Attention: Dispatches from a Land of Distraction

Joshua Cohen

French paperback with flaps, 712 pages
Published 14 August 2018

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With Attention, Joshua Cohen returns with his first collection of nonfiction, the culmination of two decades of writing and thought about life in the digital age. In essays, memoir, criticism, diary entries, and letters – many appearing here for the first time – Cohen covers the full depth and breadth of modern life: politics, literature, art, music, travel, the media, and psychology, and subjects as diverse as Google, Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, fictional animals, Gustav Mahler, Aretha Franklin, John Zorn, landscape photography, fake Caravaggios, Wikipedia, Gertrude Stein, Edward Snowden, Jonathan Franzen, Olympic women’s fencing, Atlantic City casinos, the closing of the Ringling Bros. circus, and Azerbaijan. Cohen directs his sharp gaze at home and abroad, calling upon his extraordinary erudition and unrivaled ability to draw connections between seemingly unlike things to show us how to live without fear in a world overflowing with information. At this crucial juncture in history, Attention is a guide for the perplexed – a handbook for anyone hoping to bring the wisdom of the past into the culture of the future.

Wired Best Books of 2018 

‘Joshua Cohen has a complex and capacious consciousness.’
— Harold Bloom

‘Cohen, one of our crucial young novelists, has made the non-fiction novel of our moment, formed of a constellation of investigations and inklings. No one’s done such a thing so well since George Trow or Joan Didion or Norman Mailer, if ever. It’s chasteningly brilliant, and the kind of chastening we unfortunately need.’
— Jonathan Lethem, author of The Fortress of Solitude

‘Joshua Cohen is one of my favorite nonfiction writers. This book is a cause for celebration.’
— Elif Batuman, author of The Idiot

‘First-rate … Whip-sharp … Cohen here flaunts a next-level virtuosity across countless fields of expertise … [and] tackles the meta-problem of attention with the fervour of a man who knows the solution…. [He] is a phenomenal thinker whatever the theme: granular, acrobatic, startling.’
— Benjamin Evans, the Guardian

‘[C]ause for celebration and close study. [Cohen] is experimenting with the essay form much more, and more cleverly, than any major American writer today.’
— Zachary Fine, the Wall Street Journal

‘I enjoy his electric prose style … when it comes to making sense of our times with verve and imagination, few authors are more rewarding of our attention.’
— Max Liu, the Financial Times

‘Joshua Cohen – novelist, journalist, critic; prodigy, polyglot, polymath – has one of the most interesting minds in circulation….  a young elegist for an old idea: ideas. He is a man profoundly out of step with the world in which he finds himself. Which is the only respectable place for a writer to be.’
New York Times

‘[W]hat thrilled me was the imaginative and transfiguring attention Cohen pays to everything he touches…. There’s so much pleasure in Cohen’s sentences.’
— James Wood, New Yorker

‘The subject matter runs the gamut of his formidable erudition and searchable interests – Israel, music, literature, Azerbaijan, US politics – and many pieces read like brief, topical histories stuffed with but not strained by tangents, facts, anecdotes, and maxims.… Cohen’s prose is packed with high-octane witticisms … but even those readers put off by his prankster flair are likely to concede that its cumulative effect both elevates and elegizes the act of writing in the internet age.’
— Jessi Jezewska Stevens, LA Review of Books

‘Dazzling in its scope … If curiosity is a writer’s greatest innate gift, Joshua Cohen may be America’s greatest living writer.’
The Washington Post 

‘A grand gathering across place and time, cohered around this notion of attention – who pays it, what it costs … [Cohen is] a dogged and astute chronicler and critic of the internet and the culture of distraction it engenders. But Attention also pays attention, a journalist’s or even a muckraker’s attention, to the real world. To the depredations of post-crash politics and economics, the resurrection of irony and the death of facts.’

Praise for Moving Kings

‘Joshua Cohen is a blacksmith who heats, hammers and molds the language to sharpest, most precise points. Not for the sake of craft, but to tell a troubled story about troubled life in the twenty-first century. This is a dazzling and poignant book.’
— Rachel Kushner, author of The Flamethrowers

‘Cohen is an extraordinary prose stylist, surely one of the most prodigious in American fiction today.’
— James Wood, New Yorker

‘Funny, smart, and perfectly addictive, Moving Kings  a novel of wonderful scope. It shows Cohen at the top of his powers and is bound to bring him many new readers, hot for a fresh understanding of America.’
— Andrew O’Hagan, author of The Illuminations

‘Joshua Cohen’s Moving Kings is a lit fuse, a force let loose, a creeping flame heading for demolition, and Cohen himself is a fierce polyknower in command of the workings of the moving parts of much of the human predicament. A master of argot and wit, he writes the language of men in a staccato yet keening idiom of his own invention. And though it is set in a grungy New York, call this the first Israeli combat novel ever dared by an American writer.’
— Cynthia Ozick, author of Foreign Bodies

Praise for Book of Numbers

‘More impressive than all but a few novels published so far this decade…. Cohen, all of thirty-four, emerges as a major American writer.’
— Dwight Garner, New York Times

Joshua Cohen was born in 1980 in Atlantic City. His books include the novels Moving Kings, Book of Numbers, Witz, A Heaven of Others, and Cadenza for the Schneidermann Violin Concerto; the short fiction collection Four New Messages, and the non-fiction collection Attention: Dispatches from a Land of Distraction. Called ‘a major American writer’ by the New York Times, ‘maybe America’s greatest living writer’ by the Washington Post, and ‘an extraordinary prose stylist, surely one of the most prodigious at work in American fiction today’ by the New Yorker, Cohen was awarded Israel’s 2013 Matanel Prize for Jewish Writers, and in 2017 was named one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists. In 2022, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Netanyahus. He lives in New York City.