Just as Susan Sontag did for photography and Marshall McLuhan did for television, Virginia Heffernan (called one of the “best living writers of English prose”) reveals the logic and aesthetics behind the Internet.
Since its inception, the Internet has morphed from merely an extension of traditional media into its own full-fledged civilization. It is among mankind’s great masterpieces—a massive work of art. As an idea, it rivals monotheism. We all inhabit this fascinating place. But its deep logic, its cultural potential, and its societal impact often elude us. In this deep and thoughtful book, Virginia Heffernan presents an original and far-reaching analysis of what the Internet is and does.
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 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
"One of the writers I most admire."—Gwyneth Paltrow
“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
“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
“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
“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, Noble Prize in Physics, 2005; author of A Beautiful Question