78 of 78 people found the following review helpful
One can almost think of "The Gutenberg Galaxy" as the "prequel" to Marshall McLuhan's much better known "Understanding Media," because "Galaxy" does for print techology what "Media" does for electronic technology. Basically McLuhan assesses how European civilization went from an ear-touch (listening) oriented mode of receving information to an eye-oriented (that is, reading) mode of receiving information. Recalling that for McLuhan, the medium IS the message, so the invention and dissemination of printing-press technology and the sharp rise in literacy it occasioned therefore brought about a major seismic shift in Western thought and all that goes with it--language, mores, dress, politics, etc.
Another way of looking at this is to say that in McLuhan's view, history is not determined by politics or economics or weather or science per se so much as by our media--the "extensions of man." This book is a must-read followup to anyone who liked "Understanding Media"; it's also a great book to cut one's teeth on before reading "Understanding Media" because it's a more traditional (i.e., formal and linear) type of academic work. And undeniably brilliant. For what it's worth, I was a communications major at the University of Virginia in the mid-1970s when reading McLuhan's work was rougher than it is now; many of his concepts like "global village" have since filtered thru society. But I read all of McLuhan's media-oriented writings, wrote term papers on him, and feel as though I benefited as a result--he's the main reason I'm a writer today.
32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on July 5, 2005
This book expands on the views of McLuhan's teacher Harold Innis, who distingusihed oral and written cultures. The book argues that oral cultures are synaesthetic and work with synthetic logic, while cultures of writing push the mind toward singulation of senses, logic and 'perspective'.
McLuhan 'glosses' through a wide range of scattered historical pieces of information to show how oral, written and print cultures have different patterns. He ably shows how printing also transformed art, architecture, society and industry.
The book is thoroughly historical, dense and rich in informative detail. It forms the foundation for McLuhan's clearer theoretical articulation of his ideas in 'Understanding Media', but is more accessible to the layman.
This book belongs to a pantheon of books that revolve around similar ideas like Harold Innis's 'Empire and Communications' & 'The Bias of Communication'; Walter J. Ong's 'Orality and Literacy' and William J. Ivins's 'Print and Visual Culture' and 'Art and Geometry'. But this is the most sweeping, convincing, dramatic statement of the common theory proposed by these various writers.
And for those who love theory with a dose of history, this makes for really delightful reading.
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Other Amazon readers have commented that this is McLuhan's most accessible early work, and one called it a ' pre-quel' to 'Understanding Media' the work he is best known for. I remember reading this work with a mixture of amazement and bafflement, with a sense that something truly significant was being said without my being sure that I got it. The literary critic McLuhan as cultural critic was making all kinds of connections, and using all kinds of sources I knew nothing about. The whole business of the era of print, being the era of the eye of the spectator and passive audience, and the previous era being one of the ear did really go down well with me. The implication that the activity I most loved, reading. was in some sense about to be put in a lesser place by the new electronic communication did not please me at all. For as I understood it,and in a way still understand it ' reading' is the activity which really requires creative participation if it is to be done right, and the ' electronic watching television' requires much , much less.
But despite my objection I understood that McLuhan was saying startling new( for me anyway) things in a brilliant way. He was connecting fields of endeavor exhibiting a kind of thinking, I could only admire. I might not understand the epigrammatic flashes he scatters throughout the work but I had a sense of them being deep and profound. In another sense it was clear to me McLuhan was the cultural critic who himself is a remarkable kind of creator.
Now it is over forty years since this book was published and we live in an Internet era in which the degree of participation of individuals in producing material for a wider public is far greater than before. This small review is evidence of that for it can conceivably reach any of millions of Amazon readers. In the past I could write such a review for myself and put it in the drawer. Or try to get it into a magazine where it might be read by a few hundred or maximum a few thousand before being forgotten about.
Yet just as it is possible to have great reservations about what has and what is going to happen to the overall intellectual development of Mankind( thanks to the Internet) so it is possible to have reservations for the electronic age global community which produces hate- literature and pornography in vast quantities ( not to speak of millions and millions of mediocre pages which no one should be asked to read )
This book does not as I understand it hold the key to the Age we live in, or to the human future. But it is chucked full of wonderful insights suppositions suggestions connections that the reader can be illuminated and inspired by.
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on June 19, 2007
The Gutenberg Galaxy, McLuhan's second book, is one of his best, but the reader should be forewarned that it is also one of his most difficult to read and does not make a good introduction for the beginner. One of the reasons for this difficulty is that it is written in mosaic style, in which McLuhan -- like Walter Benjamin's Arcades Project -- creates a text that is largely composed of quotations from mostly obscure authors stitched together with his own commentaries in between. These quotations are from works written in classical academic style, and none of them are easy reading. They require concentration and the book itself takes time to read carefully.
The book is a cultural archaeology of the effects of the rise of print upon Western society in the period between 1450 - 1850. It is concerned with analyzing the new kinds of social and cultural structures which typography brought into being, such as nationalism, the concept of individuality, the idea of authorship and intellectual private property, new genres such as the literary essay and the novel. The rise of the printing press, McLuhan points out, was coincident with the rise of the mastery of depth perspective in Renaissance painting, and this is not an accident, for both the new Euclidean space conception and typography had in common an emphasis upon the organization of the world around the eye favored as a sense organ at the detriment and exlusion of all the other senses. During the manuscript culture of the Middle Ages, the senses were still synesthetically woven together like a tapestry, and no single one of them was favored to quite the degree of exclusion which the favoring of vision brought about in the Renaissance. Illuminated manuscripts, according to McLuhan, have a textural feel to them that still relies heavily on the sense of touch, and Medieval art, with its disproportionate sense of space in which one character -- such as Christ -- will be represented as larger than everyone else primarily due to the emphasis upon his spiritual importance rather than his inclusion as one individual among many occupying the same field of homogeneous space, is similarly haptic. Gothic lettering, he points out, is hard on the eye and difficult to read because it is tactile and still appeals to the sense of touch. Roman lettering, together with Arabic numerals, was favored by print, and this had the effect of streamlining the ability to read such that silent reading became common. Printers began to do new things like number the pages, create indices and Tables of Contents, and this had the effect of emphasizing authorship since it now became possible to track citations properly. Typography, McLuhan never tires of pointing out, favors the eye at the expense of all the other senses, and it tends to favor an abstract view of space as a container within which objects are placed in an arrangement that takes all spatial relations into account.
All of this began to change in the nineteenth century with the rise of electric technology and the favoring of discontinuities brought about by the telegraph and the newspaper. This kind of syncopated feeling for space, in which each object begins to occupy its own space no longer held in relation to other objects, began to erode and change the old typographic world of the Gutenberg Galaxy. Electric culture, which McLuhan does not discuss much in this book, favors tribalism, spatial discontinuity, erosion of individuality and the rise of corporatism, decentralization and so on.
This book should be read together with Understanding Media, for the latter volume picks up where The Gutenberg Galaxy leaves off, at the threshold of the Electric Society.
It is a masterpiece of scholarship by one of the greatest intellects America has ever produced, an intellect that easily puts the French po-mo philosophers in the shade. You will get more useful ideas out of any one of McLuhan's books than you would out of a whole crate of books by postmodern French philosophers.
SEE ALSO MY YOUTUBE VIDEO "MARSHALL MCLUHAN CULTURE WITHOUT LITERACY DISCUSSION BY JOHN DAVID EBERT"
--John David Ebert, author of "The New Media Invasion: Digital Technologies and the World They Unmake" (McFarland Books, 2011)
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on September 12, 2006
This is the first McLuhan book I read, back in the late 1960s. It took me about a month to get through, because each short chapter contained so many new ideas and insights I had to think about them before going on. I didn't always understand them, but what I did comprehend was intoxicatingly exciting.
Many readers of McLuhan treat his probes as absolute statements of truth. Then, if they disagree with him, they reject his whole approach. One important fact to keep in mind while reading this or any of McLuhan's books is that he himself refers to the clever slogans which sum up many of his insights ("The medium is the message" being the best known, of course) as "probes", not facts. Their purpose is to explore an idea in order to stimulate thought. Even if you ultimately disagree with the concept set forth, if it makes you think about it, the probe has accomplished its principal purpose.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on December 22, 1998
The best of McLuhan's media analyses and published before his 60's stardom. Written in his "mosaic style" (would be easily adapted to hypertext) it remains an excellent analysis of how both the written word (letters) and the printed work (starting with Guttenberg) altered human perception. It is full of interesting observations (and the usual collection of his favorite Joyce quotes) and more accessible than many of his later works.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on September 15, 1998
What makes this book, like almost all others of McLuhan, is that an extreme amount of background is NOT necessary to draw from McLuhan's insightful observations. To read, think, reflect and be shocked by its truthfulness is standard in McLuhan's audience.
How Professor McLuhan ever foresaw the effects of technology on out society so clearly is forever a mystery; but we should be glad that he did!
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on April 18, 2000
McLuhan's most enduring work and certainly his most accessible. A history of western society from a media perspective. McLuhan concentrates on the larger patterns in history by providing a snapshot of each period with a rich bibliography to fill in the details. A mosaic of the works of other writers arranged to get at more abstract ideas. The book is filled with great understanding and insight, often packaged as gnomic utterances but rarely without substantial scholarly support behind them. He stole from the best and without shame and put ideas together like no one else. Not so much an original thinker (for which we can be grateful given some of his crackpot ideas) but a chemist experimenting with the works of others to great effect. Misunderstood and disliked in his own time, idolized in the present for all the wrong reasons. We will not see his like again.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on February 28, 1998
This book will alter your perception of reality. It will cause you reflect on your environment, the definition of which will have expanded because of this book. In addition you will be introduced to authors and concepts from an eclectic range of disciplines, all juxtaposed to create insight (my clue in) into McLuhan's ideas. I read this one first, and I've continued on since then. His insights have practical application on how to surf in today's rapidly changing whorl-pool world.
McLuhan makes his case that: technology shapes our experience, and that to be unaware of technology's pervasive influence is to succumb to "robo-centrism." His insightful analysis of the effects of technology leads him to focus on the causes, believing that awareness of the causes can modify the effects. "The theme of this book is not that there is anything good or bad about print but that unconsciousness of the effect of any force is a disaster, especially a force we have made ourselves." And so, "Some may feel that life is too valuable and delightful a thing to be spent in such arbitrary and involuntary automatism."
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 27, 2010
Marshall McLuhan was nothing less than a 20th Century prophet! So much of what he articulated in his various works has come to fruition in the Information Age. The reader who truly understands "The Gutenberg Galaxy" will come away with a much deeper understanding of our world and how the media we employ affect profound transformations in culture. I consider it essential reading for the educated reader.
"The Gutenberg Galaxy" has had more of an impact on me than any of his other works and more than just a handful of other works of any genre - period. Essentially, McLuhan describes the enormous effects the advent of the printing press had on the Western world as it was transformed from an oral, manuscript culture to a visual, print-based culture. Personally, I would have preferred a different medium of presentation because it's easy to get lost in what McLuhan says. In this particular work he employs what he calls a "mosaic" approach to his topic, employing an enormous amount of data and quotations that stand alone and are stitched together a little by McLuhan, but chiefly by the reader as the reader is forced to discover what McLuhan is getting at. Also, the chapters are episodic and nonlinear and must be read in a different way than we're used to reading. It is a challenging work because of this but worth every moment invested in it. While this was a relatively revolutionary way to write non-fiction back in 1962, it resembles the way that people who use the Internet and social media actually think and learn. In this way, it appeals to the postmodern mind.
The book should be read together with Understanding Media, in which McLuhan develops his theory of media more systematically.
I want to conclude my review by cherry-picking some of the most profound and provocative quotations from the work, which illustrate some of the radical ways that the printing press has revolutionized the world we live in. Serious scholars of just about any discipline (my fields are Christian education, theology, and pastoral ministry). Here are the quotations, with page numbers from the edition I own. Read them and then be mesmerized and amazed at both McLuhan's wisdom and the way in which the world has changed. And then apply this wisdom to the way you think about your life and the world around you!
153 - "The invention of typography confirmed and extended the new visual stress of applied knowledge, providing the first uniformly repeatable commodity, the first assembly-line, and the first mass production."
160 - "Scribal culture could have neither authors nor publics such as were created by typography."
198 - Print "created the price system. For until commodities are uniform and repeatable the price of an article is subject  to haggle and adjustment. The uniformity and repeatability of the book not only created modern markets and the price system inseparable from literacy and industry."
201 -"There is no known means of having our price and distribution system without a long and extensive experience of literacy."
201 - "The passion for exact measurement began to dominate the Renaissance."
202 - "The pursuit of dichotomies and divisions carried over from scholasticism to mathematics and science."
"The rise of statistics permitted the isolation of economics from the general social fabric of the sixteenth century."
205 - "The print-made split between head and heart is the trauma which affects Europe from Machiavelli till the present."
218 - "The great sixteenth century divorce between art and science came with accelerated calculators."
230 - "How far did the mass-produced page of print become a substitute for auricular confession?"
248 - "The portability of the book, like that of the easel-painting, added much to the new cult of individualism."
255 - "The typographic logic created the outsider, the alienated man, as the type of integral, that is, intuitive and irrational man."
261 - "The historians, although aware that nationalism originated in the sixteenth century, have yet no explanation of this passion that preceded theory."
"There cannot be nationalism where there has not first been an experience of the vernacular in printed form."
274 - "Typography extended its character to the regulation and fixation of languages."
282 - "Print created national uniformity and government centralism, but also individualism and opposition to government as such."