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How the News Makes Us Dumb: The Death of Wisdom in an Information Society Paperback – March 17, 1999

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Editorial Reviews


"One of the most winsomely wise pieces we have." (Richard John Neuhaus)

"Sommerville’s book . . . helps us to put the news in perspective. And if we aren’t caught up in all of the media babble, we might discover the beginning of wisdom." (Chuck Colson)

About the Author

Sommerville is professor of English history, Emeritus, at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida. His other books include The News Revolution in England and The Secularization of Early Modern England.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 155 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Books; Print-On-Demand edition (March 17, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0830822038
  • ISBN-13: 978-0830822034
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #388,828 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on May 8, 2000
Format: Paperback
...How The News Makes Us Dumb is a brilliant diagnoses of the modern news industry, the sound-bitten wasteland of the daily and nightly news, and how we have allowed this utter nonsense to dominate and numb our lives. Filled with deep insights and plain common sense, the book not only carves up this sacred cow, but explains how our personal lives, and our neighborhoods, could be revitalized if we substantially reduced the amount of time we spend reading and watching the news.
The onslaught of news has not made everyone happy. More than 150 years ago, Henry David Thoreau advised: "Read not the Times, Read the Eternities." More recent information critics include Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves To Death, 1986), James Fallow (Breaking The News, 1996) and Barry Sanders (The Private Death Of Public Discourse, 1998). And of course the unforgettable 1976 film Network, where a television anchorman played by Peter Finch (who died of a heart attack during the promotional campaign of the film) inspires thousands of people to throw open their windows and shout: "I can't stand it anymore!"
Other writers have blasted the news from many angles: it is biased; it frightens us into passiveness; it is controlled by corporations with the one sublime goal of selling us things we don't need. Sommerville's critique is thoroughly unique. He argues that the news -- from newspapers and televisions -- the news makes us dumb because it comes to us daily. News has become a product, a commodity. To keep us reading, to feed our addiction, the newspapers and television stations need to fill their spaces every day and make this filler seem as if it's crucially important. Because there is rarely a story of true urgency, in a balanced culture, the news would not be daily.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on October 18, 1999
Format: Paperback
C.John Sommerville has produced an excellent quick read detailing the reason daily news MUST fail to bring wisdom to its consumers. This is a timely thesis for our news obsessed and saturated society and since completing the book some months ago my life has changed for the better. During my recent daily news "diet-restriction" I have become better informed and more active in the topics that truely have a bearing upon myself, my family, and my community.
He points out the obvious fact that news corporations are businesses, and the end business of business is to make money. How does that happen with regard to the news? By creating consuming, returning customers. Therefore, the driving purpose of the daily news is not to inform, but rather to SELL. The detail C. John Sommerville provides to support this point is sufficient and the style is appropriate.
I would commend this book to anyone with a mind open enough to consider questioning the importance of the daily drivel.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Bernard M. Patten on May 15, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Randall Christison on March 11, 2001
Format: Paperback
I and others who have lawsuits which gain notariety have often wondered how the press so consistently gets it wrong. We thought we had figured why TV always did, but the newspapers', even with 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 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.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 17, 1999
Format: Paperback
A fine book about what's wrong the news media; all of it, not just TV. The book examines only one aspect of what's wrong, the need for daily news to fill up pages and airtime, but that alone is a big service. Now, if someone would just write a book about how the news media has become the most powerful branch of government ....

POSTSCRIPT: Six years old now, Sommerville's book was a prophecy - bold, and more accurate than perhaps he knew. Watch how the implosion of the conventional news media transforms our politics and culture. Americans are now like the proles of late communism, waking up to the fact of being manipulated and misled by media elite spoonfeeding, starting with the no-longer-newspaper-of-record and ending with the latest Michael Jackson newsflash. Only they don't know yet the extent and nature of the brainwashing - the media unraveling has only just started.

Once unraveled, the media will lose the usurped powers that never belonged to them - journalism isn't a profession, journalists are rarely knowledgable about the stories and issues they cover, the media are not a fourth branch of government, libel laws should apply to everyone, restrictions on political speech should apply to the media or to no one - and so on. Journalism is not a priesthood. How did we let them grab so much clout, to the point of intimidating politicians and decisively shaping how we select them and how they govern us?

The discrediting of liberal institutions is the larger epic, and the universities are next. They stand now where the news media stood 5 or 10 years ago. The delegimitization there will be driven by the absurd cost of hollow, politically-correct-monocultural, and no-longer-funny undergraduate education. You won't have long to wait.
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