Three Books That Explain Marshall McLuhan’s Ideas for Beginners


For beginners studying Marshall McLuhan’s ideas, I usually recommend that they read the famous Playboy interview (1969) in which he is resolutely cogent and unambiguous for a non-academic reading audience, proving that he could be that when he wanted to be. You can download a PDF of it here  Second, I recommend that they read his The Medium is the Massage (1967) in which he explains many of his ideas in a simplified and illustrated manner. But, if you want to read from secondary sources, here are three that I can recommend which happen to all be by the same author.


McLuhan for Beginners 

By W. Terrance Gordon

Marshall McLuhan pioneered the study of the media and is now making a comeback, despite the fact that he died in 1980. McLuhan was a professor of English who loved James Joyce, hated television, played himself in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, and fired off ideas like a machine gun. If he were alive today, he would want to continue infuriating a world moving into the 21st century with 19th-century perceptions. This book is described as a “documentary comic book” that explains his ideas but doesn’t take itself too seriously. (Source:

Everyman’s McLuhan

By W. Terrance Gordon
Anyone who has ever considered media and its relation to humanity has most likely heard the name Marshall McLuhan. Famous for his adages, he was a careful student of 20th-century media, and a prolific lecturer and author. Unquestionably, McLuhan’s writings are important, but all too often impenetrable. As technology speeds ahead and forces us to reconsider our relationship with it, McLuhan’s career merits a creative and accessible examination. W. Terrence Gordons Everyman’s McLuhan does just that. As McLuhan’s official biographer, Gordon is the perfect man to decipher the more confusing and problematic aspects of the McLuhan legacy. By applying McLuhan’s ideas and theories to the realities of 21st-century technology and media, like phones that play films and computer chip implants, Everyman’s McLuhan fosters a dialogue that was important when McLuhan was alive, but is even more relevant today as the line blurs between humans and the technologies we use regularly. (Source:
Presented in the visual and print manner of The Medium is the Massage, this book is extensively illustrated throughout.

McLuhan: A Guide for the Perplexed

By W. Terrance Gordon

Marshall McLuhan was dubbed a media guru when he came to prominence in the 1960s. The Woodstock generation found him cool; their parents found him perplexing. By 1963, McLuhan was Director of the Centre for Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto and would be a public intellectual on the international stage for more than a decade, then linked forever to his two best-known coinages: the global village and the medium is the message.
Taken as a whole, McLuhan’s writings reveal a profound coherence and illuminate his unifying vision for the study of language, literature, and culture, grounded in the broad understanding of any medium or technology as an extension of the human body. McLuhan: A Guide for the Perplexed is a close reading of all of his work with a focus on tracing the systematic development of his thought. The overriding objective is to clarify all of McLuhan’s thinking, to consolidate it in a fashion which prevents misreading, and to open the way to advancing his own program: ensuring that the world does not sleepwalk into the twenty-first century with nineteenth-century perceptions. (Source: The format of this book is all text with no illustrations or visual elements.

W. Terrence Gordon is Professor Emeritus at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada and Part-time lecturer in Linguistics at St. Mary’s University, Halifax. He is the author of the three titles on McLuhan and the editor of the critical editions of his Understanding Media (2003), McLuhanUnbound(2005), and The Classical Trivium: The Place of Thomas Nashe in the Learning of his Time (2006). His McLuhan for Beginners brought him the invitation from the McLuhan family to write his biography: Marshall McLuhan: Escape into Understanding, critically acclaimed in The New York Times and many other sources. Professor Gordon is also the librettist of a multimedia opera about McLuhan.

2 Responses to “Three Books That Explain Marshall McLuhan’s Ideas for Beginners”

  1. 1 Michael Edmunds

    There is an error in the Everyman’s M and was pointed out by Michael Hinton And so if you turn to a recent book on McLuhan co-authored by Terrence Gordon, Everyman’s McLuhan, you will find a list of hot and cool media, in which TV is listed as a hot medium and the movie as cool. This Gordon assures me is an error of the printer. He does not believe TV is a hot medium nor does he think that it has changed from cool to hot over time as TV technology has changed from the wood cabinet rabbit-eared box of the 1950s to the HD digital flat-screen of today. What is interesting about this error is that it is an error that is easily made. The terms hot and cool confused McLuhan’s readers in the 1960s. And they continue to confuse readers, and printers, today. ________________________________


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