Over the past half-century, think tanks have become fixtures of American politics, supplying advice to presidents and policymakers, expert testimony on Capitol Hill, and convenient facts and figures to journalists and media specialists. But what are think tanks? Who funds them? What kind of "research" do they produce? Where does their authority come from? And how did they become influential?

In Think Tanks in America, Thomas Medvetz argues that the unsettling ambiguity of the think tank is not an accidental feature of its existence, but the very key to its impact. By combining elements of more established sources of public knowledge--universities, government agencies, businesses, and the media--think tanks exert tremendous influence on the way citizens and lawmakers perceive the world and construct policy, unbound by the more clearly defined roles of those other institutions. In the process, they have transformed the government of this country, the press, and the political role of intellectuals. Timely, succinct, and instructive, this provocative book will force us to rethink our understanding of the drivers of political debate in the United States.