We tend to think of revolutions as loud: frustrations and demands shouted in the streets. But the ideas fueling them have traditionally been conceived in much quieter spaces, in the small, secluded corners where a vanguard can whisper among themselves, imagine alternate realities, and deliberate about how to achieve their goals. This extraordinary book is a search for those spaces, over centuries and across continents, and a warning that--in a world dominated by social media--they might soon go extinct.
Gal Beckerman, an editor at The New York Times Book Review, takes us back to the seventeenth century, to the correspondence that jump-started the scientific revolution, and then forward through time to examine engines of social change: the petitions that secured the right to vote in 1830s Britain, the zines that gave voice to women's rage in the early 1990s, and even the messaging apps used by epidemiologists fighting the pandemic in the shadow of an inept administration. In each case, Beckerman shows that our most defining social movements--from decolonization to feminism--were formed in quiet, closed networks that allowed a small group to incubate their ideas before broadcasting them widely.
But Facebook and Twitter are replacing these productive, private spaces, to the detriment of activists around the world. Why did the Arab Spring fall apart? Why did Occupy Wall Street never gain traction? Has Black Lives Matter lived up to its full potential? Beckerman reveals what this new social media ecosystem lacks--everything from patience to focus--and offers a recipe for growing radical ideas again.
Lyrical and profound, The Quiet Before looks to the past to help us imagine a different future. (Crown Publishing Group)
Ben Rhodes is a writer, political commentator, and national security analyst. He is currently a contributor for NBC News and MSNBC; co-host of Pod Save the World; a senior advisor to former President Barack Obama; and chair of National Security Action, which he co-founded with Jake Sullivan in 2018. From 2009-2017, Ben served as a Deputy National Security Advisor to President Obama. In that capacity, he participated in all of President Obama’s key decisions, and oversaw the President’s national security communications, speechwriting, and public diplomacy. He is the author of the upcoming book, “After the Fall: Being American in the World We’ve Made,” and the New York Times bestseller, “The World As It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House.” His work has also been published in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and Foreign Affairs. A native New Yorker, Ben has a B.A. from Rice University and an M.F.A from New York University.