Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership

In this discourse on intellectual property, Hyde, the Richard L. Thomas Professor of Creative Writing, treats hype to a sobering dose of history. Western culture's understanding of property harkens back to the villagers of the Middle Ages, who shared common land. Hyde quotes Thomas Jefferson: "The field of knowledge is the common property of mankind."

Common As Air has stirred widespread discussion. Writing in the New York Times, Robert Darnton, Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and director of the Harvard University Library, calls it "an eloquent and erudite plea for protecting our cultural patrimony from appropriation by commercial interests." Hyde, as Michael Schaub of NPR says, "is an infectiously enthusiastic writer. He's able to jump from topic to topic while never losing sight of his thesis, and the side roads he takes the reader down—from Emily Dickinson to Bob Dylan, from Benjamin Franklin (whom Hyde calls the 'founding pirate') to John Cage—are fascinating."