“Amusing Ourselves to Death”

Some of you may remember that about a month or so ago I made a list of 5 books I wanted to read over the course of the semester.

Neil Postman’s classic, Amusing Ourselves to Death, came to me several weeks ago via the greatest invention known to mankind (Interlibrary Loan); I have since run into the problem I always come across while reading one of Mr. Postman’s works–reading them well takes extraordinary amounts of time and brain power. They are dense, chewy works, full of notes that need to be savored. They are the rich chocolate chip cookies and red wines of the social commentary world.

Thus, in a bid to begin my ponderings and perhaps to whet your appetites in the process, I am including a paragraph of the foreword below. Enjoy!

(This segment is best read while one harnesses the power of imaginative time travel to place oneself in the 1900’s, seated by a roaring fire in an old school manor house library, surrounded by Cuban-scented air* and sipping on brandy or tea, depending on one’s level of early 20th century teetotalism).

*That is, air that smells like Cuban tobacco, not air that smells like Fidel Castro.


“. . .What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny ‘failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.’ In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.”


6 thoughts on ““Amusing Ourselves to Death”

  1. Neil Postman is well worth reading. Once you’re done with Amusing Ourselves to Death, you should go on to Technopoly and The Disappearance of Childhood.

    1. I read Technopoly when I was a sophomore in college, but I think it bears another reading now. Have you ever read The End of Education? That was my latest Postman jaunt; I found it fascinating (no surprise there!).

  2. I’ve heard & read that forward many many times. Love it. Both Amusing Ourselves to Death and Technopoly have been on my ‘to-read’ list for years. But, like you said, Postman is not someone you just pick up for a little light reading.

    1. True dat. But let me know if you do get around to reading them. I live in the hope of someday getting a group of literary-minded people to go to a coffee shop and discuss our musings, and one or both of those would be a great topic of discussion (beret-wearing optional).

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