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Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man

4.10  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,183 Ratings  ·  160 Reviews
This reissue of Understanding Media marks the thirtieth anniversary (1964-1994) of Marshall McLuhan's classic expose on the state of the then emerging phenomenon of mass media. Terms and phrases such as "the global village" and "the medium is the message" are now part of the lexicon, and McLuhan's theories continue to challenge our sensibilities and our assumptions about h ...more
Paperback, 389 pages
Published October 24th 1994 by Mit Press (first published 1964)
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This was a frustrating read. Lots of intriguing ideas, but presented with vague language and very little supporting evidence. Sometimes while reading it I was unsure if I was reading the profound thoughts of a genius that was above my comprehension, the ramblings of a mad man, or just the drivel of a hack who thought he was a lot more clever than he actually was.

The scholarship in this book is embarrassingly sloppy. At times he makes big claims with absolutely no evidence to support them. When h
Mar 01, 2013 michael rated it really liked it
McLuhan is a nut. 50% of what he says is completely unintelligible bollocks, 20% of it is kind of interesting throw-away, and the other 30% is the most forward-thinking genius that has yet to be realized. it's kind of like he was looking into the future through fogged lenses...couldn't quite make everything out, but a good enough ideas.
McLuhan wrote this in the 1960s to describe the state of media (which was then beginning to take on its still rapidly evolving electronic form. He coins now well-known phrases like "the medium is the message" and "global village." He was also the one who first said that if archeologists looked at our society a thousand years from now, they would find that our advertising is what says the most about our values and beliefs.

I was alternately fascinated and sceptical as I read this book. Much of it
Oct 04, 2014 kaelan rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
Although it's now hard to fathom, Marshall McLuhan was once ranked amongst the world's top intellectuals. Inspiring reverence and ire in equal measure, he guided the ignorant masses—like a tweed-attired Moses—into the nascent era of mass communication. Indeed, his star shone so bright that he even advised Pierre Elliott Trudeau in matters of media. But as the 70's drew to a close, McLuhan's celebrity waned as dramatically as it had risen. These days, he is perhaps best known as the originator of ...more
Jul 20, 2008 Matt rated it really liked it
Marshall McLuhan has suffered the fate of many quotable philosophers and critics – like Nietzsche's pronouncement that “God is dead,” McLuhan's statement that “the medium is the message” has been tossed around by a populace that often fail to appreciate its full complexity. Having now read through the entirety of Understanding Media, it is clear that although McLuhan often takes his pronouncements to unnecessary extreme, he is equally often incredibly insightful, offering up a revolutionary way ...more
The problem with so much au courant media theory is that it a) goes out of date real fast, and b) is frequently falsified within ten years. McLuhan sometimes hits the mark-- becoming an early predictor of, among other things, the Internet-- but also totally fails at predicting the future the other half of the time.

Some of his observations are quite astute. Other observations seem like meaningless, foundationless claims. Yes, there were vast cultural shifts with the arrival of the printing press
Jan 11, 2010 Thorsten rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: social-science
Written in 1964, this book is startling in it’s prescience and extrapolation of the possibilities of technological growth, and still has much to offer in the understanding of sociological change. The ‘media’ of the title is not the same definition as is now commonly held: Although it does include television, radio and print, McLuhan’s ‘media’ can be taken more broadly to be any tool, technology or invention of man, which he explains as having a primary role in the extension of our senses, commun ...more
John Gillespie
Jul 15, 2013 John Gillespie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found that McLuhan was referenced in two starkly opposing books about the internet I read last summer: Nicholas Carr's The Shallows and Cathy Davidson's Now You See It. McLuhan died before the rise of the internet and video games, but his ideas are so prescient about those media that he seems like some kind of Nostrodamus for the electric age. Even though this book is extremely dated (he refers to television as a new medium), every chapter has some thought-provoking ideas and statements that a ...more
Micelle Miseracorde
Mar 10, 2009 Micelle Miseracorde rated it it was amazing
In the 1960's, when normal (i.e. "non-intellectual") people could tell you who Marshall McLuhan was, the word most likely to be associated with his name would be "incomprehensabilty." This is not without reason.

Reading McLuhan is indeed a little like reading stereo assembly instructions from the future. Made all the more puzzling by the fact that virtually none of the words he uses are unfamiliar, his concepts nonetheless at first seem to be out of the reader's league, if not of another sport,
Mar 07, 2014 Eric rated it liked it
McLuhan was a visionary bullshitter. Despite having virtually no evidence to back up some of his more absurd claims (some of which are steeped in racism), I'm amazed at just how spot-on some of his ideas about the evolution of the electronic age really were, and am anxious to see how they hold up in the coming decades. Many are familiar with this book as being the source of concepts such as the "global village" and "the media is the message", but you should also know that all of the tech pioneer ...more
Mike Jensen
Mar 23, 2012 Mike Jensen marked it as books-abandoned  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the most important books of social theory from the middle of the last century, so why didn't I finish it? After all, it is about time I finally got around to it since I write about media.

First, I found it dated. The media has advanced far beyond the state that McLuhan covers in this book, making the book seem obsolete in many ways. Second, I simply dislike his assumptive style. He assumes as proven without proving. Unlike the first complaint, that fault is built into book. Third,
Mar 23, 2012 Ugh rated it it was ok
This made for a very frustrating reading experience. At times McLuhan has a tremendously opaque writing style, preferring to make many of his assertions first through others' words in great associative leaps that serve to obfuscate rather than illustrate, and then to return to the same topic again and again in the hope of conveying and proving by sheer weight of repetition rather than through clarity of expression. He also doesn't use references (assuming of course that my edition hasn't just be ...more
Apr 20, 2013 Joy rated it liked it
Shelves: orals, theory
"As the printing press cried out for nationalism, so did the radio cry out for tribalism." This is just a small taste of the highly comedic historical generalizations that await you in reading this book! Here's another great one: "The hotting-up of the medium of writing to repeatable print intensity led to nationalism and the religious wars of the sixteenth century." Thank god for that concise explanation!!

Okay, I know I'm being unfair...McLuhan's 1964 publication was tremendously important, and
Nov 03, 2013 Amber rated it liked it
Shelves: digital-media
Like many reviews suggest, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man is a difficult read because of McLuhan's rambles and lacking evidence to support his many ideas on media as an extension of who we are as creators and consumers of content, as well as his philosophy that the medium is more important than the content it produces. However, take into account that this man is exploring ideas that had not been much discussed in the 60s and you'll find that he's an intuitive genius. He brings perspe ...more
Neil Collins
Mar 25, 2015 Neil Collins rated it really liked it
Some very interesting ideas about the nature of media and technology. As said in the book, "The media IS the message". This phrase sums up a pretty profound revelation which is the topic of the book. That being... it is a mistake to assume that the content of media is the primary force which shapes culture and society. It is instead the medias themselves which have built in biases which need to be recognized.

Several deep concepts like this were introduced and dealt with in the first 5 or 6 chap
Mar 11, 2010 Amber rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book hurts my head.. in a good way. We are reading it for a class at IIT Institute of Design and having great discussions about what McLuhan was trying to say and how his theories might be interpreted today. Although examples are out-of-date and sometimes pretty questionable from a historical accuracy point of view, it is a great reference to try to understand what his perspective was and see its influence on contemporary thinkers. If you want to understand a theory on how and why technolog ...more
Jun 10, 2008 Lucas rated it it was amazing
This is a very important book to read. McLuhan effectively examines the effects of all media (telephones, electric lights, tv, print, ect..) upon society. His clear understanding of the power of man's extensions of self are well formed and outlined. His reference base swings from the Old Testament through James Joyce, to Oppenheimer. He has a very strong grasp of his topic, and very clearly describes it to any lay-person.

I spoke with a friend who revisited McLuhan's theories when looking at the
Feb 26, 2009 Sarah rated it really liked it
McLuhan was one of the first people to ask questions such as "does it matter if I read Hamlet, watch it in a theater, see a movie version, or see it on TV?" His answer is an emphatic yes. So while some of his work seems a little dated, McLuhan still gets a lot of credit for prodding people to talk about the importance of media. I think part of his reputation stems from the fact that he was prone to making huge blanket pronouncement and predictions (such as "the invention of printing lead to nati ...more
Erik Akre
Oct 29, 2015 Erik Akre rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone at all
Shelves: human-ecology
McLuhan approaches the topic of media like the fiercest warrior. He wields his great sword and cuts through all the layers of the issue, to it's core. Of course, that core is one sentence: "The medium is the message."

My favorite aspect of this is not only that it applies to radio, television, and now youtube / email / texting /etc. I like its application to things as specific as conversation (in a car, around a family meal, by a teacher to his class, etc.), or reading a magazine vs. reading a b
Mar 29, 2015 Viktoras rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: filosofija
Marshall'as McLuhan'as dar apie 1960-70 metus pradėjo visus įtikinėti, kad „Medija - tai pranešimas“. Tikriausiai niekas su juo ilgai nesiginčijo, o jei ir ginčijosi, tai tame mažai prasmės. Kalbant apie knygą, ji giriama ir įvardijama kaip pralenkusi laikmetį ir tapusi aktualesnė dabar, po daugelio dešimtmečių karaliaujant internetui.
Su tuo galima sutikti ir nelabai. Nes didžioji dalis knygos skirta apžvelgti ir pasamprotauti, kaip įvairūs išradimai (ratas, kalba, radijas, spauda ir t.t.) pakei
Jan 04, 2015 Harperac rated it it was amazing
Shelves: criticism, canada
Much has been said about Marshall McLuhan, and usually so extreme that it's hard to know what to think. On the one hand, he is apparently the father of the internet age, incomparably cooler than your average intellectual, the inventor of the very language and frame of reference we now use; on the other hand, he is complete nonsense, was too popular for all the wrong reasons, and didn't do his fact-checking. The vociferous loathing for him that sprang up immediately in the Sixties is kind of hard ...more
Jun 11, 2007 Zach rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: landed gentry
It's between this critique of Media and Benjamin's On Hashish, one of them has the answers. He has the organs transplanted in formaldehyde under a red, hot light while the test samples are chilled in the refrigerator. He drinks whatever Tom Wolfe is having, and says a whole lot that cannot be said in another way. If you want my opinion know that I don't trust him, he's over fifty!

The one question afraid to ask, "how am I supposed to remember all of this stuff?!"
May 15, 2015 Raymond rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
(from my blog:

I was sitting in the Lincolnwood Town Center food court, under the vast ceiling of cloudy skylights, broken televisions and support beams, eating my processed food, when I realized that I was actively hating this book. I'm not sure that's ever happened before. Sitting in such a bland environment, I wasn't even sure where my frustration was coming from. I just knew that I really wanted to throw my book at something, possibly one of the many cell ph
J. Alfred
Mar 14, 2016 J. Alfred rated it liked it
This, unquestionably, is one of the most intellectually difficult books I've ever read. This book is where the phrase "the medium is the message" comes from, and though that is sort of the thesis of the book, I'd have a difficult time saying what exactly is meant by it: something like, all technology is an extension of man, and those technologies change us individually and socially at a subconscious level regardless of what their content happens to be.
It's pretty early to see whether it was wor
Aug 05, 2015 Gerardo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mass-media
E' impressionante vedere come un testo così attuale sia stato scritto nel 1967. In più, tutte quelle considerazioni sul futuro che il testo presenta si sono in gran parte avverate.

Ma di che cosa parla questo libro? Di mezzi di comunicazione, direbbe un lettore superficiale. In realtà, M. delinea e analizza una caratteristica umana, cioè quella di estendere le funzionalità del nostro corpo attraverso degli strumenti (mezzi o 'medium'). A differenza degli altri animali, noi siamo capaci di utiliz
William Ramsey
Jun 13, 2015 William Ramsey rated it really liked it
Constantly intriguing, often prophetic, occasionally sweeping and vague, but always provocative, if you're studying media (and if you're a human being you're studying media) you should take a gander at this book. It's bold in a way that so much academic writing these days is not. With boldness comes broad strokes and unsubstantiated claims, but then perhaps that's better than being so nervous about getting something wrong that in 200 pages you say nothing at all.

By and large this book has aged
Alexander Yakushev
Mar 10, 2016 Alexander Yakushev rated it really liked it
Although I have enjoyed Understanding Media less than I probably should have, it serves as an amazing immersion into topics never before discussed and contemplated in such depth. Had Mr. McLuhan lived today, in the Internet era, he would have been amazed how much of his analysis is still relevant and applicable.

Anyway, thread lightly while reading this book. The preface gives a fair forewarning that 90% of the book content is new to a casual reader, unsophisticated in media theory (like me). Som
Tofig Husein-Zadeh
Sep 14, 2015 Tofig Husein-Zadeh rated it it was amazing
This book is for insiders who have been studying the media's various aspects from economic, sociological, anthropological and semiotic standpoints for at least several years. So If you lack accumulated knowledge and background on media studies it might seem difficult to grasp. It is more of an encryption that can only be understood by codebreaking rather than the act of usual reading. Marshal McLuhan was one of the greatest communications analysts. This book gave me a lot. We need more people li ...more
Peter O'Brien
"Thousands of years ago man, the nomadic food-gatherer, had taken up positional, or relatively sedentary, tasks. He began to specialize. The development of writing and printing were major stages of that process. They were supremely specialist in separating the roles of knowledge from the roles of action, even though at times it could appear that 'the pen is mightier than the sword.' But with electricity and automation, the technology of fragmented processes suddenly fused with the human dialogue ...more
Gian Luigi
Jun 27, 2016 Gian Luigi rated it it was ok
Hopefully this kind of reviews can be edited at a later date. Not gonna write a full review right now.

Anyway, I could rate this book three, maybe four stars out of five (for historical relevance). I rate it two stars to combat the massive mythologization it has undergone. Marshall McLuhan here reaches the culmination of his career as a media writer. His style peaks in its qualities AND ITS LACKS (far too often overlooked).

On the one side, the intuition of the writer is remarkable and he is able
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NEW MEDIA TO CONSIDER 2 16 Dec 08, 2012 06:56AM  
  • The Language of New Media
  • The Bias of Communication
  • Gramophone, Film, Typewriter
  • Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word
  • Technics and Civilization
  • Life on the Screen
  • Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work!
  • Remediation: Understanding New Media
  • No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Behavior
  • Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide
  • The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays
  • Writing Machines
  • A Social History Of The Media: From Gutenberg To The Internet
  • The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America
  • A Child of the Century
  • Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace
  • The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, 1929-1968
  • Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory Of The Web
Herbert Marshall McLuhan, CC, was a Canadian educator, philosopher, and scholar — a professor of English literature, a literary critic, and a communications theorist. McLuhan's work is viewed as one of the cornerstones of the study of media theory. McLuhan is known for coining the expressions "the medium is the message" and the "global village".

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