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Digital Barbarism: A Writer's Manifesto Hardcover – April 28, 2009

3.3 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Noted novelist and journalist Helprin (Winter's Tale) wrote an op-ed in the New York Times in 2007 arguing for an extension of the term of copyright. In response, he received 750,000 caustic, often vulgar e-mails from those he calls the anticopyright movement—a mostly vague cabal led, apparently, by law professor Lawrence Lessig, and whose house organ is the œChronicle of [Supposedly] Higher Education. Now Helprin gets his revenge with a splenetic riposte that veers from a passionate defense of authors' rights and the power of the individual voice to a misanthropic attack on a debased America populated by œSlurpee-sucking geeks, œbeer-drinking dufuses and œmouth-breathing morons in backwards baseball caps and pants that fall down. We're treated to his views on everything from tax policy and airport security to the self-regard of academic literary critics. Drowning in this ocean of bile is a defense of authors' right to control their work and defend its integrity against appropriation and distortion by others, and an examination of the historical and legal basis of copyright offered in elegant prose and with a rapier-sharp wit. But Helprin's pugnacity may repel even those who agree that
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From the Back Cover

World-renowned novelist Mark Helprin offers a ringing Jeffersonian defense of private property in the age of digital culture, with its degradation of thought and language, and collectivist bias against the rights of individual creators.

Mark Helprin anticipated that his 2007 New York Times op-ed piece about the extension of the term of copyright would be received quietly, if not altogether overlooked. Within a week, the article had accumulated 750,000 angry comments. He was shocked by the breathtaking sense of entitlement demonstrated by the commenters, and appalled by the breadth, speed, and illogic of their responses.

Helprin realized how drastically different this generation is from those before it. The Creative Commons movement and the copyright abolitionists, like the rest of their generation, were educated with a modern bias toward collaboration, which has led them to denigrate individual efforts and in turn fueled their sense of entitlement to the fruits of other people’s labors. More important, their selfish desire to “stick it” to the greedy corporate interests who control the production and distribution of intellectual property undermines not just the possibility of an independent literary culture but threatens the future of civilization itself.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1 edition (April 28, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061733113
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061733116
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,625,762 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
As the author of thirty-seven books, I have (obviously) a keen interest in the subject of copyright. Hence I read, and savored, this book by Mark Helprin, whom I regret not having encountered before. His writing is dense--i.e., you don't breeze through it quickly, for he has chosen his words (and thoughts) carefully, and trying to skim and skip would be like trying to gulp down a gourmet meal. He digresses often, and well, but he keeps coming back to the main subject, that in our digital age we have lost sight of what constitutes good writing, and thus many people (Helprin's critics, of whom there appear to be thousands)seem to believe it is "selfish" for writers to be well-paid (and, frankly, we aren't). I think his wisest insight is that the "cut and paste" habit that is so much a part of Internet communication has led many people to think that articles and books don't require much effort, that we writers are lazy slackers who can throw a book together in no time at all. Not so--although, heaven knows, many of the books out there do appear to have been thrown together when the authors were half-stoned. It is inspiring to see creativity and eloquence defended by a writer who has both qualities in abundance.

In case you aren't familiar with Helprin's "controversy," it concerns his defense of U.S. copyright, which extends for 70 years after the author's death. That is, if you write and publish a book, you receive royalties during your lifetime and your designated estate receives them for seventy years afterward--which differs from "public domain" books, in which no royalty is paid to anyone, and the publisher reaps all the profits.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Book Review of Digital Barbarism: a writer’s manifesto
by: Mark Helprin
Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 2009, 232 Pages
by: Samuel A. Nigro, M.D.

Mark Helprin is worried about the impact of low standards of discourse, especially the loss of “copyright” on our culture due to the demonic stealing of minds by the increasing misuse of computer based electronocelluloidprint technology.
It [psychotheft or digital barbarism] produces mouth-breathing morons in backwards baseball caps and pants that fall down; Slurpee-sucking geeks who seldom see daylight; pretentious and earnest hipsters who want you to wear bamboo socks so the world won’t end; women who have lizard tattoos winding from the naval to the nape of the neck; beer-drinking dufuses who pay to watch noisy cars driving around in a circle for 8 hours at a stretch; and an entire race of females, now entering middle age that speak in North American chipmunk and seldom makes a statement without, like, a question mark at the end? (Pg. 57).

Such is the entertaining erudition in this book, as the author makes the case for support of copyright laws of all things! I cannot believe I read a book about such a boring and esoteric topic and was so royally entertained.
To make his case that copyrights should be maintained and extended for the benefit of authors, readers, and the culture itself, Helprin inserts many vignettes each worthy of long lasting preservation. For example, his prized professor at Harvard, who selected him for individual tutoring from hundreds of applicants, stopped the one-on-one dogmatic teaching when Helprin interrupted the professor in mid-sentence saying, “Look, I don’t claim to be intelligent, it is not my strength.” Astonished, the professor asked “What is your strength?
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Format: Hardcover
I'm an admirer of Mark Helprin's superb fiction, and I largely agree with his position on the value of copyrights. I also derive some income from copyright royalties, so presumably I have a vested interest in championing these ideas. Nevertheless, I find this book to be interesting chiefly for its peculiarity.

Helprin wrote a New York Times editorial that encouraged Congress to extend the validity of US copyrights. He was then vilified and attacked, online, by a cadre of anti-copyrightist true believers. What's worse, many of these anti-copyrightists were...wait for it...uncivil, and their grammar was approximate at best.

Digital Barbarism is the sputtering cri de coeur through which Helprin processed the psychic trauma of this event. It's also his intellectual riposte from the unassailable high ground of print. Half the book is about the value of copyright as a social institution, and half is about the debasement and coarsening of public discourse wrought by the Internets.

My basic complaint is that neither of these points is an argument that needs making. As Helprin points out, the arguments for abolishing copyright are largely specious, and only a small minority of the public cleaves to this perspective (as least, once you factor out the rabble's bleating attempts to justify their own music piracy). The combined weights of history, international conventions, and corporate financial interests are firmly aligned against the abolition of copyright, and the chance of anti-copyrightist thinking making its way into public policy is virtually nil.

Helprin only perceives it as a clear and present danger because of his painful drubbing at the hands of the Internet trolls.
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