An expansive, exhilarating work of criticism by one of the most significant writers of our day.

So often deployed as a jingoistic, even menacing rallying cry, or limited by a focus on passing moments of liberation, the rhetoric of freedom both rouses and repels. Does it remain key to our autonomy, justice, and well-being, or is freedom's long star turn coming to a close? Does a continued obsession with the term enliven and emancipate, or reflect a deepening nihilism (or both)? On Freedom examines such questions by tracing the concept's complexities in four distinct realms: art, sex, drugs, and climate.

Drawing on a vast range of material, from critical theory to pop culture to the intimacies and plain exchanges of daily life, Nelson explores how we might think, experience, or talk about freedom in ways responsive to the conditions of our day. Her abiding interest lies in ongoing "practices of freedom" by which we negotiate our interrelation with--indeed, our inseparability from--others, with all the care and constraint that relation entails, while accepting difference and conflict as integral to our communion.

For Nelson, thinking publicly through the knots in our culture--from recent art world debates to the turbulent legacies of sexual liberation, from the painful paradoxes of addiction to the lure of despair in the face of the climate crisis--is itself a practice of freedom, a means of forging fortitude, courage, and company. On Freedom is an invigorating, essential book for challenging times.
On Freedom is ultimately a book that asks us to boldly and generously enter the minefield, to pick up what we find useful, to be pushed and provoked, to polish and discard and reinvent, and then to decide, alone and, ideally, in communion, where to go next.”―The Washington Post

“[A] sense of optimism sits at the heart of On Freedom. What else is possible? it asks. . . . On Freedom is an argument for how we engage with objects of analysis―and one another―in a way that is principled but not rigid, that displays care for other people’s perceptions, pains and desires, and that has respect for what we cannot know.”―Ismail Muhammad, New York Times Magazine

“In discussion after discussion, Nelson shows the same alertness to context, intellectual modesty and the conviction that ethical goodness is never all on one side. . . .“[On Freedom] doesn’t aim to provide a positive account of the meaning of freedom. But if we understand freedom, above all, through our opposition to bondage, we can learn a great deal, as her book shows, from carefully cataloging and challenging the many ways of being unfree.” ―Kwame Anthony Appiah, The New York Times Book Review

“Precise and atmospheric, combining fierce intellectual kick with an openness to nuance....[Nelson asks] how to live in a world with crushing oppression, alongside people with cruel and violent beliefs, without giving into despair or violence yourself.”―Annalisa Quinn, NPR

“A meditative and potent examination of freedom. . . . Combining thoughtful cultural criticism with anecdotes from her personal life, Nelson delivers an intriguing work of nonfiction that seeks to challenge readers’ definition of freedom and rethink how the concept operates in our lives.”―TIME

“As ever, Nelson’s probing inquiry sits on equal footing with her effortlessly fluid prose, which moves between first-person, anecdotal stories and intense critical examination with the utmost readability. Ultimately Nelson’s approach is one that seeks liberation and transcendence, whether sexual, narcotic, or purely biological―something that radiates palpably from her writing, even when she delves into some of the darkest corners of the human psyche.”―

“Maggie Nelson is one of America's leading intellectuals, and her brilliant collection, On Freedom, is a must-read for anyone who wants to deconstruct the most urgent social debates of the day.”―Oprah Daily, Best Books of 2021

“Each essay is thought-provoking and incisive, deepening the complexity and contractions inherent to our experience of freedom and, simultaneously laying them bare. I haven’t stopped thinking about One Freedom, and I am not certain I ever will."―Catherine Whelan, NPR Best Books of 2021

“Nelson’s brainy, affecting, genre-crossing books have earned her a deserved reputation as a sui generis amalgam of poet, memoirist, theorist and critic. This provocative meditation on the ethics of freedom as a source of constraint, as well as liberation, shows her at her most original and brilliant.”―The New York Times, 100 Notable Books of 2021

“[Maggie Nelson] traces the limits of liberty and the call to care in this expansive and sharp-eyed study. . . . Nelson turns each thought until it is finely honed and avoids binaries and bromides. While the literary theorizing is rich, this account soars in its ability to find nuance in considering questions of enormous importance. . . . Once again, Nelson proves herself a masterful thinker and an unparalleled prose stylist.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

“A top cultural critic plucks the concept of freedom away from right-wing sloganeers and explores its operation in current artistic and political conversations. . . . The subtlety of Nelson's analysis and energy of her prose refresh the mind and spirit.”Kirkus Reviews