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Object Lessons is a series of short, beautifully designed books about the hidden lives of ordinary things.
Questionnaires are everywhere: we fill them out at doctors' offices and at job interviews, to express ourselves and to advance knowledge, to find love and to kill time. But where did they come from, and why have they proliferated? Evan Kindley's Questionnaire investigates the history of "the form as form," from the Victorian confession album to the BuzzFeed quiz. By asking questions about the questions we ask ourselves, Kindley uncovers surprising connections between literature and science, psychology and business, and journalism and surveillance.
Object Lessons is published in partnership with an essay series in The Atlantic.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
A marvelous book that gathers an unexpected array of materials under the heading of the questionnaire: from IQ tests to the early days of marriage counseling, from data-mining Facebook quizzes to Scientology's rigged personality tests. Playful, smart and rich with dizzying connections, Evan Kindley's Questionnaire is no less than a secret history of how we became a nation of oversharers. * Hua Hsu, author of A Floating Chinaman: Fantasy and Failure Across the Pacific (2016); Contributor, The New Yorker; Associate Professor of English, Vassar College, USA * Evan Kindley's crisp and fleet Questionnaire travels with extraordinary speed from the quaint and idle to the flat-out alarming, with huge implications for our digital culture now and in the future. * Luc Sante, author of The Other Paris * Be vigilant, friend, for we live in the age of the BuzzFeed Quiz. ... Beneath every expression of preference is a rat's nest of prejudices, insecurities, and empty assertions of selfhood. Fortunately, there's Evan Kindley's Questionnaire, one in a new crop from Bloomsbury's Object Lessons series-it offers a rich primer on humankind's submission to inane paperwork. In the questionnaire, Kindley demonstrates, bureaucrats found a ridiculously simple solution to a long-standing problem: How do you get people to open up about themselves to total strangers? Turns out that just asking, ideally with some veneer of officialdom, is a great way to start. As Kindley writes in his introduction, 'The decision to provide information about oneself, as irresistible as it sometimes seems, is neither a natural human instinct nor an automatic social good'; it takes a finely tuned questionnaire to coax us out of our shells, and there are dubious intentions behind just about every form. Eugenics, managerial power-plays, electoral politics, Christian matchmaking, latent fascism, female desire-you name it, some questionnaire has interrogated it. Kindley's book provides a lucid, distressing look at the backbone of demography. -- Dan Piepenbring * The Paris Review * The story of Francis Galton begins the story of Questionnaire, Evan Kindley's new entry into 'Object Lessons,' a series from Bloomsbury 'about the hidden lives of ordinary things.' ... Kindley's approach keeps with the spirit and method of the series, tracking the evolution of this particular thing-in this case, standardized sets of questions designed to elicit self-report, and the question of whether or not self-reported answers, no matter how well-designed, no matter how robust their sample, can ever be entirely honest or accurate-over the history of its existence. ... Kindley does an admirable job of presenting that history, especially given that Object Lesson entries are, as a rule, very short. ... [T]he pervasive, vaguely Orwellian character of Big Data is among is the first world's most pronounced animating anxieties. It is a worry I share, but in reading Questionnaire, I was put in mind of another-not explicitly named, but more remarkable and more troubling: the possibility, already somewhat realized, of a world where the collection of facts is not a means to some nefarious end, but the empty end itself. -- Emmett Rensin * Bookforum * People with a paranoid streak will feel vindicated by Evan Kindley's Questionnaire, a thoughtful exploration of the subject from the Proust questionnaire through Buzzfeed quizzes. As Kindley documents, nearly everyone who puts a quiz in front of you is trying to mine something from you, often (though not always) for profit or to influence your behavior ... Kindley's final chapters on computer dating questionnaires and Buzzfeed quizzes illustrate how powerful and potentially dangerous data science has become, even when personal responses are anonymized. * Milwaukee Journal Sentinel *