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Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business Paperback – Dec 27 2005

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Revised edition (Dec 27 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014303653X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143036531
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 1.5 x 19.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 181 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars 79 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #7,465 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

About the Author

Neil Postman (1931–2003) was chairman of the Department of Communication Arts at New York University and founder of its Media Ecology program. He wrote more than twenty books.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents


Title Page

Copyright Page




Part I.

Chapter 1. - The Medium Is the Metaphor

Chapter 2. - Media as Epistemology

Chapter 3. - Typographic America

Chapter 4. - The Typographic Mind

Chapter 5. - The Peek-a-Boo World


Part II.

Chapter 6. - The Age of Show Business

Chapter 7. - “Now ... This”

Chapter 8. - Shuffle Off to Bethlehem

Chapter 9. - Reach Out and Elect Someone

Chapter 10. - Teaching as an Amusing Activity

Chapter 11. - The Huxleyan Warning





Acclaim for Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death

“As a fervent evangelist of the age of Hollywood, I publicly opposed Neil Postman’s dark picture of our media-saturated future. But time has proved Postman right. He accurately foresaw that the young would inherit a frantically all-consuming media culture of glitz, gossip, and greed.”

—Camille Paglia


“A brillant, powerful and important book. This is an indictment that Postman has laid down and, so far as I can see, an irrefutable one.”

—Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post Book World


“He starts where Marshall McLuhan left off, constructing his arguments with the resources of a scholar and the wit of a raconteur.”

The Christian Science Monitor


“This comes along at exactly the right moment.... We must confront the challenge of his prophetic vision.”

—Jonathan Kozol


For the last third of the twentieth century, Neil Postman was one of America’s foremost social critics and education and communications theorists, and his ideas and accessibility won him an international following. An influential and revered teacher, he was professor for more than forty years at New York University, where he founded the renowned Media Ecology program. Blessed with an unusually far-reaching mind, he authored more than twenty books, producing major works on education (Teaching as a Subversive Activity, The End of Education), childhood (The Disappearance of Childhood), language (Crazy Talk, Stupid Talk), news (How to Watch TV News, with Steve Powers) and technology’s impact on culture (Technopoly). Amusing Ourselves to Death remains his most reverberating and widely read book, translated into more than a dozen languages. He was educated at the State University of New York at Fredonia and Columbia University. He died in October 2003, at the age of seventy-two.


Andrew Postman, Neil’s son, is the author of five books, including the novel Now I Know Everything. For several years he was a monthly columnist for Glamour and his work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and New York Magazine, among numerous publications.

Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario,
Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
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(a division of Penguin Books Ltd)
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Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd)
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New Delhi - 110 017, India
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(a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd)
Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue,
Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa


Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England


First published in the United States of America by Viking Penguin Inc. 1985
Published in Penguin Books 1986
This edition with an introduction by Andrew Postman published 2006



Copyright © Neil Postman, 1985

Introduction copyright © Andrew Postman, 2005
All rights reserved


Grateful acknowledgment is made to The New York Times Company for permission to reprint from “Combining TV, Books, Computers” by Edward Fiske, which appeared in the August 7, 1984 issue of The New York Times. Copyright © 1984 by The New York Times Company.


A section of this book was supported by a commission from the Annenberg Scholars Program, Annenberg School of Communications, University of Southern California. Specifically, portions of chapters six and seven formed part of a paper delivered at the Scholars Conference, “Creating Meaning: Literacies of our Time,” February 1984.


eISBN : 978-1-101-04262-5




The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

Introduction to the Twentieth Anniversary Edition

Now this?

A book of social commentary published twenty years ago? You’re not busy enough writing e-mails, returning calls, downloading tunes, playing games (online, PlayStation, Game Boy), checking out Web sites, sending text messages, IM’ing, Tivoing, watching what you’ve Tivoed, browsing through magazines and newspapers, reading new books—now you’ve got to stop and read a book that first appeared in the last century, not to mention the last millennium? Come on. Like your outlook on today could seriously be rocked by this plain-spoken provocation about The World of 1985, a world yet to be infiltrated by the Internet, cell phones, PDAs, cable channels by the hundreds, DVDs, call-waiting, caller ID, blogs, flat-screens, HDTV, and iPods? Is it really plausible that this slim volume, with its once-urgent premonitions about the nuanced and deep-seated perils of television, could feel timely today, the Age of Computers ? Is it really plausible that this book about how TV is turning all public life (education, religion, politics, journalism) into entertainment; how the image is undermining other forms of communication, particularly the written word; and how our bottomless appetite for TV will make content so abundantly available, context be damned, that we’ll be overwhelmed by “information glut” until what is truly meaningful is lost and we no longer care what we’ve lost as long as we’re being amused.... Can such a book possibly have relevance to you and The World of 2006 and beyond?

I think you’ve answered your own question.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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Neil Postman's scathing critique of the effects of television on American culture is hardly less applicable today than in the mid 80's when it was first published. In fact, with the advent of other potentially mentally debilitating electronic media like the internet, the message of "Amusing Ourselves To Death" is arguably more important then ever.

Postman's key point is that Aldous Huxley, not George Orwell, was right when he prophesied about how society would be controlled in the future (our present). Where Orwell envisioned "big brother" controlling thought and discourse with a strong-arm, dictatorial approach (which was and still is the case in many communist or dictator-run nations), Huxley saw that an even more powerful way to control the populace was through amusement and entertainment. If people can be effectively distracted with pleasure, they are even more effectively controlled than when they are subjects of a strict police state. In Orwell's world, their will always be a remnant of free-thinking rebels who refuse to submit. In Huxley's world, no one wants to rebel because conformity feels good.

This is a critique of electronic image media that takes the medium itself seriously as something that is not simply neutral. Most people or groups that have attempted to critique TV (and other media) usually remain in the realm of content, arguing that violence, language, sexual images, etc., are what is damaging to viewers. Postman has seen through this superficial buffet-item selection method of criticism and shown that the real danger is not what we are watching but that we are watching...the whole buffet is poisoned.
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Format: Paperback
Most educated members of society have long recognized the danger of television. The cover of this book is a powerful image to illustrate the problem. Neil Postman takes a disturbing look at the social effects of television in "Amusing Ourselves to Death". While I may not agree with all of Postman's arguments, the book is able to make a strong statement about the dangers of television.
My biggest objection to the book is the way Postman chooses to introduce his agrument against the televised media. He uses the novels "1984" and "Brave New World" as a backdrop for the his explanation of how American society become so listless and lethargic. A major rule I learned in undergraduate English was that you can not use fiction to support an argument. The idea in itself is absurd. It would be like using an episode of Star Trek to rationalize what kind of car you should buy. Once I got past this imperfection in the book, I found the author's statement to be reasonably solid.
The basic idea discussed in this book is that when people learned by listening to teachers who accumulated knowledge, people were better learners. This is because the learner had to assimilate the knowledge into their brain and could ask questions to help the learning process. The written word and later the typed word made the learner think as he/she read. This learned a high level brain function. Nevertheless, people were learning. Television is a low level brain activity, which means people are less likely to learn as they watch. Television is often the most significant teacher a child has since the mid 20th century. Yet television's goal is not to educate but to entertain.
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Borrowing from Marshall McLuhan, Communication Arts professor Neil Postman adopts the thesis that the 'medium is the metaphor' by arguing that "each medium, like language itself, makes possible a unique mode of discourse by providing a new orientation for thought, expression, and sensibility" (10). McLuhan argued that the medium is the message; Postman carries it one step further by demonstrating that the 'medium is the metaphor." He illustrates this by showing how the Cherokee Indians would communicate to multiple peoples separated by distance via smoke signals. While not knowing the nature of the discourse, Postman draws the inference that it probably did not contain philosophical argumentation because you cannot use smoke to do philosophy. The metaphor's form excludes the content (7). Postman illustrates this in the negative using the second commandment: Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, any likeness of any thing in heaven above, in the earth beneath, or that is in the water beneath the earth. Wondering why God would make such a decree, Postman infers, "it is a strange injunction [second commandment] to include in part of one's ethical system unless its author assume a connection between forms of human communication and the quality of a culture" (9, emphasis his).
This book is more relavant today than when it was first written. I live in a dorm and see people wasting their brains on video games (which I deem more dangerous than television). By the way, and I do not know how many reviewers caught this, Postman is not categorically bashing television. He notes how this has been a blessing in the lives of the elderly and the infirm. I thought this was a master stroke of sympathy and I commend him for it.
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