Blown To Bits

In Search of Jefferson’s Moose

Thursday, February 19th, 2009 by Harry Lewis

I picked up this book because I couldn’t resist the title. (Book titles are a really hard problem.) The subtitle is “Notes on the Nature of Cyberspace.” I liked it and recommend it, but it’s an odd tome, not for everyone.

The key sentence is the first line of the Epilogue. “Though my editor pressed me mercilessly to do so, I never could figure out whether this was a book about Jefferson or a book about cyberspace.” The author, David Post, is a law professor. The book is an entertaining and thoughtful discussion of the intellectual struggles at the founding of the American republic, and how they parallel dilemmas about the nature of the Internet. It’s all personalized around Jefferson, and some of his contemporaries, Hamilton in particular. The first half of the book is just about Jefferson and events of the 18th century; the second half is about the Internet. Though it’s full of fascinating stories, it’s written in the form of a series of law review articles, that is, with many pages more than half footnotes, which are very much worth reading. It wound up taking me much longer to read than the page count or informal writing style would have led me to expect.

Here is the metaphor of the title. Jefferson had an enormous moose stuffed and sent to Paris in pieces, where it was reassembled to the general amazement of the local population. It was a new, American thing that was unimaginable to people of the old world. Like Wikipedia from cyberspace, perhaps.

All of the issues about freedom and control about which Jonathan Zittrain writes so compellingly are set here in the context of larger themes of American history. Plus there is a lot about Jefferson I didn’t know. Excellent and admirable, — if peculiar!

2 Responses to “In Search of Jefferson’s Moose”

  1. Amar Says:

    Just FYI – David’s coming to HLS/Berkman in March:

  2. Blown to Bits » Blog Archive » Jefferson’s Moose at Harvard Says:

    […] of the book about it, will be speaking at Harvard this coming Tuesday at 5pm, in Austin Hall. As I blogged earlier, David Post’s book is a wonderful rendition of the ways in which the dilemmas that faced the […]