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

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4.11  ·  Rating Details  ·  9,241 Ratings  ·  1,087 Reviews
Originally published in 1985, Neil Postman’s groundbreaking polemic about the corrosive effects of television on our politics and public discourse has been hailed as a twenty-first-century book published in the twentieth century. Now, with television joined by more sophisticated electronic media—from the Internet to cell phones to DVDs—it has taken on even greater signific ...more
Paperback, 20th Anniversary Edition, 184 pages
Published December 27th 2005 by Penguin Books (first published 1985)
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Trevor
Sep 01, 2014 Trevor rated it it was amazing
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 20, 2013 s.penkevich rated it liked it
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
Jan 31, 2009 David rated it liked it
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
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
Jan 26, 2015 booklady rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 07, 2007 Joseph rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Giacinta
Nov 27, 2007 Giacinta rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 03, 2008 Anne rated it it was amazing
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
Jon
Dec 16, 2015 Jon rated it it was amazing
"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
Tracey
Dec 21, 2007 Tracey rated it liked it
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
Rickeclectic
Feb 18, 2009 Rickeclectic rated it it was ok
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
Malbadeen
Aug 22, 2007 Malbadeen added it  ·  review of another edition
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
Keith Loveday
Sep 19, 2015 Keith Loveday rated it it was amazing
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
Howard
Feb 13, 2015 Howard rated it it was amazing
Second Reading
Rebecca
Sep 18, 2010 Rebecca rated it it was amazing
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
Josh
Jun 19, 2013 Josh rated it really liked it
A very readable and highly insightful commentary on the information age and how it's reduced our collective attention span to vapor. Mostly Postman was right on, even though this is from 1985, minus a few minor quarrels I'd have with some of his targets. I agreed with him most when it came to politics, which has become a total quagmire of shallow image-wrangling and blathering idiocy in the information age.

While it's hard to dispute much of anything he writes, I think ultimately there's not much
...more
Paul Gier
Jun 07, 2012 Paul Gier rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 24, 2013 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 06, 2007 Inggita rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Glen Robinson
Nov 17, 2015 Glen Robinson rated it it was amazing
Many thoughts to ponder in an age when we don't take time to ponder them. What has television done to the way we live our lives? This was written back in the 80s, but rather than this book being out of date, it is more appropriate today than it was when it was written. Mind blowing.
Forester McClatchey
Aug 21, 2015 Forester McClatchey rated it really liked it
It isn't fair to read any writer immediately after Nabokov. Postman's prose inevitably seemed cro-magnon, but at least it was clear and, fittingly, entertaining.
Trevor Price
Jul 15, 2015 Trevor Price rated it really liked it
It's a rare joy to read a book that introduces me to such a big, important question that I haven't even considered before.

Postman establishes the premise that communication mediums are not neutral; that each has its own strengths and weaknesses, even ideological tendencies and epistemology. It's not that smoke signals couldn't be used to lay out a philosophical exposition; it's not that television couldn't be used to broadcast Lincoln–Douglas-style debates in full; it's just that those mediums d
...more
Writer's Relief
Sep 24, 2015 Writer's Relief rated it really liked it
It’s hard to imagine a time when TV shows could not be watched whenever and wherever on a multitude of devices, and an overabundance of information did not glut the Internet or outpace print news. AMUSING OURSELVES TO DEATH, originally written in 1985, examines the effects of television--and now electronic media--on a literary culture.

Neil Postman (1931–2003), former Chairman of the Department of Communication Arts at New York University and author of 20 books writes, “When a population becomes
...more
Kressel Housman
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
Laurent
May 04, 2015 Laurent rated it really liked it
Amusing Ourselves To Death is a warning whose pertinence has all but grown since its publication in 1985. Unimaginable then to most, the insidiously pervasive effects of television on our common consciousness is systematically exposed in this burning — yet surprisingly composed and rational — attack on the shift in our ‘media metaphor,’ as Postman calls it. At the heart of his critique of the inevitable changes society undergoes is the frighteningly accurate assertion that technology, despite ou ...more
Munema
Dec 06, 2014 Munema rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: re-read, favourites
I really enjoyed this book, but there are some things that I am uncertain about or think he didn't justify well, which I shall list so that I remember them during my second reading:

a) A TV culture will lead to people thinking anything worth learning has to be entertaining - I saw evidence of learning switching over to entertainment and subjects that lend themselves well to being entertaining, but not that the definition of learning itself has changed at a higher level to things that are only ent
...more
Courtney
As someone who doesn't watch a lot of tv, and laments about the general populace's lack of understanding about politics and the nuances of life in general, I found this an easy read. I would be interested in how this argument would play out now, in the age of the internet and social media. If anything, I imagine the general public actually reads more now than ever, from a wider variety of sources. But this doesn't necessarily mean that we understand any better. Our understanding of the world has ...more
Erika RS
May 13, 2013 Erika RS rated it did not like it
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
Andy Kenway
Aug 29, 2013 Andy Kenway rated it it was amazing
Shelves: culture
In order to seek freedom from the adverse influences of modern society, we must first understand those influences. We are captive to those influences that we do not recognize, understand, and consciously resist.

Amusing Ourselves to Death is without doubt one of the five most penetrating and thought-provoking books that I have ever read. Postman's analysis of the effects of television on society is a must-read for those who want to fully comprehend the cultural changes that have taken place in t
...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 comercials.” 105 likes
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