A provocative, compelling, and entertaining look at how the power of images dominates every aspect of our lives.
This, I think is Ewens's primary weekness. He comes off as attacking something that most people don't really see as existing. Fasion and style are too easily made straw men. Especially important is that fasion and style are usually under some sort of attack, either for using sex to interest people, for promoting an unrealistic standard of beauty, or even as the ultimate cause of violence and poverty when people murder others for their shoes or their coats.
It is far too easy to mistake Ewen's attack on style as an attack on having aesthetic values at all. His use of fascist and proto-fascist sources as examples of the evil of style also weakens his work, as it looks like he is trying to create a "slipperly slope" argument between Vouge and Mien Kampf.
Ultimately, I would say the book is worth reading, but only if one is looking for a way to better express what one already feels. If you are looking for something that will change minds, this is not the book.
The author examines the power of the image in our society, showing how, with the birth of photography, the image of an object became more important than the object itself. Ewen reminds us how style, images and propaganda affect our lives, by making people dissatisfied with the things they have (houses, cars, razors, sweatshirts), still good and useful and efficient, but lacking in the newest touch -- to make you buy what you don't need.
There are a few ads discussed, so you can learn how to analyze ads on your own.
You'll find how appearances work, so you can get rid of them.
Use your critical thought and read this book with a grain of salt. As an example, the author - to make his point - quotes Karl Marx three times. While Marx, the father of Communism, certainly influenced the lives (and especially the deaths) of millions of people, much research shows that he deliberately collected false data to write his book...
Also (see pages 186-187) the author somewhat condems the spread and use of computers and machines. I just don't agree, here. The advent of computer, for example, made my job as a pharmacist much easier. And I have to thank the Internet and the computing power of machines if I can run my publishing house and if I'm able to get in touch with people around the world who share my interests.
Please remember that this book is a history of the role of image and style in western societies - especially the USA one - and that the author is a Professor: in my opinion, a few chapters are not much interesting, because they don't give the reader information he can use.
I usually underline the books' parts I find more interesting, and I write down in a separate sheet the page number where the underlining occurred and why I did it. This is one of my most underlined books!
A few quotations from the book follow. I think they shed light on its value.
"Every element of politicians' public lives, every utterance, every countenance, every policy statement, every carefully chosen background setting is routinely passed through the image mill. Focus groups are staged, public perceptions painstakingly monitored, chiefly for the purpose of generating what one knowing "New York Times" reporter has termed "more potent propaganda."".
"Crowds have always undergone the influence of illusions. Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master."
"To (...) modern architects of persuasion, independent public deliberation was something to be avoided at all cost. In its apparent capacity to advance a worldview in a bedazzling moment, and to stun the public mind into submission, the image was conceived to be an effective antidote to critical thought."
"In a highly mobile society, where first impressions are important and where selling oneself is the most cultivated "skill", the construction of appearances becomes more and more imperative. If style offers a representation of self defined by surfaces and commodities, the media by which style is transmitted tend to reinforce this outlook in intimate detail. They continually offer us visible guideposts, reference points to draw upon, against which to measure ourselves."
"As style becomes information, information becomes style. Nowhere is this trend more evident than in television news. "Newsroom" sets are styled to create the look of a command center, to offer an imagistic sense of being "plugged-in" to what is happening, to convey authority. Television journalists are selected and cultivated for their looks, their screen presence. From an authoritative, medium-shot vantage point, sitting behind a formidable desk, the anchorperson is constructed to transmit an appearance of incorruptibility, and of omniscience. On occasion, the camera moves in for a close-up, to impress a connotation of gravity upon a story, to show the audience that this newsperson "cares". From opening logo to sign-off, all information, all stories are filtered through a veil of appearances."