Economic relations have a representation problem, as evidenced by the fact that the discipline devoted to their study almost exclusively describes them through the idealized terms of models. Perhaps because economics shares with literature this strained relationship to the real, there is a long-standing tradition of literary scholars chiming in on the problem(s). Luckily, one might add, this area of inquiry continues to produce some of the most fascinating and diverse works in literary studies, among them the three volumes under discussion here. Read together, Joe Shapiro’s The Illiberal Imagination, Christopher Taylor’s Empire of Neglect, and Alison Shonkwiler’s The Financial Imaginary theorize the tension between living under capitalism and making sense of it.

Shapiro’s book is, as those familiar with the classics of American studies have probably guessed, a response to Lionel Trilling’s assertion in The Liberal Imagination (1950) that...

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