Books by Neil Postman

Released: Oct. 6, 1999

An intriguing cross-century dialogue. Neo-Luddite Postman (The End of Education, 1995, etc.) looks to the Age of Reason for an antidote to the hazy values of postmodernism. At the core of this intellectual journey is the concept of progress. While not quite an invention of the Enlightenment, the belief in progress as desirable and inevitable took root in the embrace of human rationality that fueled the scientific (in the broadest sense) progress of the 18th century. At the same time a powerful Romantic critique emerged, providing Postman a complex conception of progress to wield against a wide array of 20th-century adversaries. Against Derrida's deconstruction of meaning, there is the razor-sharp logic and utter common sense of Hume; against the worship of technology as the source of all good, there is Rousseau. This is a rather diverse (to put it kindly) position to uphold, but in fact Postman is arguing more for a cultural mindset than a specific philosophy: The problem with the 20th century is that it is the 18th century run amok; the combination of confidence and skepticism once associated with progress has been replaced by idolatry and nihilism. Postman seeks to bring us back to the moderate use of reason tempered by adherence to sensible cultural norms by contrasting contemporary and historical perspectives on technology, language, information, social narratives, children, democracy, and education. He shifts precariously back and forth between positive social commentator and borderline reactionary, but on the whole this is an erudite, thoughtful contribution to public discourse. While political theorists will be appalled by Postman's assertion that the meaning of the word "democracy" is "more or less settled" in this century and his simplistic political analysis, his examination of language and information is original and sophisticated, his essay on children thought-provoking. This book offers contemporary society a grounding in the past that is more than just intellectual nostalgia. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 8, 1995

This critique of American education offers further subversion from Postman a quarter of a century after his Teaching as a Subversive Activity. Education must have a purpose. And the traditional purposes of American schools, the old cultural ``gods,'' as Postman (Culture and Communications/New York Univ.; Technopoly, 1992, etc.) labels them, are no longer viable. According to the god of Economic Utility, for example, there is a direct link between hard work and success. Yet there is little evidence in our society to document this. In fact, states Postman, during periods of high economic productivity, standards of educational achievement were not particularly rigorous. In our current economy we cannot assume that well-paying, meaningful jobs will be available to most students upon graduation. Since 1980, moreover, the author reveals that the largest increase in jobs has been in work requiring relatively low skills. A more recent god that has failed is the god of Multiculturalism, which Postman describes as ``a psychopathic version of cultural pluralism, and, of course, extremely dangerous.'' A multicultural curriculum, he declares, is liable to distort history and fall into the hands of extremists and propagandists whose main goal is to undermine European culture. Does this iconoclastic author of 20 books find any gods left to serve? Postman does feel American education can be salvaged with much reform. Multiculturalism, for example, should be replaced with a constructive law of diversity that allows us to ``help the young transcend individual identity by finding inspiration in a story of humanity.'' Anthropology, astronomy, and archeology, fluid fields requiring analysis rather than memorization, should become major areas of study. Education would improve overnight, contends Postman, if teachers were to get rid of all textbooks. Socially, schools must create ways to engage students in the care of their own school facilities and neighborhoods or towns. A provocative and insightful assessment of and challenge to contemporary American education. Read full book review >
TECHNOPOLY by Neil Postman
Released: Feb. 27, 1992

Postman (Conscientious Objections, 1988, etc.) once more cuts across the grain as an important critic of our national culture, this time arguing that America has become the world's first ``totalitarian technocracy''—otherwise known as a ``Technopoly.'' Postman starts out from the long view, showing that while every human culture becomes ``tool-using,'' the use of those tools doesn't necessarily change that culture's beliefs, ideology, or world view. In ``technocracy,'' however (for us, this stage began to burgeon in the industrial 19th century), there's a change: tools (they're now called ``technology'') begin to alter the culture instead of just being used by it: ``tools...attack the culture. They bid to become the culture.'' And technocracy becomes Technopoly when tools win the battle for dominance and become the sole determiners of a culture's purpose and meaning, and in fact of its very way of knowing and thinking—or of not thinking. The tools, in other words, come not only to use us but to define what we are—which is ``why in a Technopoly there can be no transcendent sense of purpose of meaning, no cultural coherence.'' So desolate a view of generalized inversion and ideological collapse fails to subdue either Postman's humane and faithful energy or his unflagging quickness of mind as he travels from Copernicus, Descartes, and Francis Bacon on through discussions of modern bureaucracy, concepts of worker ``management,'' the intellectual hollowness of social ``science'' and its monster-children of poll- taking and IQ testing—these and others (schools, TV, the computer ``culture'') all being ``technologies'' that in fact are ``without a moral center,'' yet ones that we insistently revere and haplessly measure ourselves by, because ``we have become blind to the ideological meaning of our technologies.'' Amusing, learned, and prickling with intelligence, Postman easily outclasses the Allan Bloomians in the grave work of showing how it is that we've now stumbled our way into 1984—and offers, at end, some modest suggestions as to what to do about it. Read full book review >