All-TIME 100 Best Nonfiction Books – Understanding Media (1964)


Politics and war, science and sports, memoir and biography — there’s a great big world of nonfiction books out there just waiting to be read. We picked the 100 best and most influential written in English since 1923, the beginning of TIME … magazine.

100 Non-Fiction Books

 By JAMES PONIEWOZIK Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2011

Understanding Media by Marshall McLuhan

It’s not often that Canadian academics become American media stars; this one did it by defining the way we use the term media. At once scholarly and breezily aphoristic, McLuhan’s book introduced a set of phrases for describing modern communication that read as pithy slogans but involved deep rethinkings: for instance, “the medium is the message,” by which McLuhan meant that the form of a medium, not its content, is what matters. Television, say, changed us not by being educational or by being violent but simply by being television: by transmitting messages broadly on a mass scale (just as, he says, the electric light changed society — independent of whether the light is used to perform surgery or illuminate a billboard). McLuhan also identified “hot media” (those, he said, that engage particular senses intensely, like radio or photography) and “cool media” (those, like TV, that he said require more “participation or completion by the audience” to decipher meaning). McLuhan’s pronouncements could be enigmatic, but they were tremendously influential, and they made the serious analysis of electronic media both hot and cool.

Ed comment:- That’s all very nice and I certainly agree with the choice. Understanding Media is the most important book on media written during the last half century. However, why don’t journalists look up what McLuhan actually said was the meaning of “the medium is the message”? It’s there right at the beginning of  the very first chapter which is titled The Medium is the Message:

The medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium – that is, of any extension of ourselves – result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology.” – Understanding Media,  MIT Press ed., p. 7

By the “new scale” McLuhan means the totality of all the changes and effects that any new technology introduces to the world……AlexK

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