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Wild Nights


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About the Author

Benjamin Reiss is a professor of English at Emory University. The author of The Showman and the Slave and Theaters of Madness, and the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, he lives in Atlanta, Georgia.


"With unbridled imagination, Benjamin Reiss awakens us to sleep's pervasive influence over the course of three centuries of American culture--from the utopian visions of early reformers and the chronic exhaustion of antebellum slaves to the centrality of human slumber as a literary motif. Lacking for neither flair nor wit, Reiss shows, for better or worse, how deeply embedded sleep, in all of its rich complexity, has been in the American past. Wild Nights is nothing short of a tour de force."--A. Roger Ekirch, author of At Day's Close: Night in Times Past "Wild Nights is a literary and historical triumph, showing how sleep patterns have been deeply connected to social structures throughout human history. It is a profound and thoroughly readable book."--Carlos H. Schenck, M.D., author of Sleep: The Mysteries, The Problems, The Solutions "Engaging our imagination with equal parts history, literature, science, and social criticism, Benjamin Reiss traces our past notions of sleep, from sources as diverse as Thoreau's journals, Balzac's coffee consumption, and Skinner's baby box, to illumine our present views--potentially to transform them. Just as sleep is thought by neuroscientists to 'clean' the brain's detritus of past thoughts, this book releases the too-rigid hold of past views of sleep to give us fresh reason to re-conceptualize this essential aspect of our life."--Maryanne Wolf, author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain "A fascinating look at a phenomenon we have taken for granted. Benjamin Reiss pulls the bedcovers off of sleep, revealing a deep and significant history of Western culture and politics. It turns out that nothing escapes the tendrils of somnolence--race, gender, capitalism, technology are all culprits or agents in creating our restless nights. Written with subtlety and provocation, this is a must-read for anyone whose head ever hit a pillow."--Lennard J. Davis, author ofEnabling Acts and Obsession: A History "Through impressive research and beautiful writing, Benjamin Reiss brings readers on a scientific, literary, and historical voyage, exploring our complicated relationship with sleep in an active world."--Lauren Hale, editor-in-chief of Sleep Health "Ranging widely across time and cultures, Wild Nights offers a rich perspective on Americans' present-day expectations about a good night's sleep. With Thoreau's Walden as his ballast, Benjamin Reiss examines the ways that religious thought, economic change, medical prescriptions, and big business have pushed sleep for those in the middle class into a single mold, while the rest of the world serves and goes without. This smart and engaging book is an ideal companion for that middle-of-the-night break, as well as for serious thought in the bright light of day."--Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, author of A Taste for Provence and Wild Unrest "A lively, astute, wide-ranging reconnaissance of the attempted re-engineering of modern humanity's sleep habits. Benjamin Reiss pointedly and persuasively questions whether today's 'sleep science' delivers better results than what seemed second nature to our pre-industrial forebears."--Lawrence Buell, Harvard University

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