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The Anarchist in the Library: How the Clash Between Freedom and Control Is Hacking the Real World and Crashing the System Paperback – May 11, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This relatively brief book tackles an expansive topic: Internet technology and its effect on our social, political and cultural future. For cultural historian and media scholar Vaidhyanathan (Copyrights and Copywrongs), the digital revolution is about far more than downloading music. Weaving an array of historical examples with prescient analysis, Vaidhyanathan takes the Internet battles common to most readers today-e.g., the well-publicized efforts of the recording industry to stop file-sharing; the practices of those who share music online-to craft a treatise on how technology highlights the eternal cultural struggle between "oligarchy and anarchy." He discusses the evolution of copyright law in the digital realm, and looks provocatively at the political contributions of such technology and the evolution of nation-states in the digital world, at times painting a truly Orwellian vision of how our future might turn out. For example, digital networks now erase borders for commercial gain as well as for piracy, and at the same time such networks, as illustrated by the war on terror, are elusive and ungovernable. Where, how and on what principles do we draw the lines? Vaidhyanathan refrains from offering any quick-fix solutions, instead arguing that the friction between anarchy and the desire for control now highlighted by technology is an essential element in the creation of culture. Vaidhyanathan is a brilliant thinker and an energetic writer. But the sweeping scope of this book, and its vague, theoretical and at times academic slant may leave readers more confused then enlightened. Then again, welcome to the digital world.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"A must-read...A complex and wonderful book." --

"As readable as it is wide-ranging." -- Slashdot

"As readable as it is wide-ranging." -- Slashdot

"Erudite, eloquent, imaginative, and personable all at once." -- Eric Alterman

"Offer[s] compelling views of the controversies surrounding the control of information--of culture, really--in the digital age." --

"Offer[s] compelling views of the controversies surrounding the control of information-of culture, really-in the digital age." --

"Vaidhyanathan eloquently raises awareness of a fundamental crisis in contemporary culture." -- Choice

"Vaidhyanathan is a brilliant thinker and an energetic writer." -- Publishers Weekly

"Weaves together a thousand threads into a rich and convincing story about just what's at stake in the digital age." -- Lawrence Lessig

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (May 11, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465089852
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465089857
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,716,875 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Siva Vaidhyanathan

Professor of Media Studies
Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin
B.A., University of Texas at Austin

Siva Vaidhyanathan is a cultural historian and media scholar, and is currently the Robertson Family Professor of media studies at the University of Virginia. He also teaches at the University of Virginia School of Law. From 1999 through the summer of 2007 he worked in the Department of Culture and Communication at New York University. Vaidhyanathan is a frequent contributor on media and cultural issues in various periodicals including The Chronicle of Higher Education, New York Times Magazine, Bookforum, The Nation,, and He is a frequent contributor to National Public Radio and to MSNBC.COM and has appeared in a segment of "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart. Vaidhyanathan is a fellow of the New York Institute for the Humanities.

In March 2002, Library Journal cited Vaidhyanathan among its "Movers & Shakers" in the library field. In the feature story, Vaidhyanathan lauded librarians for being "on the front lines of copyright battles" and for being "the custodians of our information and cultural commons." In November 2004 the Chronicle of Higher Education called Vaidhyanathan "one of academe's best-known scholars of intellectual property and its role in contemporary culture." He has testified as an expert before the U.S. Copyright Office on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

He is noted for opposing the Google Books scanning project on copyright grounds. He has published the opinion, that the project poses a danger for the doctrine of fair use, because the fair use claims are arguably so excessive that it may cause judicial limitation of that right.

Vaidhyanathan was born in Buffalo, New York, and attended the University of Texas at Austin, earning both a B.A. in History and a Ph.D. in American Studies.

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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By N. Viswanathan on May 23, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This book is so full of information and ideas that it seems almost impossible to do justice to them all. In discussing the parallels between vast and possibly ungovernable world of the internet, and the complexity of idea exchange in the real world, Dr. Vaidhyanathan broadens the discussion of Internet and file sharing policies. While I am personally interested in the future of the music industry, I found the book most compelling as it discusse the theories and rationales behind our systems of governing intellectual property. Dr. Vaidhyanathan's book covers not only the ideologies behind Napster, but also issues of copyright law, public libraries, online political dissent, hackers, the effect of Limp Bizkit in the music industry and more.
Ultimately, Dr. Vaidhyanathan is a humanist, and that propels both the idea behind his book and his accessible, fluent writing style. Instead of offering easy answers to convoluted problems The Anarchist in the Library delves deeper into the social theories that motivate our laws and attempts to govern information exchange--both in the real world and the virtual one. Should we be willing to sacrifice human connection in order to hook up every human to the internet? Do we want a strict copyright law that works as a censoring device? Isn't anarchy in music the norm, rather than a recent technological development?
You will close this book with questions, but that is a good thing. It will encourage you to learn and debate more about a variety of subjects that initially seemed to complicated to consider. This, along with Dr. Vaidhyanathan's first book, Copyrights and Copywrongs, is a must for anyone interested in communication, globilization and Internet studies in the 21st century.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
In "The Anarchist in the Library", Dr. Vaidhyanathan progressively and analytically demonstrates through historical and contemporary cultural examples how our "information age" is evolving. This is an essential read, because its scope is imperitive to all citizens. It is empowering, because it is thought provocative long after you put it down, and places primacy on you- the individual and your future. Lastly, it is very enjoyable, because the author accomplishes all this with a highly personable prose that somehow manages to incorporate technical facts and daily, highly relevant examples to reinforce his thesis.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Randolph Lewis on May 4, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Siva Vaidhyanathan has written another book that (again!) establishes him as one of the sharpest young media thinkers emerging on the cultural scene. An American Studies scholar by training, Vaidhyanathan has an interdiscipliniary background that is everywhere apparent in his approach to complex, sprawling issues such as copyright (as in his excellent first book, Copyrights and Copywrongs) and now in the perplexities of digitality, the subject of his new title, The Anarchist in the Library.
Issues of privacy, intellectual property, creative freedom... this book pokes the major sore spots throbbing underneath our blithely digital epoch, though it does so in unexpected ways.This not the same old "paint by numbers" approach to cultural studies in which a problem is identified, denounced, and remedied (in the abstract) by a few cursory nods toward the self-evident.
Rather, this book takes unexpected turns that never lose the reader's interest or passion. Perhaps this is because Vaidhyanathan is blessed (or cursed by those academics suspicious of such fluency) with an inviting prose style that adds considerable charm to even his most polemical passages---this fluency may be why he is finding such success as a public intellectual, appearing in the pages of Salon, NY Times, etc., as well as on television and the net (he is a well-known blogger at [...] one of the few I read outside of Eric Alterman's).
Bottom line: I'm teaching an Honors course on Media Studies next year and I expect to use this book with my students---it seems ideally pitched for both serious students and general readers alike.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Lost in Austin on February 5, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Curling up with The Anarchist in the Library was a bit like sitting down with an old friend - literally, since I'll admit to knowing the author as a friend and colleague. So, perhaps I am not the most objective reviewer in this series of remarks, but I find much to admire in Siva Vaidhyanathan's latest work. In fact, Siva Vaidhyanathan has opened my mind to a thread in American culture that I had not given much attention to in my studies - the relevance of anarchy as a system of rapid, unmediated, decentralized form of communication. In my loose lifting from the text, Vaidhyanathan defines anarchy as nonhierarchical, radically democratic, "organization through disorganization." He posits the meaningful history of anarchy - from Diogenes, to the French Revolution, to Emma Goldman, to peer-to-peer networking - against the ongoing corporatization of information in the mass media and government.

The importance Vaidhyanathan places on anarchic communication in contemporary culture casts another perspective onto the current debates on peer-to-peer networks, Internet blogs, the music industry, and American cultural policy. Vaidhyanathan writes, "Digitization and networking make anarchy relevant in ways it has not been before. Global electronic networks make widespread anarchistic activity possible. What used to happen in a neighborhood barbershop or on a park bench now happens across a nation-state or beyond. Rumors can bubble up into action." Vaidhyanathan's desire to illuminate the importance of anarchy as a means of community involvement and springboard for social movements is a powerful and even "radical" idea. And yet, his point is also to reinstate that anarchy is an aspect of daily life - not radical, but a mainstay of human interactions.
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