Distant Reading

The formation of an unorthodox literary critic

How does a literary historian end up thinking in terms of z-scores, principal component analysis, and clustering coefficient?

In the ten essays collected in this volume, Franco Moretti reconstructs the intellectual trajectory of his philosophy of ‘distant reading’. From the evolutionary model of ‘Modern European Literature’, through the geo-cultural dominant of ‘Conjectures on World Literature’ and ‘Planet Hollywood’ to the quantitative findings of ‘Style, inc.’ and the abstract patterns of ‘Network Theory, Plot Analysis’, the book follows two decades of critical explorations that have come to define – well beyond the wildest expectations of its author – a growing field of unorthodox literary studies.


  • “One of the most daring and intellectually exciting books of the year.”
  • “A great iconoclast of literary criticism.”
  • “It’s a rare literary critic who attracts so much public attention, and there’s a good reason: few are as hell-bent on rethinking the way we talk about literature.”
  • “Moretti, a mythopoeic figure, generates around himself a dense network of folklore and apocrypha.”
  • “Moretti is already famous in bookish circles for his data-centric approach to novels, which he graphs, maps, and charts ... if his new methods catch on, they could change the way we look at literary history.”
  • “Distant reading might prove to be a powerful tool for studying literature.”
  • “Moretti's new collection of essays, Distant Reading, provides a retrospective of his remarkable trajectory.”


  • Wtf is Eleni Haifa? A New Essay by Paul Mason

    Paul Mason follows in the footsteps of Virginia Woolf in search of fictional character in the age of social media.

    I get on a train and there, eventually, is Eleni Haifa: about 22, massive hair and 5 ft tall.

    She is either Italian, Jewish, Arab, Turkish, Kurdish or Greek. She has olive skin and is wearing high heels with gold tips, a white jacket, oyster coloured skirt and carrying two iPhones, one in a black case and one red.

    She has one iPhone in each hand and is transferring something from one to another by typing using her thumbs. But not the tips of her thumbs because her nails are so long – and polished – that she has to use the pads of her thumbs to type, very fast. She puts one down – the one playing her music - and then goes to Facebook on the other: to her profile, where the picture is some kind of cartoon. She flips to What’sApp – I can tell it’s What’sApp from the green message boxes. Between Clapham Junction and Waterloo she spends her switching between What’s App and Facebook. She’s been on the train at least from Richmond.

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  • New Left Review - March/April issue out now!

    NLR 86, March-April 2014

    The latest issue of NLR features a symposium of three critics from contrasting philosophical backgrounds engaging with key arguments in Malcolm Bull's Anti-Nietzsche, as well a reply to his critics from Bull himself.

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  • Franco Moretti wins National Book Critics Circle award

    Franco Moretti’s Distant Reading was awarded the National Book Critics Circle award for criticism last night at the New School. 

    Moretti's collection of essays presents an unorthodox approach to literary studies, and charts the two-decade long development of the pioneering literary critic's philosophy of “distant reading.” Taking aim the dominance of “close reading” in the field, Distant Reading demands a radical reconfiguration of how and what we read. 

    Books by Jonathan Franzen and Janet Malcolm were among others also nominated for the criticism award.

    The National Book Critics Circle awards celebrate the year's best writing in six categories: autobiography, biography, criticism, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. You can see the full list of winners at the National Books Critics Circle.

Other books by Franco Moretti