Reading nano: The public interest in nanotechnology as reflected in purchase patterns of books

There is a rapidly growing public interest in nanotechnology such that people increasingly buy various books to inform themselves about nanotechnology. This paper tries to measure the public interest focus on nanotechnology and its relation to the public interest in other fields of knowledge by applying a new method. I combine formal network analysis of co-purchase book data with traditional content analysis. The method is successful in identifying the books that the public reads to be informed about nanotechnology, in distinguishing between different kinds and classes of books and thereby between different interest foci and readerships and their relations. The results suggest that nanotechnology is for many the first intense contact with science and technology and that they read a great variety of different kinds of books. Rather than on general introductions to current research written by scientists or science journalists, readers focus on forecasting and visionary literature including business guides, written by software entrepreneurs and business consultants. Unlike expert readers, who connect nanotechnology to other fields of science and engineering, the broader public connects it to visions about dissolving the human/machine distinction. Although the distinction between non-fiction and science fiction is still important for readers, border-crossing authors increasingly blur it.
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