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History
A Social History of the Media:   From Gutenberg to the Internet
By Asa Briggs and Peter Burke
400 pp.
Polity. US$29.95
ISBN-10: 0745635121 / ISBN-13: 978-0745635125

Today's media play a powerful role in our society. Television, radio, newspapers, and the Internet construct our reality. They influence our thoughts, our economy, our elections, certainly our shopping, and all other aspects of individual behavior and human affairs. It is important for communications and media students today to have a foundation in the history of media so they can gain a deeper understanding of its forces today. Especially in high-tech communications areas, it is too easy to think that everything we're doing is new. On the contrary, the old adage is usually correct: "There is nothing new under the sun."

As Briggs and Burke show in a well-developed argument, so much of what we do today has its roots in the distant past. Human behavior, and the need to communicate, are essentially the same. Our tools are different. Despite this essential continuity, the author choose to focus their attention on the changes in media. Each shift in media history has both caused and attended large social shifts. The democratic revolutions of the eighteenth century would not have been possible without the spread of literacy triggered by the invention of the printing press. The development of capitalism would have been very different without newspapers, radios, and television to carry the advertising. And it is hard to imagine the extensive development of the Internet without the driving force of capitalism behind it.

The social ramifications of computers and the Internet are still unclear, but Briggs and Burke do an excellent job in A Social History of the Media: From Gutenberg to the Internet of putting even this confusing and rapidly changing time into perspective. They look at both the economic and political impact of the Internet as well as those forces that influenced its development.

Called by one critic "the best history of the media we have," A Social History of the Media is essential for the reader who wants to understand the evolution of communications media and its role in society. Students and professionals, and professors in media will appreciate this work.

Asa Briggs is a renowned media historian. His other works include History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom and The BBC: The First Fifty Years. Peter Burke is a social and cultural historian. His other works include A Social History of Knowledge and What is Cultural History?

Maria Davies, for Notable Book Reviews
Notable Book Reviews received one or more copies of this book in exchange for this review.
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