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In Search of Jefferson's Moose: Notes on the State of Cyberspace 1st Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195342895
ISBN-10: 0195342895
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In 1787, Thomas Jefferson, then the American Minister to France, had the skeleton of an American moose shipped to him in Paris and mounted it in the lobby of his residence as a symbol of the vast possibilities of the largely unexplored New World. Taking a cue from Jefferson's efforts, David Post, one of the nation's leading internet scholars, presents a pithy, colorful exploration of the still mostly undiscovered territory of cyberspace--what it is, how it works, and how it should be governed.

Dear Amazon Reader:

Why might you want to read a Jeffersonian natural history of the internet? Perhaps because you know that Thomas Jefferson was a very interesting, and a very smart, guy but you'd like to know more about what he was up to. (Why did he have a moose skeleton and carcass--an acquisition, he wrote, "more precious than you can imagine"--shipped to him in Paris for display in his residence?) Or perhaps because you believe that the internet represents something important, some kind of transformative milestone in the history of human communication, but you don't really know much about where it came from, or how it actually works, or who's in charge.

At bottom, this book is a "natural history" of the internet: what it is, how it works, what shape it has, what kinds of things can be found there, how and why it has grown so prodigiously in size. Thomas Jefferson is the guide; the book is (or aspires to be) the natural history of the internet that Jefferson would write, were he around to write it. One thing I can promise you, if you read my book: you'll learn some things about Jefferson, and some things about the internet, that you never knew before, and you'll see some connections between the two that you never saw before. And I can also promise you that you'll encounter some magnificent prose--not mine, Jefferson's. I use Jefferson's own words as much as possible to describe what's going on out there in the "new world," and nobody could craft an English sentence better than Jefferson could.

To be honest, I don't know whether the book will change your mind about, or give you any simple solutions for, any of the great issues of the day. I was struck, though, several months ago, at the start of the meltdown in the global financial markets, by something Thomas Friedman wrote in his NY Times column: What we have to understand about the global financial markets, Friedman wrote, and what makes them so hard to understand and so hard to control, is this: everything is inter-connected, and nobody's in charge. Hmm, I thought--sounds like the internet. There are lessons to be learned from a deeper understanding of the net; I won't pretend to know what all of them are, but I know they're there, and my book is a way to help you think about what they might be and what they might mean.


David G. Post


"An interesting book...[from] one of the nation's leading Internet scholars... I hope you will keep Jefferson's moose in mind in the days ahead."--Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet

"Reading this beautifully written and extraordinarily diverse work today is what it must have been like to know or read Jefferson then. Post has crafted an experience in understanding that allows us to glimpse the genius that Jefferson was, and to leave the book astonished by the talent this extraordinary writer is."--Lawrence Lessig, Professor of Law, Stanford Law School, and author of Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace and Remix

"Now and then, ingenious insight yields an authentic work of genius. David Post's musing about cyberspace, the law, history, and a great deal more has produced such a work, conceived and written in the finest Jeffersonian spirit.--Sean Wilentz, Professor of History, Princeton University, and author of The Rise of American Democracy

"David Post is the Jefferson of cyberspace, and in this creative, playful, and entirely original book, he applies Jefferson's insights about governing the American frontier to think about governance on the Net. Even those who don't share all of Post's intuitions will be enlightened by his unique combination of technical precision and romantic imagination."--Jeffrey Rosen, Author of The Unwanted Gaze and The Naked Crowd

"A fresh, insightful, and eminently readable look at cyberspace policy. It's surprising and fascinating how much the debates of 200 years ago continue to be relevant today and continue to be echoed today, even in media about which Jefferson and Hamilton could not have dreamed."--Eugene Volokh, Professor of Law, UCLA

"Jefferson's Moose is brilliant--and a joy to read. It is the book of a career: sweeping in scope, without dropping a stitch of detail. No one but David Post could have produced this sparkling analysis of the relationship between the world and worldview of Thomas Jefferson and today's puzzles of cyberspace."--Jonathan Zittrain, Professor of Law, Harvard Law School; Co-Founder, Berkman Center for Internet & Society; author, The Future of the Internet -- And How to Stop It

"[Post's] book addresses important questions that we all should be asking, and he acknowledges the scope of his undertaking with a candid humility that would have pleased Jefferson."--Greg Ross, American Scientist


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 244 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (January 21, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195342895
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195342895
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 0.9 x 6.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,258,294 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Douglas C. Shaker on January 18, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This unusual book takes as its central premise the idea that the freedom philosophy of Thomas Jefferson is relevant to the future of the internet. And Prof. Post makes his case dazzlingly, entertainingly, brilliantly and with much joy. He does a virtuoso job of explicating Jefferson's philosophy, the mechanics of the internet, and showing how Jefferson's philosophy of freedom and governance applies. But this makes it sound like some dry intellectual discussion. No, it is HUGELY entertaining. It's a page-turner, if you can believe it! It is exciting, interesting, fun, and brim-full of fascinating and revealing anecdotes about Jefferson. The pure joy that Post takes in the life of Jefferson practically leaps off the page. Loads of fun and enlightening at the same time.
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David G. Post, in his book "In Search of Jefferson’s Moose: Notes on the State of Cyberspace", develops an exceptional framework to talk about cyberspace around the unusual personality and characteristics of Thomas Jefferson. In fact, the name of the book refers to Jefferson’s book "Notes on the State of Virginia". These two might seem totally different and/or incompatible at first sight; however, as the reader delves into the book, he quickly discovers why the author chose to put Jefferson in the center of the book and how a discussion about regulating cyberspace would benefit from referring to Jefferson.

There is no doubt that Jefferson was a truly extraordinary character in his lifetime; however, what makes him such an essential personality for a discussion on cyberspace is the fact that he witnessed and also contributed to the formation of the independent United States while asking extraordinary questions that no one else would ask. One of the main arguments presented in this book is that it is time for ordinary Internet users to start asking extraordinary questions about the rules and regulations different countries are proposing to adopt to govern the cyberspace.

Post argues that an exploration of cyberspace shares parallelism with an exploration of the State of Virginia, which Jefferson depicted in detail in response to a query he received from a French officer. Accordingly, Post starts his exploration by defining cyberspace and its characteristics. In order to help those readers who are not familiar with Jefferson, his writings and ideas, Post provides many exhaustive footnotes, which are quite easy to follow.

Post, just like Jefferson, starts his book by describing the boundaries and geography of cyberspace.
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Not your ordinary discussion of the regulation of cyberspace. Post artfully interwines parallel lines of thought about the structure and control of the internet with those of the structure and control of the pre/post colonial United States. By doing so David Post sheds light on the nature of the internet as well as the nature of our own political system. A pure delight if you're interested in who controls the internet.
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This is the most unusual piece of non-fiction I've read in a long while, and a dazzling one. Here's the concept: David Post makes the case that the Internet is today's great frontier, the modern era's great unmapped territory (and a universe that, as he explains, is expanding at a pace almost beyond human understanding.) So who better to help us think about that new frontier and how to govern it than the great philosopher/scientist//Renaissance Man of America's early days, Thomas Jefferson himself? The concept is improbable and eccentric and . . .the author totally pulls it off. In an almost cinematic style, the books moves seamlessly back and forth between the days of the Louisiana Purchase, when this vast and ungovernable wilderness lay to the West, and today's attempts by individuals and government to make sense of and manage the Internet. The book's style is chatty and enthusiastic and easily accessible to the lay reader even while the thinking behind it is deeply learned -- the writer is jumping around from law, to evolutionary theory, to the diplomatic history of the 19th Century to Jefferson's torrid love affair with a British noblewoman. And by the end, you're left with a feeling of awe. Awe for Jefferson's bold thinking for sure (and the book is a nice reminder of TJ's greatness, after all the well-deserved bashings he's been taking about slavery), but more, an awe and excitement about the present-day, the world we live in and the revolutionary transformations we are part of courtesy of the World Wide Web.
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I recommend the book, but I suggest skimming the parts on Thomas Jefferson. Yes, the man was interesting. Yes, there are some similarities between his views of beginning America and the birth and growth of the internet. But not many.
The meat of the book is fantastic, especially as a historical and detailed explanation of the Internet. Furthermore, the discussion of how and, especially, why the Internet works is inspired. This is the particular piece where, even I will admit, some of the Jeffersonian comparison is justified. Yes, the Internet (specifically TCP/IP) works well from a decentralized structure. Yes, it has grown geometrically, much like population, lending it to the power law. However, it does not – just as Jefferson predicted with the growth of America – follow Montesquieu’s prediction that republican governing does not work in large states.
Here, however, I do disagree to a point. I disagree that we can even begin to compare the growth of the internet with that of the growth of the republic we now know as the United States of America. First, America grew at the expense of the first-comers, where TCP/IP had the first advantage to begin with. Second, the geography of America acted as part of the architecture of population growth, where the Internet has grown somewhat organically, programmers creating every border and constructing every wall. I would go further to say that the Internet is not governed democratically, as Post suggests, but instead is ruled much in the way of a corporation, or even meritocratically. The very landmarks of a democracy – free and fair elections, active input from the people, having rule of law – are absent. Even the general assumptions of democracy – protection of human rights, civil liberties, etc – are absent in practice.
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