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Public Opinion

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  835 ratings  ·  59 reviews
In what is widely considered the most influential book ever written by Walter Lippmann, the late journalist and social critic provides a fundamental treatise on the nature of human information and communication. As Michael Curtis indicates in his introduction to this edition. Public Opinion qualifies as a classic by virtue of its systematic brilliance and literary grace. ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published June 12th 1997 by Free Press (first published 1922)
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Average rating 3.97  · 
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Sep 15, 2012 rated it liked it
I read this book after reading Brian's review here

Where this book is really quite interesting is in the fact that it is a kind of modernisation of Plato’s Republic. I’m not just saying that because it starts by quoting the allegory of the cave, but because all of the central ideas of the book seem to me to be essentially Platonic. For example, democracy is presented as a really good idea ‘in theory’, but one that is incapable of working in practice. This
Brian Eshleman
Jun 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Want to understand the last hundred years, and maybe the next hundred, in terms of the interplay between mass media and people's assumptions? The short book is an awfully good start.
Nov 06, 2013 rated it liked it
This book is unfairly maligned because Chomsky holds it out as an example of elite liberal ideology (and it is a fair example in that regard), but Lippmann has a point about "public opinion". He wasn't the first or last to point out that the spontaneous majorities on various subjects are not necessarily rational or advantageous, and that they usually *aren't* when the public bases opinions off of sketchy information (and that this is a common phenomenon). Further, his argument that news and the ...more
Ben Peters
Mar 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
Whatever else one may think of this classic, it is written to take one's breath away. The images of Lippmann's prose alone--e.g. the Platonic, iconic "pictures in the mind," itself an almost mandatory talking point for those who pass through liberal arts education in America--guarantee that this book will repay reading and rereading. As for those who dismiss or belittle Lippmann as an elitist ready to cede political power to the expertise of the few, I am not convinced. Yes, he wrote in favor of ...more
Oct 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american
I really liked this book. Although it was written more than 80 years ago I think that it addresses a very current issue.

This book begins with a discussion of social psychology. It explains how people see through different paradigms.

Then he builds from this a political theory. He denies "democracy" and discusses the federalist government, but I found that these designations are not as understandable in the modern vernacular. You have to pay close attention to system in which he is defining
Aug 27, 2018 rated it it was ok
Nobody on Earth is omniscient and to make sense of the sea of info that surrounds us all all we make use of what Lippmann calls 'stereotypes,' preconceptions of ideas that help us fill in the gaps between the points of information we're exposed to. People carry different stereotypes with them and the same people can look at the exact same evidence and come to different conclusions, not to say that there aren't cases where the shared stereotypes of society can lead to near unanimous agreement.

Jul 13, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: propaganda
So overwrought with examples and anecdotes very little concrete information bleeds through. Man, what a blowhard.
Sep 27, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

- [Published in 1922] a critical assessment of functional democratic government, especially of the irrational and often self-serving social perceptions that influence individual behavior and prevent optimal societal cohesion.

- Walter Lippmann was an American writer, reporter, and political commentator famous for being among the first to introduce the term ‘’stereotype’ in the modern psychological meaning.

Jindřich Mynarz
Jan 29, 2018 rated it liked it
At times wonderfully poetic and pregnant, other times needlessly obtuse. A classic, or a piece of prescient writing, some might call it, the Public Opinion delivers highly relevant food for thought on media in (post-)democratic world.
Peter Pactor
Aug 16, 2016 rated it liked it
There is a lot of information in this book. Indeed, I had a respectful amount of annotation from my reading; however, I must return to my notes to retain what I read. If I were to rate this book on the material, the theories, concepts and conclusions, I would rate it as a five. However, it requires so much work to get through the intellectual psycho-babble of much of his writing it is just not worth the effort for the average person. For this reason, I rated it a three.

It seemed to me that his
Jul 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
In times like these, when we sleep with screens feeding us images of war, it is important to go back to this classic.

Emotions run high when photographs, pictures and videos rule our understanding of foreign affairs.

It is equally important to realize how little information we actually have access to.

Not so much has changed since the age of television:public emotions get mobilized together with armed forces, and, as we develop an aggressive tunnel-vision the enemy starts condensing into a
Lyndon Bailey
Written beautifully and with penetrating insights on every page, this book was a hard read due to the format and the text but the language itself, while not challenging, is elegantly wrought.

You'll probably hate his conservative apologism and barely concealed authoritarianism (not to mention shilling for the future PR industry) but it is well worth reading as his critiques of politics and exposure of the problems faced by democracies deserve attention.
Jan 15, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Why should one bother to read a book on the shaping of personal and public opinions almost a century old? Surely, in an age when twitter has replaced telegrams we have become much more savvy in dealing with an ever expanding amount of news than people living between the World Wars. As my mocking tone indicates, Lippmann’s reasoning about the production of everyday knowledge is still very much up to date and can easily be applied to those media which have joined the ranks of newspapers, magazines ...more
Sep 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A few weeks back a podcast I was listening to mentioned that Lippmann coined the modern usage of the word "stereotype" in this book and also briefly discussed how good it was, so I figured I would check it out and I am SO glad I did.

I almost started the book over again immediatly after finishing it because it moves so fast and is so dense with ideas. Lippmann dances across the psychology of how opinions are formed at the individual level based on imperfect information filtered through
Sep 09, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed a lot of the musings on the ideas people have about the world outside their experience and how they often differ from reality, as well as how they process new information by filling in the gaps with their preconceptions. Also interesting to me, though to a lesser degree, was the impact this has on theories about how democracy would work. The internet some of the content about channels of information outdated, but it seems to me that a lot of the problems brought up have proven ...more
Ben Vance
Mar 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A fantastic look at what forms public opinion written during an era before public opinion polling. A deep dive into how the public makes up its mind about subjects and whether we can really trust it. While much of the author’s solutions are a tad ridiculous (opening a branch of government fact checkers), it gets at big questions we are still asking in the era of social media and digital propaganda.
John Mcjohnnyman
Aug 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: journalism
Incredibly insightful, clever, and as applicable to today's media and politics as it must've been when originally written. Lippman's analysis of the many abstract and underlying forces that shape the opinions we hold about the world is simply beautiful, and will leave you more critically aware and prepared to handle the many stereotypes and symbols used to manipulate the truth and our impression of it.
Jun 25, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebooks
I agreed with many of his main points on stereotyping, democracy, propaganda, and the inability for a potential voter to actually understand beyond their personal realm. But, man-o-man, this is not what I would call a "fun" read. Lots of 1920s news references and lots of rambling prose. I know I'm not the target audience here, but geez liven it up Walter.
Munsif Husami
Sep 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
No words. Just read it, if you may have even a shred of interest in understanding why politics today works the way it does.

This book changed how I think back of my time spent getting a journalism degree.
Ailith Twinning
Apr 19, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2019
One of the worst crimes committed to the page.
May 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Insightful and timeless. I didn't realise until halfway through that this was written a century ago. Makes good points about the problems with democracy and limits to informed decision making.
Dec 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Though impolitic to agree with his central conclusion, the denouement of his argument and diagnosis of what ails mass democracy is a work of great (literary) genius.
Hemhek Song
Apr 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A timely read; thought provoking. A knowledge of American political and literary history is needed to understand all the references.
Stephen Masri
Jan 27, 2018 rated it liked it
Elegant prose but so high flown as to be vague and more a matter of highly personal musing than clear exposition
Feb 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: finished
Very informative!!
Joe Richardson
Mar 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Haven't read beautifully-articulated, society-wide-cynicism this well done since Thomas Hobbes. If that sort of thing interests you, then this book delivers
Karl H.
Sep 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Our first-hand experience is but a drop in the frothing, complex ocean of the world. And yet, all of us have ideas and opinions about things out there that we have never encountered directly. Where do those come from? And, in the aggregate, do our opinions really reflect reality? Can they be used as the basis for government? Public Opinion is an insightful exploration of these questions, and the effects their answers have on how we govern ourselves.

Walter Lippmann does a fantastic job explaining
Feb 22, 2017 rated it liked it
A classic that must be read again from time to time to check how everything is changing in media and audiences
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Walter Lippmann was an American intellectual, writer, reporter, and political commentator who gained notoriety for being among the first to introduce the concept of Cold War. Lippmann was twice awarded (1958 and 1962) a Pulitzer Prize for his syndicated newspaper column, "Today and Tomorrow."
“We are told about the world before we see it. We imagine most things before we experience them. And those preconceptions, unless education has made us acutely aware, govern deeply the whole process of perception.” 24 likes
“The systems of stereotypes may be the core of our personal tradition, the defenses of our position in society. They are an ordered more or less consistent picture of the world, to which our habits, our tastes, our capacities, our comforts and our hopes have adjusted themselves. They may not be a complete picture of the world, but they are a picture of a possible world to which we are adapted. In that world, people and things have their well-known places, and do certain expected things. We feel at home there. We fit in. We are members.


It is not merely a short cut. It is all these things and something more. It is the guarantee of our self-respect; it is the projection upon the world of our own sense or our own value, our own position, and our own rights. [...] They are the fortress of our traditions, and behind its defenses we can continue to feel ourselves safe in the position we occupy.”
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