on February 2, 2000
One can almost think of "The Gutenberg Galaxy" as the "prequel" to Marshall McLuhan's much better known "Understanding Media," because "Galaxy" does for print techology what "Media" does for electronic technology. Basically McLuhan assesses how European civilization went from an ear-touch (listening) oriented mode of receving information to an eye-oriented (that is, reading) mode of receiving information. Recalling that for McLuhan, the medium IS the message, so the invention and dissemination of printing-press technology and the sharp rise in literacy it occasioned therefore brought about a major seismic shift in Western thought and all that goes with it--language, mores, dress, politics, etc.
Another way of looking at this is to say that in McLuhan's view, history is not determined by politics or economics or weather or science per se so much as by our media--the "extensions of man." This book is a must-read followup to anyone who liked "Understanding Media"; it's also a great book to cut one's teeth on before reading "Understanding Media" because it's a more traditional (i.e., formal and linear) type of academic work. And undeniably brilliant. For what it's worth, I was a communications major at the University of Virginia in the mid-1970s when reading McLuhan's work was rougher than it is now; many of his concepts like "global village" have since filtered thru society. But I read all of McLuhan's media-oriented writings, wrote term papers on him, and feel as though I benefited as a result--he's the main reason I'm a writer today.
on April 17, 2000
McLuhan's most enduring work and certainly his most accessible. A history of western society from a media perspective. McLuhan concentrates on the larger patterns in history by providing a snapshot of each period with a rich bibliography to fill in the details. A mosaic of the works of other writers arranged to get at more abstract ideas. The book is filled with great understanding and insight, often packaged as gnomic utterances but rarely without substantial scholarly support behind them. He stole from the best and without shame and put ideas together like no one else. Not so much an original thinker (for which we can be grateful given some of his crackpot ideas) but a chemist experimenting with the works of others to great effect. Misunderstood and disliked in his own time, idolized in the present for all the wrong reasons. We will not see his like again.
on February 27, 1998
This book will alter your perception of reality. It will cause you reflect on your environment, the definition of which will have expanded because of this book. In addition you will be introduced to authors and concepts from an eclectic range of disciplines, all juxtaposed to create insight (my clue in) into McLuhan's ideas. I read this one first, and I've continued on since then. His insights have practical application on how to surf in today's rapidly changing whorl-pool world.
McLuhan makes his case that: technology shapes our experience, and that to be unaware of technology's pervasive influence is to succumb to "robo-centrism." His insightful analysis of the effects of technology leads him to focus on the causes, believing that awareness of the causes can modify the effects. "The theme of this book is not that there is anything good or bad about print but that unconsciousness of the effect of any force is a disaster, especially a force we have made ourselves." And so, "Some may feel that life is too valuable and delightful a thing to be spent in such arbitrary and involuntary automatism."
on September 14, 1998
What makes this book, like almost all others of McLuhan, is that an extreme amount of background is NOT necessary to draw from McLuhan's insightful observations. To read, think, reflect and be shocked by its truthfulness is standard in McLuhan's audience.
How Professor McLuhan ever foresaw the effects of technology on out society so clearly is forever a mystery; but we should be glad that he did!