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Uncertain Chances : Science, Skepticism, and Belief in Nineteenth-Century American Literature, Hardback Book

Uncertain Chances : Science, Skepticism, and Belief in Nineteenth-Century American Literature Hardback


The role of chance changed in the nineteenth century, and American literature changed with it. Long dismissed as a nominal concept, chance was increasingly treated as a natural force to be managed but never mastered. New theories of chance sparked religious and philosophical controversies while revolutionizing the sciences as probabilistic methods spread from mathematics, economics, and sociology to physics and evolutionary biology. Chance also became more visiblein everyday life as Americans struggled to control its power through weather forecasting, insurance, game theory, statistics, military science, and financial strategy. Uncertain Chances shows how the rise of chance shaped the way nineteenth-century American writers faced questions of doubt and belief. Poe in his detective fiction critiques probabilistic methods. Melville in Moby-Dick and beyond struggles to vindicate moral action under conditions of chance. Douglass and other African American authors fight against statistical racism. Thoreau learns to appreciate the play between nature's randomness and order. Dickinson works faithfullyto render poetically the affective experience of chance-surprise. These and other nineteenth-century writers dramatize the inescapable dangers and wonderful possibilities of chance. Their writings even help to navigate extremes that remain with us today-fundamentalism and relativism, determinism and chaos, terrorismand risk-management, the rational confidence of the Enlightenment and the debilitating doubts of modernity.




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