How Our Days Became Numbered
Risk and the Rise of the Statistical Individual
How Our Days Became Numbered tells a story of corporate culture remaking American culture--a story of intellectuals and professionals in and around insurance companies who reimagined Americans' lives through numbers and taught ordinary Americans to do the same. Making individuals statistical did not happen easily. Legislative battles raged over the propriety of discriminating by race or of smoothing away the effects of capitalism's fluctuations on individuals. Meanwhile, debates within companies set doctors against actuaries and agents, resulting in elaborate, secretive systems of surveillance and calculation.
Dan Bouk reveals how, in a little over half a century, insurers laid the groundwork for the much-quantified, risk-infused world that we live in today. To understand how the financial world shapes modern bodies, how risk assessments can perpetuate inequalities of race or sex, and how the quantification and claims of risk on each of us continue to grow, we must take seriously the history of those who view our lives as a series of probabilities to be managed.
Chapter 1: Classing
Chapter 2: Fatalizing
Chapter 3: Writing
Chapter 4: Smoothing
Chapter 5: A Modern Conception of Death
Chapter 6: Valuing Lives, in Four Movements
Chapter 7: Failing the Future
Conclusion: Numbering in Layers
Epilogue: The Cards We Carry
aspirations of predicting fate to an early-twentieth century effort to master death. It is not only a
history of actuarial science, but also a cultural history of capitalism – and a surprisingly gripping
tale for an industry that many, preteens included, are liable to find dull. Bouk narrates the story
through a cast of characters who traipse through graveyards, assemble massive databases, and investigate corporate malfeasance. Statistics about life and death, he demonstrates, are anything but boring; rather, they are animated by and occasion moral debates about family, race, and the future of the nation."
Vivid, sometimes poetic prose, surprising examples, and memorable characters enliven the text. This is a very ambitious book."
The Society for U.S. Intellectual History: Annual Book Award of the Society for U.S. Intellectual History
Forum for the History of Science in America: Philip J. Pauly Book Prize