Book Review: Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985)

Public discourse in the age of show business
by Neil Postman

AmusingIf humanity makes the grade in the next few years, a good share of the credit will be due to Professor Neil Postman and his timely insights into the decline of language (esp. with respect to reading and writing), logic, conceptual development, and common sense. In other words, thanks to his framework of astute observations, others may be able to (re)construct the building of our reasoning minds… without which we shall surely go the way of the dodo bird. Amusing Ourselves to Death is arguably the magnum opus of this cultural critic, writer, and communications theorist who was chair of the New York University department of communication arts.

Two of his other better known books I have reviewed are Technopoly (1991) and Building a Bridge to the 18th Century (1999)—which was his final, comprehensive, and most heartfelt appeal to the ‘better angels of our nature’… particularly the angels who want liberty and literate, benevolent civilization.  [A deeply personal note, Building a Bridge was the prize of all the books my dear mother, the accomplished Phyllis Anderson-Barlow-Wright, referred to me—the first to knock me off the ledge of ego where I liked to think “how could Mom know anything really important?”] Continue reading

Book Review: Technopoly

by Neil Postman
The surrender of culture to technology

TechnopolyOur inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end. — Thoreau

Neil Postman is the prophet of the Second Enlightenment, the one that “builds a bridge” to the First Enlightenment of the 18th century. The former chair of the department of communications arts and sciences at New York University has a thing about technology and language. Reading any of his books—and I did review his Building a Bridge to the 18th Century—gives one the pure joy of seeing a first-class literary mind wrestling conceptually with the neverending stimulus-response “stuff” coming at humankind through the unchecked machinery of wretched excess. Continue reading