Robert Darnton is Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and ­University Librarian Emeritus at Harvard. His latest book is Censors at Work: How States Shaped Literature.
 (October 2016)

IN THE REVIEW

The New Hillary Library?

Fantasies of the Library

edited by Anna-Sophie Springer and Etienne Turbin
This is the time to think big about designing the digital future. It is a rare moment when a new regime can realign the modes of communication so that they serve the public interest, as the Constitution originally intended.

NYR DAILY

The True History of Fake News

L.M. Slackens: The Yellow Press, showing William Randolph Hearst as a jester handing out newspapers, published by Keppler & Schwarzmann,  October 12, 1910

Fake news is hardly new. The production of fake, semi-false, and true but compromising snippets of news reached a peak in eighteenth-century London, when newspapers began to circulate among a broad public. In 1788, London had ten dailies, eight tri-weeklies, and nine weekly newspapers, and their stories usually consisted of only a paragraph. In fact, the equivalent of today’s poisonous, bite-size texts and tweets can be found in most periods of history, going back to the ancients.

Laughter and Terror

One of the many cartoons published in homage to the cartoonists and journalists assassinated on Wednesday in the office of Charlie Hebdo showed a gravestone with the inscription “Died of Laughter.” No one is laughing these days in Paris. In fact, the massacre raises questions about laughter itself.

The Soul of the Censor

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Reading is an essential aspect of censoring, not only in the act of vetting texts, which often lead to competing exegeses, but also as an aspect of the inner workings of the state. Not only did censors perceive nuances of hidden meaning, but they also understood the way published texts reverberated in the public. Despite its ideological function, the reworking of texts often resembled the editing done by professionals in open societies. To dismiss censorship as crude repression by ignorant bureaucrats is to get it wrong.