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Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man Reprint Edition

66 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0262631594
ISBN-10: 0262631598
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Editorial Reviews


...the most brilliant marketing mind of all belonged to Marshall McLuhan. Understanding Media is a timeless analysis of how language, speech and technology shape human behavior in the era of mass communication. The book is a cautionary tale for marketers today who hear the Web's siren call and ignore the power of the spoken word.

(Wall Street Journal)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 392 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press; Reprint edition (October 20, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262631598
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262631594
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #77,583 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

66 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Allen Smalling TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 29, 2000
Format: Paperback
Although we're just beginning to realize it, the world that Marshall McLuhan foresaw is beginning to take place. When you hear that an insurance company or ad agency is not primarily in the business of producing ads or insurance, but of "putting people in touch" or "communicating," that rhetoric was stolen straight from Mr. McLuhan. Likewise the (slightly misunderstood but still relevant) cliche "global village," was coined back in 1964 when UNDERSTANDING MEDIA first appeared.
Most academic books are about ten percent new. Inovative ones are about 20 percent new. McLuhan claimed his was about 40 percent new, which is what makes is such a rough read. It isn't his prose style, which is charming and felicitous. But when introducing a new discipline, there must needs be enough bridges left to the old ones (in this case sociology, history, rhetoric, etc.) that redundancy occurs. That explains why you'll see some repetition in this book, as well as what appears to be disorganiztion. This leads some reader/critics to assume that UNDERSTANDING MEDIA is simply sloppy and poorly edited but far from it: it's a powerful, almost radical way to restructure our view of American (and hence the world's) society.
For what it's worth, I was a communications major in college (UVA 1977) with several McLuhan papers to my credit.
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58 of 63 people found the following review helpful By rareoopdvds VINE VOICE on April 8, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Marshall McLuhan is perhaps one of the most influential authors I have read along with Timothy Leary, Alan Watts and Eliphas Levi. What McLuhan does like the authors stated is not explain in descriptive terms the media, but process oriented direction of experience. I will explain that momentarily.
This book, "Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man" is by far McLuhan's greatest book. It is set up like any useful text with the first part being the theory, while the second part contains the practice. He explains in the theoretical part that media is the extension of man. That all things created by man have come from man's own experience. This is like a dream, in one sense, where one must determine at some point that they are creators of the dream, and therefore, all content of the dream must apply to the dreamer's existence, and no one elses. Likewise, all inventions and discoveries are aspects of human dimensions that have been created by man, and therefore must come from man's inner experiences. These inventions are ultimately what McLuhan calls extensions, as they extend our human capacity for that movement or experience. The foot can travel so fast, while the tire is the extension of the foot, and therefore can move at a much higher rate of speed than the foot.
It seems that the most confusing aspect of McLuhan's theories is the idea of content versus context. The assumption of media study is to psychologize advertisments or the like. This way of approach is far from his point. He says, "My own way of approaching the media is perceptual not conceptual." What he is saying is that he uses his senses to gain understanding of the media, not theoretical concepts.
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39 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Nature Girl on April 5, 2008
Format: Hardcover
At 16 (1977) I discovered the original paperback Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man and it changed my world and the way I perceive every aspect of modern culture and technology forever. Throughout college, graduate school and a life of writing I have consistently supported my arguments and theories with ideas and quotes found within these pages. Fortunately I have not been alone, as entire branches of scientific inquiry, schools of academic thought, business models and technological breakthroughs can credit his lucid, vivid and coherent frameworks for their existence.

As an educator I endeavor to impart McLuhan's insights so that students might begin to see how profoundly every new technology changes their world.

This beautiful hardcover now sits at my side and includes historic details of McLuhan, the manuscript and its reception as well as valuable critical insights of W. Terence Gordon, an expert uniquely qualified to organize this edition.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Robert Dubose on March 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a beautiful edition. And the critical commentary by Terrence Gordon provides a helpful structure for getting your mind around McLuhan's ideas.

Although this may be McLuhan's great work, it is not best place to start. It is long and often incoherent. On page 39, McLuhan introduces a notoriously difficult metaphor that he uses through the book. It concerns hot and cool media. "Hot media are ... low in participation, and cool media are high in participation or completion by the audience." So, he explains, hieroglyphics and photographs are hot, but the phonetic alphabet and cartoons are cool. Radio and movies are hot, but the TV and the telephone are cool.

Does that make any sense? If not, the better place to start is his earlier work, The Gutenberg Galaxy. It is shorter, and the logic is much easier to follow. It lays out the basis of McLuhan's thinking about how changes in media reshape culture. If you are a systematic thinker like me, it is a far better book to get the basics of McLuhan's analytical method and ideas.

Even if you have the basics, UM is a dense, inspiring, and unsettling work. In each of the 33 chapters, McLuhan makes connections that change the way I think about culture. But just as often, he makes some nonsensical analogy or leap of logic and then fails to explain it.

In the end, it helps to stop trying to understand UM and let it inspire you to think.

In other words, it is very cool.
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