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Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art (Paperback)

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Staff Reviews

"Just as I was becoming jaded about its power, reading about her love for and her utter belief in the magic of the internet made me want to learn more about it, explore it more, use my internet skills for more than just the occasional like and Instagram post." - Sara, Book Culture Selects letter, New and Noteworthy Non-Fiction paperback, September 2017

— From Book Culture Selects September Picks


Virginia Heffernan “melds the personal with the increasingly universal in a highly informative analysis of what the Internet is—and can be. A thoroughly engrossing examination of the Internet’s past, present, and future” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) from one of the best living writers of English prose.

This book makes a bold claim: The Internet is among mankind’s great masterpieces—a massive work of art. As an idea, it rivals monotheism. But its cultural potential and its societal impact often elude us. In this deep and thoughtful book, Virginia Heffernan reveals the logic and aesthetics behind the Internet, just as Susan Sontag did for photography and Marshall McLuhan did for television.

Life online, in the highly visual, social, portable, and global incarnation rewards certain virtues. The new medium favors speed, accuracy, wit, prolificacy, and versatility, and its form and functions are changing how we perceive, experience, and understand the world. In “sumptuous writing, saturated with observations that are simultaneously personal, cultural, and strikingly original” (The New Republic), Heffernan presents “a revealing look at how the Internet continues to reshape our lives emotionally, visually, and culturally” (The Smithsonian Magazine). “Magic and Loss is an illuminating guide to the is impossible to come away from this book without sharing some of Heffernan’s awe for this brave new world” (The Wall Street Journal).

About the Author

Virginia Heffernan writes regularly about digital culture for The New York Times Magazine. In 2005, Heffernan (with cowriter Mike Albo) published the cult comic novel The Underminer (Bloomsbury). In 2002, she received her PhD in English Literature from Harvard.

Praise For…

“In melding the personal with the increasingly universal, Heffernan delivers a highly informative analysis of what the Internet is—and can be. A thoroughly engrossing examination of the Internet’s past, present,and future.”
–Kirkus, Starred Review

"Heffernan is a gleeful trickster, a semiotics fan with an unabashed sweet tooth for pop culture...MAGIC BRINGS JOY [in this] enjoyable snapshot."—The New York Times

"Magic and Loss is an illuminating guide to the is impossible to come away from this book without sharing some of [Heffernan's] awe for this brave new world."—The Wall Street Journal

Magic and Loss is the book we—or at least I—have been waiting for, the book that Internet culture, and the way it’s changed the expression and reception of art, language, and ideas, deserves and demands. Virginia Heffernan argues that the Internet, broadly conceived, is a ‘massive and collaborative work of realist art,’ and she illuminates it with the best sort of cultural criticism—humane, personal, and extremely smart, with a frame of references that includes St. Thomas Aquinas, Liz Phair, Richard Rorty, Beyoncé, and the pairing of Dante and Steve Jobs, two ‘labile romantics.’ Whether writing about how the Kindle changed reading, how the iPod and iPhone changed listening, or how the demise of landline telephones changed communicating, Heffernan goes right to the heart of the lived experience... Virginia Heffernan quotes Harold Bloom to the effect that ‘to behold is a tragic posture; to observe is an ethical one.’ In Magic and Loss, she observes, in the best sense of the word.”—Ben Yagoda, author of The B-Side and How to Not Write Bad

"Goddamn, Virginia Heffernan is brilliant."—Lenny Letter

“Heffernan is a new species of wizard, able to perform literary magic upon supersonic technology. Her superpower is to remove the technology from technology, leaving the essential art. You might get an epiphany, like I did, of what a masterpiece this internet thing is. Heffernan has the cure for the small thinking that everyday hardware often produces. She generates marvelous insights at the speed of light, warmed up by her well-worn classical soul. It's a joy and revelation to be under her spell.”—Kevin Kelly, author of What Technology Wants and co-founder of Wired

"Virginia Heffernan spins the straw of the Internet into analysis that’s solid gold: a brilliant book..”—Mark Edmundson, professor at the University of Virginia, and author of Why Teach? and Why Football Matters

"Magic and Gain!"Frank Wilczek, Winner of the 2005 Noble Prize in Physics and author of A Beautiful Question

“Readers will be enthralled by Heffernan’s unique take on this popular entity. Tech-savvy readers will be drawn to this book, but the concept of technology as creative expression should also entice art lovers. Most important, readers will be encouraged to appreciate the Internet not only for its ability to connect us to one another and information but also for its beauty.”—Library Journal

"My copy of Magic and Loss is sloppily scrawled with all-caps pencillings of words like 'YES!' and 'TRUTH!'"—Mark McConnell, Slate Magazine

"Her book (thankfully) is more like an essay than like a treatise. Heffernan is smart, her writing has flair, she can refer intelligently to Barthes, Derrida, and Benjamin—also to Aquinas, Dante, and Proust—and she knows a lot about the Internet and its history."—The New Yorker 

"This is sumptuous writing, saturated with observations that are simultaneously personal, cultural, and strikingly original—and she’s writing about software. I love it. Ultimately, the art here is her prose style."The New Republic

"One of the writers I most admire."—Gwyneth Paltrow

"Marrying this study with her own fascinating personal history with the internet as a pre-teen, Magic and Loss is a revealing look at how the internet continues to reshape our lives emotionally, visually and culturally."—The Smithsonian Magazine


"The best writing on Angry Birds you'll ever encounter."— WIRED, #1 Summer Beach Read

“Heffernan's rhetoric is so dexterous that even digital pessimists like me can groove to her descriptions of ‘achingly beautiful apps,’ her comparison of MP3 compression to ‘Zeuxius's realist paintings from the 5th century BC.’ And Heffernan is subtly less optimistic than she at first seems—she knows that magic is not the opposite of loss, but sometimes its handmaiden. She's written a blazing and finally wise book, passionate in its resistance to the lazy certitudes of a cynically triumphal scientism.”—Michael Robbins, author of The Second Sex and Alien vs. Predator
Product Details
ISBN: 9781501132674
ISBN-10: 1501132679
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: June 27th, 2017
Pages: 272
Language: English