Highly Recommended: The Critical Edition of Understanding Media, Edited by Terrence Gordon


Most readers who are interested in Marshall McLuhan own a copy of his most important book Understanding Media (1964) in one of its several editions, either in hardcover or paperback. So they probably feel that they don’t need another edition. However, I recommend the Critical Edition, edited by Terry Gordon, for its additional features which are worth the price of the book by themselves. Besides the full text of Understanding Media, these include:-

  • McLuhan’s Introductions to both the First and Second editions the book;
  •  An Essay on the Ryerson Experiment (1960) the purpose of which was “to provide the ‘same’ information in the identical wording, to four similar audiences, each of which had the ‘same’ motivation to seek out and remember the information presented. Given the same objective examination on that information, would the only systematic remaining, namely the different media used, make a statistically significant difference to the average scores of those audiences?” The four different mediums used were: television, radio, live lecture, printed text;
  • A short essay on how McLuhan’s Report on Project in Understanding New Media (1960) was transformed into  Understanding Media (1964);
  • An essay on the Critical Reception of Understanding Media by Terrence Gordon;
  • Plus introductions to all the sections, a Glossary, List of McLuhan publications and Indices.

Gingko Press’s Listing:

Understanding Media
The Extensions of Man (Critical Edition)
Edited by W. Terrence Gordon
When first published, Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media made history with its radical view of the effects of electronic communications upon man and life in the twentieth century. This edition of McLuhan’s best-known book both enhances its accessibility to a general audience and provides the full critical apparatus necessary for scholars. In Terrence Gordon’s own words, “McLuhan is in full flight already in the introduction, challenging us to plunge with him into what he calls ‘the creative process of knowing.” Much to the chagrin of his contemporary critics, McLuhan’s preference was for a prose style that explored rather than explained. Probes, or aphorisms, were an indispensable tool with which he sought to prompt and prod the reader into an “understanding of how media operate” and to provoke reflection.In the 1960s McLuhan’s theories aroused both wrath and admiration. It is intriguing to speculate what he might have to say 40 years later on subjects to which he devoted whole chapters such as Television, The Telephone, Weapons, Housing and Money. Today few would dispute that mass media have indeed decentralized modern living and turned the world into a global village.

This critical edition features an appendix that makes available for the first time the core of the research project that spawned the book and individual chapter notes are supported by a glossary of terms, indices of subjects, names, and works cited. There is also a complete bibliography of McLuhan’s published works.

W. Terrence Gordon is Associate General Editor of the Gingko Press McLuhan publishing program, author of the biography Marshall McLuhan: Escape into Understanding and McLuhan for Beginners.

Reaction to the first edition was as highly charged as the book itself:

“Marshall McLuhan is now a power in more than one land.” — The New Statesman 
“Infuriating, brilliant and incoherent.” — Commonwealth Review 
“His critics are infuriated by his ideas … but some think he foretells our real future.”
— Richard Schickel, Harper’s  
“The medium is not the message …” — Umberto Eco  
“What if he is right?” — Tom Wolfe  
640 pages, Hardcover, 5 1/4” x 7 1/2” (133 x 191 mm),
English    –    ISBN: 978-1-58423-073-1     $ 24.95
About the Editor:
W. Terrence Gordon was born in Montreal in 1942. He studied at the University of Toronto, where he received his undergraduate and graduate degrees. He is the author of 17 published books and over 130 articles in the fields of linguistics, pedagogy, rhetoric, semiotics, and intellectual history.
Since 1972, Gordon has been on the faculty of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, teaching courses in linguistics, translation, the role of radio in World War II, and, of course, the work of Marshall McLuhan.
Author of the highly successful McLuhan for Beginners, W. Terrence Gordon has edited a critical edition of Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media and McLuhan’s doctoral thesis, The Classical Trivium.

(Source: https://goo.gl/4GHV15 )

Sample Text From The Ryerson Media Experiment

The Ryerson Media Experiment in the maximized testing of the media was made possible by the following people:

  1. Roy Low, Department of Physics
    Carl Williams, Department of Psychology
    Isabel Macbeth, School of Radio & Television –
    James Peters, Department of English
    Gerald Kane, Depart of Radio
    William Sokira, Department of Radio
    Geofrey Jamieson, Department of Television

Mass Media and Learning – an Experiment


A seminar on culture and communication has frequent cause to concern itself with the mass media.  The experiment here reported was the culmination of our first year effort.  While in a very real sense an interdisciplinary product, the responsibility for the design, analysis and presentation of results fell to the psychologists in the seminar as being most familiar with the techniques involved.

Most research on mass media is concerned with either of two objectives:  studies of the influence of one medium on attitude changes, and consumer research designed ultimately to help sell soap or whatnot.  Little if any work has been done on the degree to which various media facilitate or impede learning, if indeed they have any influence at all.  The question does not occur readily because the mass media themselves are seldom seen as educational devices.  The silent assumption that mass media exist primarily for entertainment and propaganda, which underlies most such research, automatically excludes research with an educational bias.


In its most general form, the problem investigated can be stated thus:  Is learning affected by the channel over which information comes?  If so, how and to what extent?  While we usually assume that television, for instance, is more compelling than radio in securing our attention, we also assume that we can easily compensate psychologically for this differential advantage.  Whenever our attention is really aroused, we can and do attend to the radio address, news or weather report with the firm conviction that we will end up with all the information we require.  An extra effort of attention, we assume, will easily make up for the fact that we could have gleaned the same information with less effort over television.

With these considerations in mind, the experiment was designed to provide the “same” information in the identical wording, to four similar audiences, each of which had the “same” motivation to seek out and remember the information presented.  Given the same objective examination on that information, would the only systematic difference remaining, namely the different media used, make a statistically significant difference to the average scores of those audiences?  Television and radio were obvious choices for an experiment on mass communication.  Since they are often contrasted with “real” situations, a “live” lecture audience was added.  The fourth medium chosen was the printed page since it is widely regarded as the essential carrier of Culture – with a capital C – and is most often thought of as being threatened by the newer media in terms of its continued existence…

Note: The full text of Report on Project in Understanding New Media (1960) can be downloaded from this blog here: https://goo.gl/6Hpgea.

3 Responses to “Highly Recommended: The Critical Edition of Understanding Media, Edited by Terrence Gordon”

  1. This is an absolutely indispensable text. I like to read it in conjunction with the original paperback edition.

    The Critical Edition is a case study of how to read a book for understanding and is a treasure chest of learning.

    If you have read Understanding Media, read this book. It will both refresh and renew your interest and insight the wonderful world of McLuhan’s Media Studies while suggesting highly effective strategies for coping and actually flourishing in today’s world.


    • Thank you for that personal endorsement. I own about 5 different editions of UM including a 3rd printing of the original McGraw-Hill hardcover, the Signet paperback which I purchased in the early’70s, the MIT Press large format paperback and others. The Critical edition is an indispensable reference to accompany whichever one of the others I might be using at any given time.


  2. 3 Michael

    Brilliant Alex.


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