Item description for How the News Makes Us Dumb: The Death of Wisdom in an Information Society by C. John Sommerville...
Overview IVP Print on Demand Title This eye-opening book is for everyone dissatisfied with the state of the news media, but especially for those who think the news actually does inform them about the real world. Read it, and you may never again know the tyranny of reading the daily newspaper or tuning in to the nightly news.
Publishers Description We who live at the end of the twentieth century are better informed--and more quickly informed--than any people in history. So why do we also seem more confused, divided and foolish than ever before? Some pundits criticize the news media for political bias. Other analysts worry that up-to-the-minute news reports on radio and television oversimplify complex realities. Still more critics point out that today's reporters can't possibly be experts on the wide variety of subjects they cover. Historian C. John Sommerville thinks the problem with news is more basic. Focusing his critique on the news at its best, he concludes that even at its best it is beyond repair. Sommerville argues that news began to make us dumber when we insisted on having it daily. Now millions of column inches and airtime hours must be filled with information--every day, every hour, every minute. The news, Sommerville says, becomes the driving force for much of our public culture. News schedules turn politics into a perpetual campaign. News packaging influences the timing, content and perception of government initiatives. News frenzies make a superstition out of scientific and medical research. News polls and statistics create opinion as much as they gauge it. Lost in the tidal wave of information is our ability to discern truly significant news--and our ability to recognize and participate in true community. This eye-opening book is for everyone dissatisfied with the state of the news media, but especially for those who think the news really informs them about and connects them with the real world. Read it and you may never again know the tyranny of the daily newspaper or the nightly news broadcast.
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Studio: IVP Books
Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 8.15" Width: 5.48" Height: 0.47" Weight: 0.46 lbs.
Release Date Mar 17, 1999
Publisher IVP-InterVarsity Press
ISBN 0830822038 ISBN13 9780830822034
Availability 0 units.
More About C. John Sommerville
C. John Sommerville (Ph.D. University of Iowa) is Emeritus Professor of History, University of Florida. He is the author of nine books, including most recently, The Decline of the Secular University (2006), How the News Makes Us Dumb: The Death of Wisdom in an Information Society (1999), and The News Revolution in England: Cultural Dynamic of Daily Information (1996).
Reviews - What do customers think about How the News Makes Us Dumb: The Death of Wisdom in an Information Society?
very insightful Dec 31, 2003
This book isn't comprehensive on the topic, but it's a well-thought-out essay on one particular aspect of modern day society.
My guess is that the folks that disagree or are insulted by this book are somewhat confused because they don't identify with the mindset the author is talking about. It's definitely worth reading the book and then listening to those countless hundreds of people you walk by every day. Get out more and listen to what other people talk about day to day. More often than not, it's disturbing.
Finally, it is explained. Mar 12, 2001
I and others who have lawsuits which gain noteriety have often wondered how the press so consistently gets it wrong. We thought we had figured why TV always did, but the newspapers', even the good ones, erroneous reporting baffled us. This book explains why. I wish he had come up with some way of fixing the news; but as Prof. Sommerville notes, it's inherent in the beast. News, by virtue of its "dailyness," will always miss the point, and always miss the significance. What we could never understand--until now--is how the news would be biased in favor of my clients in one case and against them in the next, even when dealing with the same issues. Nor could we understand how the press could get the case facts wrong and even more importantly, get the case's significance wrong, irrespective of the bias. No one will read the news in the same way again. I note that a few of my fellow amateur reviewers didn't like the book for reasons which frankly defy reason. I invite you to read the book and decide. It is said that one test of a new idea is how well it explains previously unexplained phenomena. Under that test, Sommerville's thesis is inescapably valid.
Does the news make us dumb or are people intellectualy lazy? Sep 27, 2000
At the end of this book under a heading entittled "Directions for reviewing this book" Mr. summerville writes: "There is no way to review this book in a few paragraphs...... So all that can be said is that you'll have to read the whole thing. It's short. The test of it's value is whether the reader can ever see a newspaper the same way afterward." Well with appologies to Mr. summerville here is my review.
If the sole test of this books value was truely whether the reader can ever see a newspaper the same way afterward, then I would have to give this book one star. This book is first of all largly preaching to the converted, it is doutful that anyone who spends five minutes a day with the USA Today, a half hour wacthing the local news and a half hour wacthing Peter Jennings and then considers him or herself well informed will be reading this book. Secondly any one can can think for themselves and think criticaly already knows much of what is presented in this book.
About two years ago Channel two here in New York (a CBS affiliate) advertised it's reformulated local news progam with a slogan (I'm paraphrasing) "More news in less time" in other words they would report more stories with fewer and fewer details. So the one or at most two stories that had any semblence of importance would have even less indepth coverage or analysis. They could have just as easly said "weve dumbed down the news so you'll be more entertained." It is this reduction of news to smaller and smaller sound bites that this book details and the effects that it has on the public at large. Ironicaly Mr Summerville is guilty of this himself in this book. At the end of each chapter he quotes seeminly contradicting headlines from newspapers that were published on the same day. for instance: "Detroit free press, Nov. 17 1988:'pill doubles heart disease risk'" "Detroit News, same day: 'Encouraging news for users of the pill'" When Mr summerville reduces these stories to nothing more than thier headlines they would seem contradictory, but it is not necessarly so. The pill does increase the risk of heart disease but it decreases the risk of contracting cancer. So both headlines can be correct and you can chose the headline you like depending on whether you an optimist or a pessimist, or perhaps wether you wish to incourage or discourage the use of the pill.
On page 10 he writes "This book will explain why we are losing interest in the news and why it is actually a positive sign. the American public may be showing a healthy suspicion not just of the kind of news were getting but of the whole concept of daily news. While I hope that the American people are becoming more skeptical of the news media I doubt that they are losing interest in the news They are merly change sources from CNN and the New York Times to talk radio and the internet.
Mr summerville would like us to become less dependent on daily news and read more books and monthy periodicals. While I certianly would encourage people to read more books I think we need people more informed by daily news intake, not news about Modona or some other celebrity but real news, in depth knoweldge of important current events and polotics. All in all this is an interesting look at the media but not a gret book.
Poor thinking and poor scholarship Sep 4, 2000
There is much to say on the topic of the role of daily news in society and the problems the way the industry operates. Unfortunately, Sommerville seems to be exercising a personal grudge against the news industry rather than offering a constructive arguement. His thinking on the subject is sloppy. For example, in discussing Watergate coverage he criticizes editors for working hard to stretch out scandals, with the only relevant information coming from the books published on the subject long after the fact. He goes on to say that the Watergate "reporters often got in the way of the investigation, as sources clammed up rather than have their stories misused in the media." One paragraph later he says Watergate coverage made an important contribution and "all that proves is that we might want to buy a newspaper when there is an important story -- every twenty years or so (28-29)." Needlessly stretching out investigations for the purpose of selling more newspapers and inducing important sources to clam up is making an important contribution? It sounds more like a crimes against society. We don't hear what important contribution Sommerville thinks the press made during Watergate; his sloppy diatribe on the subject continues without a rest for balanced consideration. I find that quite ironic for a book that laments the "death of wisdom." Sommerville obviously has some personal issues he needs to work out with respect to the news industry. The saddest thing about this book is Sommerville's lack of faith in the public's ability to read daily news critically. To Sommerville, you cannot be an intelligent and informed person and continue to read newspapers and watch TV news. That is nothing short of insulting. Perhaps spewing this book out was good therapy, but it does not make good reading.
Don't Be a News Junky - Kick the Habit Now May 15, 2000
How can you know for sure that they are not telling you the truth? That is the question answered by this little gem of a book. We have all known that if you watch TV you are wasting your time for TV is junk food for the mind - mental material of no intellectual or lasting value. In fact, studies have shown that while watching TV all the great powers of the human mind are quiescent. The sadder part about this is that TV prevents us from using that time for better purposes such as sleeping or reading or, should I even mention it in this hyped up era, for thinking. Lost opportunities to learn and think eventually take their toll and make us dumb. The same holds true for reading the newspapers. The paucity of wit and wisdom in the news is no accident, as Professor Sommerville so well knows. It is by design. And the design is to sell more newspapers and their glitz bag counterparts, magazines. The design is to make us information junkies and overdose us on trivia. Fortunately, the solution to this gigantic problem might be close at hand. Read his book and discover for yourself what that solution is.