * New York Review of Books *
Engaging and wide-ranging...Igo's analysis of state surveillance from the New Deal through Watergate is remarkably thorough and insightful. -- Katie Fitzpatrick * The Nation *
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. -- Katrina Gulliver * Reason *
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. * Dissent *
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. -- Steve Donoghue * Open Letters Review *
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. -- Palmer Rampell * Public Books *
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. -- Josh Lauer * American Historical Review *
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. -- David Lyon * American Journal of Sociology *
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. -- Hamilton Cain * Chapter 16 *
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. -- Robert O. Self, author of All in the Family: The Realignment of American Democracy since the 1960s
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! -- Brian Balogh, author of The Associational State: American Governance in the Twentieth Century
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. -- Dorothy Ross, Johns Hopkins University

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