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Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

4.14  ·  Rating Details ·  10,833 Ratings  ·  1,298 Reviews
Television has conditioned us to tolerate visually entertaining material measured out in spoonfuls of time, to the detriment of rational public discourse and reasoned public affairs. In this eloquent, persuasive book, Neil Postman alerts us to the real and present dangers of this state of affairs, and offers compelling suggestions as to how to withstand the media onslaught ...more
Paperback, 192 pages
Published November 4th 1986 by Penguin Books (first published 1985)
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Trevor
Apr 10, 2009 Trevor rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This really is a book that needs to be read. I’m going to start with the quote that got me to read this book:

“We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn't, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares. But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's dark vision, there was another - slightly older, slightly less well kn
...more
s.penkevich
Mar 19, 2013 s.penkevich rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Infinite Jesters
Recommended to s.penkevich by: School
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.'

The modern era is an age of endless information and entertainment. Media looks to the public for what they want, and then sells it back to them wrapped up in the most irresistible packaging they can create, and we eat it up. However, if entertainment is what we desire most, and if everything we receive must compete for our atten
...more
David
Jul 19, 2007 David rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well, yes, Mr Postman. You're undoubtedly right in much of your analysis. And I suppose it was prescient of you to be so right way back in 1985 when you wrote this book.

But having said that, I'm not sure what else to add. Here we are in 2009. Arnold Schwarzenegger is governor of the state I live in. But the republic hasn't fallen. The barbarians are just an annoyance, not a threat. Newspapers may be undergoing a steep decline, but it would be premature to declare this a complete tragedy. I read
...more
Jennifer
As I sit down to write this, President Trump has just described Frederick Douglass as "someone who has done a terrific job that is being recognized by more and more people." (February 1, 2017).

Frederick Douglass was an African American abolitionist, writer, and reformer who died in 1895. Apparently, the President of the United States has no idea who Frederick Douglass was, since he is referring to Douglass in the present tense.

I have been struggling to understand how Trump got elected. Not just
...more
Hadrian
Amusing Ourselves to Death is a doom-and-gloom prophecy about the dangers of television and the hazardous effects of passively receiving information instead of critically engaging with it. All other factors become subsumed to the desire to entertain and draw as many viewers as possible, whether in education, news, or even religion, with the rise of the TV preacher.

In 1985, this might not have been wrong. But we are now in 2014, and the situation of the media has changed significantly in the past
...more
booklady
Jun 06, 2008 booklady rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: any parent!
I think this was my introduction to Postman and I read this book in a day; it's 163 pages. Yes, I like to read, but even so back then with two little kids, I rarely read that much in month much less a day! I had two nearly-hyperactive (okay yes they were girls) kids of four and five. I only mention this so you know just how big an impression this book made on me at the time.

Up until then I frequently resorted to letting the kids 'do' videos several hours a day--not that they would ever sit stil
...more
Joseph
Sep 06, 2007 Joseph rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
If someone held a gun to my head and asked for a precise and concise definition of irony (it could happen!), I would say only this: Neil Postman died two days before Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor -thus narrowly missing out on the single best example of what he was screaming about all those years ago. This book was foundational for me. Postman delivers a passioned polemic about the entertain-at-any-cost ethos of our current culture, and how the irrestible siren song of triviality is ...more
Jon
Sep 13, 2011 Jon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right." - Neil Postman

In 1854 Stephen A. Douglas presented a three-hour speech against Abraham Lincoln's ideas, and in return, on that same night, Lincoln responded with a three-hour argument of his own. The surprise? People actually stayed long enough to hear both men out.

Contrast that with the Republican debate that happened last night: 8 candidates were forced to answer leading, disjointed questions in 30 seconds or less. And th
...more
Giacinta
Nov 27, 2007 Giacinta rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: have-read
This was an astonishing book. I picked it up from the library but I really want my own copy now. I was nervous about it because it was written a while ago, before the Internet was the all-pervasive force it is today. I thought it's a book about media, it will be dated, it will say television is bad for you, etc. But it really surprised me.

The point of the book is about how the advent of television influenced public discourse and politics. The book speaks at length about pre-television society i
...more
Anne
Mar 29, 2008 Anne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There's a good feeling you get when you read a book that accurately criticizes something that needs it. If you've ever felt like watching TV was a waste of time, this book will impart such a feeling.

Not to mention, providing an arsenal of reasons why TV is a general waste of time.

Why, just two days ago my 3rd grade students asked me why the 4th graders at our school always get to watch videos in class and we don't.

With Postman's support in my back pocket I explained that TV was nothing more than
...more
Rickeclectic
Feb 11, 2009 Rickeclectic rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Not many folks
Shelves: about-meaning
Disappointing. Read it if you have to (it is considered to be an "important" book for media folks), but otherwise, just read the following and skip the book. Mr. Postman is obviously a well read person and the book claims the values logic and argument, but his arguments are off kilter. This is especially disappointing because the topic is important and he is a good writer in the classic sense of being able to put interesting sentences together.

His thesis is "Some ways of truth telling are better
...more
David
Oct 11, 2016 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Orwell believed the government would hide the truth, ban books, and in essence dominate people. Huxley believed people would have access to so much information they would not know what truth is and there would be so much entertainment no one would read.

Huxley was right.

Postman's work is an extended analysis of television. It is a bit dated since he writes at the onset of computers. Much of what he said holds true, but it would be interesting to get his take on how smartphones have changed things
...more
Brian Eshleman
Oct 24, 2011 Brian Eshleman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: other-nonfiction
I don't know how many commentaries in our culture it could be said to be more relevant now than when they were written 25 years ago, but this one can. If we were distracted and distractible then, demanding television-style stimulation even on serious subjects, we certainly are now. Television's defining role has simply been replaced by stimuli from many different directions. Postman rightly cautions us to be wary of the impact of how a message is delivered on the message itself.

I was disappointe
...more
Tracey
This book had been on my To Read list for quite some time; a mention in The Geography of Nowhere was the final spur to check it out from the library.

Postman takes a look at how our perception of the world is affected by the medium in which we receive information about it; contrasting the Age of Print (the 18th & 19th centuries) with our current age - starting with the telegraph and continuing through to the computer. Obviously, the main focus is television, as it is the most ubiquitous info
...more
Malbadeen
Aug 22, 2007 Malbadeen added it
Recommends it for: headless people
I read a paragraph of this? or a page? or a chapter? or most of it? What I read to the point where Postman said, basically that there is so much information out there that we can not or do not act on that it's pretty ludicrous to keep taking it all in. And I was like cool! I can finally stop paying attention to that war that they're having in that place and all that talk about those hungry people in that one country is now in one ear and out the other. And then I was like double cool cuz I know ...more
Ali Reda
Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who wou
...more
Paige
Mar 23, 2017 Paige rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I feel like the most obvious thing to say here is "wow this is still so relevant today!". Well, it's true. I honestly only picked this up originally because it was the inspiration (partly) for Roger Waters' album by the same name, but it's an interesting read even though it sometimes felt like I was back in school for a moment doing some assigned reading for a polisci class.
Syd Amir
May 15, 2014 Syd Amir rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: تکنولوژی
نثر کتاب و ترجمه اش عالی و روان بود کلا کتاب خیلی خوشخوان و خوشدست هست
------------------
تکنولوژی خنثی و منفعل نیست بلکه هر ابزاری فراتر از کاربردی ک براش در نظر گرفته شده از اون جایی که واسطه ی ما و جهان در شناخت و تحلیل پدیده هاست در محتوی و نحوه ی اندیشیدن ما تاثیر می ذاره
کتاب به طور خاص به بررسی ماهیت و گستره ی این تاثثیرات در مورد کتاب، تلگراف، روزنامه ها، عکاسی و تلویزیون می پردازه
و مدعی هست که هر کدوم ازین ابزارها فرهنگ، معرفت شناسی و ... ما رو تغییر دادن

علاوه بر موضوع اصلی کتاب نکات خیل
...more
John
Mar 04, 2009 John rated it it was amazing
Wow, what a read! This is a book that everyone should read. Postman has diagnosed the problem that most of us didn't even know existed. The trouble is there really is no easy cure. Each person must act upon his solution individually and take responsibility for himself and his family.

I have never given so much thought to how to educate my children as I have in the past twenty-four hours that I have been reading this book.
Howard
Second Reading
Rebecca
May 30, 2010 Rebecca rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: social-political
Note to self: It's time to read Brave New World again...

Despite having been published in 1985 on a topic (media) that is currently changing faster than ever before and has come light years (almost literally) since its release, this is a book well worth reading for anyone interested in social thought, politics, media, constructive analysis of our society, or fomenting revolution among the plebeian masses.

Beginning with a very interesting scholarly consideration of how a medium shapes its content
...more
Sasha
Jun 01, 2017 Sasha rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Profound diagnosis and absolutely relevant commentary on the lightening -paced, attention deprived image-driven online experience so characteristic of our 21st century life. I nearly highlighted the entire book, the prologue and the last chapter are especially remarkable.


How television stages the world becomes the model for how the world is properly to be staged. It is not merely that on the television screen entertainment is the metaphor for all discourse. It is that off the screen the same me
...more
Kressel Housman
Mar 25, 2015 Kressel Housman rated it really liked it
Anyone remember the pre-Internet days of the 1980’s when television was still king? That’s when this book was written, so for every rant author Neil Postman made against television, I was wondering, “What would he say now?” He lived till 2003, and a Google search will show you that he railed against the Internet, too, but he never lived to see the rise of social media and texting. What would he have said about summing up your personal news into 140 characters right alongside the world’s celebrit ...more
Parita
Mar 03, 2017 Parita rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think this a must-read for everyone today. This book was written focusing on television but the message it is trying to convey is even more relevant with the social media today. The book does a great job of analysing different aspects of the impact of this "Age of Show Business" with examples. He may seem harsh at times but I couldn't help but agree with him on most points. To quote one of them -
"When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual ro
...more
Keith Loveday
Aug 29, 2015 Keith Loveday rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Holy shit. How have I not read this book before? Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death is awesome. Although written in 1985, it is no less relevant today. On its surface, it's a sort of jeremiad against the evils of watching television, but Postman isn't some grumpy old dude shaking his fist in the air... the man breaks it down to you through the history of media and (arguably) information itself. An academic mind with a layman's delivery. A good pre-requirement would be to read Alduous Huxley's ...more
Paul Gier
Sep 03, 2010 Paul Gier rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Postman provodes an insightful analysis about how the medium of communication (speech, writing, television) has a significant effect on the information that is communicated. Television is limited to providing information without context because the communication happens only in a single direction and has strict time limitations. Television is a great medium for entertainment, but it is generally counter-productive as a medium for for communicating more complex ideas such as news, education, and ...more
Jason
Oct 28, 2011 Jason rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The problems Neil Postman wrote about in Amusing Ourselves to Death have been exacerbated in the 26 years since its publication. Postman posited that, at least in the western world, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (what we love will ruin us)—not George Orwell's 1984 (what we hate will ruin us)—was right.

Everything in our culture "has been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business." This not only affects how we converse and receive information, but how we think, and not in a good way.
...more
Inggita
Aug 05, 2007 Inggita rated it really liked it
i translated this book into Indonesian ("Menghibur Diri Sampai Mati" - Pustaka Sinar Harapan press) back in the 90s - i was taken by the clarity of the analogy that he provides even though it makes little sense to those who doesn't read (where i come from there's a lot, therefore we can't say Postman will be effective over here): Orwell's vision of a totalitarian nation where everything's monitored and controled vs. Huxley's where we will gladly let go of our role as watchdogs in return of endle ...more
Erika RS
May 13, 2013 Erika RS rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book makes two good points: the media used to communicate affects the nature of the communication, and much of modern communication on serious matters is frivolous.

That covers the first part of the book. The rest is a tiresome rant about how TV is ruining us all. The details of the rant are not worth covering, but I do think that Postman misses some important points. First, he never looks to see if there is any good in a visual based communication style. It is true, as he states, that a med
...more
Jacob Aitken
Borrowing from Marshall McLuhan, Communication Arts professor Neil Postman adopts the thesis that the `medium is the metaphor' by arguing that "each medium, like language itself, makes possible a unique mode of discourse by providing a new orientation for thought, expression, and sensibility" (10). McLuhan argued that the medium is the message; Postman carries it one step further by demonstrating that the `medium is the metaphor." He illustrates this by showing how the Cherokee Indians would com ...more
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41963
Neil Postman, an important American educator, media theorist and cultural critic was probably best known for his popular 1985 book, Amusing Ourselves to Death. For more than four decades he was associated with New York University, where he created and led the Media Ecology program.

He is the author of more than thirty significant books on education, media criticism, and cultural change including Te
...more
More about Neil Postman...

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“We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn't, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.

But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's dark vision, there was another - slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us.

This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.”
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“Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other. They do not exchange ideas, they exchange images. They do not argue with propositions; they argue with good looks, celebrities and commercials.” 140 likes
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