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The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing Our Culture Hardcover – June 5, 2007

2.7 out of 5 stars 146 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Keen's relentless "polemic" is on target about how a sea of amateur content threatens to swamp the most vital information and how blogs often reinforce one's own views rather than expand horizons. But his jeremiad about the death of "our cultural standards and moral values" heads swiftly downhill. Keen became somewhat notorious for a 2006 Weekly Standard essay equating Web 2.0 with Marxism; like Karl Marx, he offers a convincing overall critique but runs into trouble with the details. Readers will nod in recognition at Keen's general arguments—sure, the Web is full of "user-generated nonsense"!—but many will frown at his specific examples, which pretty uniformly miss the point. It's simply not a given, as Keen assumes, that Britannica is superior to Wikipedia, or that record-store clerks offer sounder advice than online friends with similar musical tastes, or that YouTube contains only "one or two blogs or songs or videos with real value." And Keen's fears that genuine talent will go unnourished are overstated: writers penned novels before there were publishers and copyright law; bands recorded songs before they had major-label deals. In its last third, the book runs off the rails completely, blaming Web 2.0 for online poker, child pornography, identity theft and betraying "Judeo-Christian ethics." (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


What the experts are saying about Andrew Keen’s thought-provoking polemic

“My initial reaction to the book was: ‘Geez, I have a lot of things to think about now.’ For people immersed in the social communities of Web 2.0, this is bound to be a thought-provoking and sobering book. While I don't agree with everything Keen says, there is page after page of really interesting insight and research. I look forward to the much-needed debate about the problems that Keen articulates—which can't be lightly dismissed.”
—Larry Sanger, co-founder, Wikipedia and founder, Citizendium

“Marvelous and provocative . . . . I think this is a powerful stop and breathe book in the midst of the obsessions and abstraction of folks seeking comfort in Web 2.0. Beautifully written too.”
—Chris Schroeder, former CEO, WashingtonPost/Newsweek online and CEO, Health Central Network

“Important . . . will spur some very constructive debate. This is a book that can produce positive changes to the current inertia of web 2.0.
—Martin Green, vice president of community, CNET

“For anyone who thinks that technology alone will make for a better democracy, Andrew Keen will make them think twice.”
—Andrew Rasiej, founder, Personal Democracy Forum

“Very engaging, and quite controversial and provocative. He doesn’t hold back any punches.”
—Dan Farber, editor-in-chief, ZDNet

“Andrew Keen is a brilliant, witty, classically-educated technoscold—and thank goodness. The world needs an intellectual Goliath to slay Web 2.0's army of Davids.”
—Jonathan Last, online editor, The Weekly Standard

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Business (June 5, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385520808
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385520805
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (146 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,467,169 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A. J Terry on July 6, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Because I work in traditional media (book and magazine publishing) and regret how magazine and newspaper publishing are being decimated by competition from cheap (and free) Internet ad sales, I thought I'd like this book more than I did. Particularly since I agree with its premise that the vast majority of the free content on the Internet that is not supplied by traditional publishers is of less-than-professional quality. And that the Internet is home to a great deal of junk information, narcissistic self-expression, childish insults (the number of people who are 45 going on 13 is astounding, as is the number of the quasi-literate), slander, and scams.

However, although _The Cult of the Amateur_ is highly thought provoking, it is marred by sloppy thinking. For one thing: "Amateur" is never defined. Professionalism is a complicated concept in the fields of literature, music, visual arts, and dance (the last is a field this book does not cover, but it is one I am familiar with as a performer and teacher). Professionalism is often not defined by whether the person makes his or her living as a writer, musician, etc. Most people in most arts fields, including some highly skilled and well-known artists, simply cannot earn a living working in the arts full time because the pay is typically too low. Professionalism is sometimes defined by whether the artist has passed "gatekeepers," in the form of publishers or producers, or by winning contests. On the other hand, in the fields of live music and dance performance, this is often not valid, as the hiring parties often do not know enough technically to know whether the performers are any good. I have heard professionalism defined as whether the artist continually strives to achieve his or her best--and then studies and works to improve even more.
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Format: Hardcover
Since Andrew Keen is so instinctively dismissive about amateur contributors to the internet - people like me - it's hardly surprising that I should instinctively dismiss his book, so let me declare an interest right away: I like Web 2.0. I've been a contributor to it - through Amazon customer reviews, Wikipedia, discussion forums, MySpace, Napster and so on - for nearly a decade now, and I've followed the emergence of the political movement supporting it, exemplified by writers such as Larry Lessig and Yochai Benkler, with some fascination. and no, I've never made a dime out of it (though I have been sent a few books to review, not including this one).

Andrew Keen is that classic sort of British reactionary: the sort that would bemoan the loss of the word "gay" to the English language, and regret the damage caused by industrial vacuum cleaners on the chimney sweeping industry. His book is an empassioned, but simple-minded, harkening to those simpler times which concludes that our networked economy has pointlessly exalted the amateur, ruined the livelihood of experts, destroyed incentives for creating intellectual property, delivered to every man-jack amongst us the ability - never before possessed - to create and distribute our own intellectual property and monkeyed around mischievously with the title to property wrought from the very sweat of its author's brow.

Keen thinks this is a bad thing; but that is to assume that the prior state of affairs was unimpeachably good.
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43 Comments 341 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover
What begins as a moderately intriguing if vague conjecture, elevates to a jeremiad against unchecked amateurism, rampant plagiarism, indifference to intellectual property rights, and the threatened extinction of professionally mediated information, escalates further into a tirade against online pornography, gambling, and video games, finally ends as a flailing, Orwell-invoking, anti-Google rant against privacy invasion. In fact, this book review on Amazon, written by someone who is not a "trained professional" reviewer, has no right even to exist. Thus speaketh one Andrew Keen in THE CULT OF THE AMATEUR. Yet how an exploration of the rise of blogs, Wikipedia, YouTube, and other amateur sources of information and culture can end in a moralistic scolding over online pornography and gaming rather escapes me. Regrettably, this book turns a potentially interesting discourse on a particularly problematic aspect of the Internet into an easily dismissed, faintly evangelical sermon ("...the moral fabric of our society is being unraveled by Web 2.0") that falls just short of mimicking the very blogs to which it so strenuously objects.

Not that Mr. Keen is without street cred as a Silicon Valley insider - he was the founder and CEO of audiocafe.com. Not that his book is without a viable premise, either. Mr. Keen's primary points, offered in his early chapters, are arguable but well taken. He asserts that the Internet has democratized information to such an extent that amateur opinion has become a substitute for vetted fact. Far too often, he claims, bloggers merely synthesize and regurgitate information collected from the investigative work of traditional media or else rework it as disguised opinion.
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