Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse…

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (original 1985; edition 2005)

by Neil Postman

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,382441,606 (4.12)29
Title:Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
Authors:Neil Postman
Info:Penguin (Non-Classics) (2005), Paperback, 208 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:pima county public library, pcpl, staff pick, power of television, social issues,

Work details

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman (1985)

  1. 20
    Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (jstamp26)
  2. 00
    The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom by Yochai Benkler (chiudrele)
    chiudrele: Explains how today's world of internet is different from the old world of television. Society is not merely consuming information and culture, it can also participate in creation of it.

Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 29 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 44 (next | show all)
See book card, many page numbers, much objectionable
Type: jeremiad
Value: 2
Age: col
Interest: 2+
  keithhamblen | Jun 15, 2016 |
I intended to---and still might---write a really meaty review, but I'm finding I need to mull over the ideas in this book a bit more. The short version is: I love Amusing Ourselves to Death. Postman's hypothesis is that in predicting how the population would be controlled, Huxley, not Orwell, had it right. Our minds aren't being controlled by force by a totalitarian regime but by our own insatiable desire to be entertained. Postman's observations are even more relevant today than they were in the mid-1980's when he wrote the book, and I found his curmudgeonly tone endearing, even when he was attacking "Sesame Street." (I have no difficulty agreeing with everything he says about "Sesame Street" while still retaining my love for Grover.)

Here are some of my favorite quotes. Actually, I guess it's the ideas behind the quotes that are my favorites.That's what's tough about substantive books: complex arguments are difficult to sound-bite-ify. None of these quotes would make a pithy meme, but here are the quotes that represent ideas that really spoke to me:

p.11: "...beginning in the fourteenth century, the clock made us into time-keepers, and then time-savers, and now time-servers...with the invention of the clock, Eternity ceased to serve as the measure and focus of human events."

p. 128: "[Television commercials] tell nothing about the products being sold. But they tell everything about the fears, fancies and dreams of those who might buy them. What the advertiser needs to know is not what is right about the product but what is wrong about the buyer." (And this was before DTC pharmaceutical ads.)

p. 130: "The commercial asks us to believe that all problems are solvable, that they are solvable fast, and that they are solvable fast through the interventions of technology, techniques and chemistry...a person who has seen one million television commercials [the average a person has seen by the age of forty] might well believe that all political problems have fast solutions through simple measures---or ought to." (This one really hit home with the way the current presidential campaign is going.)

p. 139: "The Bill of Rights is largely a prescription for preventing government from restricting the flow of information and ideas. But the Founding Fathers did not foresee that tyranny by government might be superseded by another sort of problem altogether, namely, the corporate state, which through television now controls the flow of public discourse in America."

p. 141: "How delighted would be all the kings, czars and führers of the past (and commissars of the present) to know that censorship is not a necessity when all political discourse takes the form of a jest."

p. 142: "Parents embraced 'Sesame Street' for several reasons, among them that it assuaged their guilt over the fact that they could not or would not restrict their children's access to television. 'Sesame Street' appeared to justify allowing a four- or five-year-old to sit transfixed in front of a television screen for unnatural periods of time. Parents were eager to hope that television could teach their children something other than which breakfast cereal has the most crackle. At the same time, 'Sesame Street' relieved them of the responsibility of teaching their pre-school children how to read---no small matter in a culture where children are apt to be considered a nuisance." (Replace "Sesame Street" with "educational apps" and "television" with "tablet" or "smartphone" and you've updated the argument for the twenty-first century.)

p. 161: "Thus, a central thesis of computer technology---that the principal difficulty we have in solving problems stems from insufficient data--- will go unexamined. Until, years from now, when it will be noticed that the massive collection and speed-of-light retrieval of data have been of great value to large-scale organizations but have solved very little of importance to most people and have created at least as many problems for them as they may have solved."

The antidote, Postman suggests, is not to reject new technologies but instead to question them rather than blindly adopting them. I wonder, is this really enough? Whether it is or not is likely irrelevant. We turn to the Internet---especially social media---for so much information, connection, and emotional comfort these days, I fear we're not much inclined to question the source. ( )
2 vote ImperfectCJ | May 26, 2016 |
A perceptive look at US popular media - predominantly television - dating from 1985, though still relevant more than thirty years later. It takes only a very small adjustment of the imagination to add social media to the analysis, and that analysis still comes up strong.

We are more fortunate in the UK (in that we have the BBC, which by not taking advertising does not have to chase the ratings and the eight-minute attention span to the same degree), but we cannot afford complacency. Much of what is in this book I can see in our own media.

Equally, there are other voices in America who are aware of this problem and work against it. But they are a minority.

Interestingly, I'm re-watching 'Battlestar Galactica' (the re-boot) at the moment. It is a well-crafted show, with good plots (at least, until it got to the point where the show-runners ran out of ideas and began making stuff - especially mystical stuff - up as they went along), an interesting premise and a range of issues. But I notice two things about it: 1) episodes are shorter than their equivalents for 'Star Trek' or 'Babylon 5', reflecting longer advert breaks; and (perhaps more importantly), 2) by the story being set in a non-Earth society, the cultural references that the other shows inserted in the scripts - because Roddenberry and Straczinski are/were themselves educated people who wanted to share that education - are not present. The earlier shows 'sneaked' references into their stories that would take the inquisitive viewer into a wider world of cultural exposure; but by the opening of the 21st century, a science fiction show like 'Galactica' that was complex and demanding in terms of its narrative no longer felt a need to expand its viewers' consciousnesses as well. Postman's hypothesis wins out in the end, it seems.

We see the eight-minute attention span reflected in documentaries in the UK as well - sometimes even in BBC documentaries that are intended to be sold abroad, as they have to conform to a commercial tv pattern (watching popular BBC documentary shows, I can often pick out where the adverts will go when the show is re-broadcast on a commercial channel). On completely commercially-originated documentaries, this is reflected in the recapitulation of "the story so far" when the show comes back after the commercial break.

I found the chapter on US tele-evangelism very interesting. It suggests one reason why Islam is mis-represented so much in mainstream media, because (on my reading), the messages of Islam do not suggest ways of making yourself feel good, but in doing the right thing. And that can't be reduced to an eight-minute sound-bite that reinforces other, less spiritual messages that the medium wants to promote at the same time.

I'd like to think that UK audiences are sufficiently sophisticated to spot these sort of issues. (Perhaps one reason why there are segments of the UK political world who decry college and university 'media studies' courses, because those courses enable those who have done them to analyse and deconstruct what they are seeing.) (Hopefully.) In a way, the book has told me nothing I didn't already know, but it put it in a context of the development of US television media. The lessons it gives us are equally important for the digital media age. I see just the same forces working in social media to say "Look over here at THIS" so as to direct attention away from THAT. My one concern is that the book preaches somewhat to the converted, though by spreading the word, the message can sometimes get to new ears.

Otherwise, we shall end up in the world of 'Fahrenheit 451'; and occasionally, I see the underlying ideology of that world - "books are dangerous because they make you feel your own reactions to what you see, rather than what you are required to feel and think' - trying very hard to break through into our reality.
2 vote RobertDay | Apr 25, 2016 |
This book argues that television has brought profound differences to our culture. Not because of the entertainment as such, but because so much else has become 'made for television'. News in brief snippets, electioneering as showbiz, lots of pictures and fast-moving programmes which we have mostly forgotten by the end of the evening.

The book is dated - it's 23 years old now - and although it does make some excellent, thought-provoking points, I felt that he was perhaps too critical of modern technology, while insisting that the printing press, which also transformed culture, was a good move. Perhaps three and a half stars, since it's given me a lot to think about. ( )
  SueinCyprus | Jan 26, 2016 |
Although the world Postman writes about is a little dated, the book is still very thought provoking. I would highly recommend this to anyone who is interested in media's effect (and especially television) on society. ( )
  ElOsoBlanco | Jul 15, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 44 (next | show all)
The dismal message of this landmark book is that, while we've kept our eye out for Orwell's world all along, we have smoothly moved into living in Huxley's. Through our own compliance, our implicit assent, and our endless desire to be entertained, we have allowed the television to behave as our soma and let happen unto us what, were it made an explicit part of the social contract, we would never have accepted. Orwell was a cartoon, while Huxley is our reality—and we don't even know it.
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Information from the Dutch Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Alternative titles
Original publication date
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
First words
We were keeping our eye on 1984.
You may get a sense of what is meant by context-free information by asking yourself the following question: How often does it occur that information provided you on morning radio or television, or in the morning newspaper, causes you to alter your plans for the day, or to take some action you would not otherwise have taken, or provides insight into some problem you are required to solve?
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Publisher series
Information from the German Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Original language

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (2)

Book description
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 significance. Amusing Ourselves to Death is a prophetic look at what happens when politics, journalism, education, and even religion become subject to the demands of entertainment. It is also a blueprint for regaining control of our media, so that they can serve our highest goals.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140094385, Paperback)

A brilliant powerful and important book....This is a brutal indictment Postman has laid down and, so far as I can see, an irrefutable one. --Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post Book World.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:07 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

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 significance. Amusing Ourselves to Death is a prophetic look at what happens when politics, journalism, education, and even religion become subject to the demands of entertainment. It is also a blueprint for regaining control of our media, so that they can serve our highest goals. - Publisher.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 3 descriptions

Quick Links

Swap Ebooks Audio
2 avail.
262 wanted
2 pay2 pay

Popular covers


Average: (4.12)
1.5 1
2 24
2.5 5
3 73
3.5 21
4 193
4.5 33
5 188

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.


You are using the new servers! | About | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 116,119,171 books! | Top bar: Always visible