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Eavesdropping: An Intimate History 1st Edition

5 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
ISBN-13: 978-0199236138
ISBN-10: 0199236135
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this entertaining study, Locke examines the ways in which privacy has changed over the course of history. Putting the Facebook generation in perspective, he contends that a lack of privacy made our distant ancestors feel secure "because they could see each other at all times" (as is the case with animals and birds). As societies became more sedentary, we built houses, but privacy within was also limited. At times, the church urged congregants to watch one another for wickedness, and information gleaned was used at trial. As our fellow humans became increasingly hidden, gossip and the "busy body" achieved social prominence. Snooping became frowned upon and, by 1601, using ill-gotten information for blackmail was a criminal act in England. Locke suggests that our love of stories is based on a less personal sort of eavesdropping: not only do we empathize with other people but we seek to refine our knowledge of the minds of others. As Locke has proven with his book, taking a closer look at the ordinary can bring surprising insights. (Aug.)
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Review


"Compelling."--Sukhdev Sandhu, Telegraph


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (July 29, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199236135
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199236138
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 0.5 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,050,720 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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This book is an excellent read and in my view, far more pleasant than most fiction. The author considers eavesdropping and privacy as social phenomena and goes over their development over a longish period in human history. He points out that only a few thousand years ago people did not live in houses (some still don't) and that until very recently, even the space within houses, when these houses existed, was not divided and was not used to achieve privacy from other insiders. Indeed houses were not always used to "achieve privacy" from outsiders.

While we these days care a lot about privacy, he points out that a lack of privacy as once existed made it possible for society to get along without a formal police force - apparently Athens did not have one. Law and order were imposed by the people themselves, and with a lack of privacy to commit crimes it was a smaller problem.

He also points to gender differences in eavesdropping. Women tended to be snoopers in smaller contexts, like on next door neighbors, whereas men were more likely, during a walk in the night, to snoop on strangers. Both men and women were sometimes punished for snooping but for different varieties of snooping and in different ways.

The author does not mention Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing where eavesdropping by Benedick on Don Pedro (which the latter is actually aware of) plays a central role.

A small problem I have with this book is that it is not clear if the author means it to be science or a well supported and reasonable story. I think it is the latter and some scholars will certainly challenge its conclusions. Nonetheless, there is an impressive amount of historical research by someone who is a professor of linguistics and the book is well worth a read. So I give it five stars though four and a half stars might fit better.
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