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PR! - A Social History of Spin Paperback – November 1, 1996

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (November 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465061796
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465061792
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #43,309 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

As "spin" assumes an omnipresent role in contemporary discourse, chasing out frank or direct speech with buzzwords and carefully weighted terminology, the time is ripe for a study of the industry that started it all. Stuart Ewen has written an exhaustive study of public relations that traces the evolution of PR throughout the 20th century, from the history of early advertising to its role in politics and "corporate communications." PR! is a book not just for industry types or communications majors, it contains thoughtful reflections on the impact of manufactured media on our culture and democracy, topics relevant to all. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Is there any difference between PR and propaganda? Ewen (All Consuming Images), a professor of media studies at Hunter College in Manhattan, doesn't think so. Accordingly, his account of the rise of the public relations industry begins with the U.S. Committee on Public Information, a government-sponsored organization dedicated to maintaining domestic morale during WWI. In the aftermath of the war, Ewen argues, public relations developed largely out of a corporate fear that genuine democracy would obstruct the workings of big business, with PR pioneer Edward Bernays offering, as he phrased it, lessons in "the engineering of consent." As corporations like AT&T began to perceive the importance of utilizing public relations in the face of a public increasingly suspicious of monolithic companies, the PR industry hit its stride by learning to incorporate many of the tactics and iconography of the New Deal while simultaneously opposing its progressive politics. Ewen's book trails off after the 1940s; he doesn't substantially probe the colossal impact of television or the incursion of PR methods into politics in more recent times. And although he presents a convincing portrait of a business elite attempting to use techniques of persuasion to distort and mold public opinion, he doesn't fully address the question of PR's effectiveness.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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I look forward to reading other books by Ewen.
Bakari Chavanu
I love this book by Stuart Ewen, and I have read it MANY times.
John A. LaPaglia
Though the book nonetheless remains incredibly relevant today.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Giancarlo Nicoli on April 25, 2003
Format: Paperback
It took to me nearly one month to sit down and write about this book. It has valuable strenghts and some weaknesses.
As a whole, "PR!" makes no easy reading.
It is sold as a "Social History of Spin" and consists of five parts.
Part one tells us about the interest of the author - his attempt to discover the social and historical roots that would explain the boundless role of public relations in our world.
This is the best part of the book, it's fresh, it's written full of enthusiasm, and it feels; Stuart Ewen tells us of his visit with Edward Bernays, one of the most influential pioneers of American public relations.
Ewen describes how he started teaching his course, the "CULT(ure) of Publicity"; how he and his students made the class "look good", "look interesting" in the presence of an unaware journalist, so to meet the reporter's standard of "intriguing".
If you are interested in how spin works, this first part is a must!
Parts two and three really are a social history of spin.
Page after page, Ewen writes a "grim meditation on the human price of industrialization".
I think this book is very smart. Why? The author brings us examples from the past, and extensively quotes other's sources. Here's an excerpt (as Upton Sinclair summarized it in 1908):
"See, we are just like Rome. Our legislatures are corrupt; our politicians are unprincipled; our rich men are ambitious and unscrupulous. Our newspapers have been purchased and gagged; our colleges have been bribed; our churches have been cowed. Our masses are sinking into degradation and misery; our ruling classes are becoming wanton and cynical".
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Bakari Chavanu on October 4, 2001
Format: Paperback
A teacher colleague and I read this book when it was first published. We would go to the teachers' lunch room almost everday with an ongoing discussion of what we read.
To understand the history, power and influence of public relations and advertising in this country, PR is a must read. In lucid analysis, Ewen lays out how the public relations industry in this country helps to shape the consumer thought of citizens. He shows how this industry grew out of
an elitist view of the masses of people in this country that they did not need to be expose to certain information or processes that converen or controll society--both politically and economically. That instead, their thoughts, ideas, and their access to certain knowledge needed to be controlled and that certain information needed to be manufactured in order to push people to act in a certain way.
He explains, for example, how elitist writers like Walter Lippman "had written that the key to leadership inthe modern age would depend on the ability to manipulate "'symbols which assemble emotions after they have been detached from their ideas. The public mind is mastered, he continued, through an 'intensificatioin of feeling and a degradation of significance.' " In other words, corporations, and their public relations workers essentially use symbols to further their agendas, which is basically to make huge amounts of profit.
I look forward to reading other books by Ewen.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 15, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I've recently been investigating the history of public relations for a class I'm teaching. Having surveyed the literature on the subject, this one is head and shoulders the best, more informative and insightful than other books. The historical depth, and range of analysis--linking public relations to broader social realities--are extraordinary.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By ewomack TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 22, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Public relations (PR) has become so pervasive that its very existence almost goes undetected. Some of it remains on such a level of subtlety that many observers would never notice. Seeing PR requires knowing what to look for. It lurks in obvious places such as advertising and political dialogue. But it can also appear in less obvious places such as photography, movies, television shows and news stories. Once it makes itself known the realization that the modern world is literally covered with PR hits home like a flail to the torso. This realization can dig so deep that one's own identity can even come into question. How much of who we are, what we believe in, and our framework of the world has come from public relations offices? Probably a fair amount. Decoding this miasma of stratified information would encumber a lifetime. Stuart Ewen, the author of this very ambitious history of public relations, struggles with this same question in chapter two. After all, Where is the objective frame of reference for studying something as über alles as PR? Perhaps such a perspective exemplifies philosopher Thomas Nagel's "view from nowhere."

"PR! A Social History of Spin" covers a lot of infrequently covered ground. How many have heard of the now defunct United States Committee of Public Relations (CPI)? Or the philosophy of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM)? It's all here. Roughly, the book covers attitudes towards and potential controlling of "the crowd" or "the public" from 1907 to the 1980s. The definition of "public relations" remains elusive throughout, but it takes on various meanings through the delineation of its history over some 400 pages. In the end, "public relations" involves a mosaic of multifarious concepts, attitudes and methodologies.
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