HOW TO SEE THE WORLD by Nicholas Mirzoeff


An Introduction to Images, from Self-Portraits to Selfies, Maps to Movies, and More
Email this review


A semiotics for the masses.

Mirzoeff (Media, Culture, and Communications/New York Univ.; The Right to Look, 2011, etc.) has been instrumental in establishing the field of visual culture studies. His latest book is a “toolkit” for thinking about it; he wants to help people try to make sense of images they see. Drawing on a wide range of theoretical writings nicely distilled for general readers, especially John Berger’s Ways of Seeing as well as those of Walter Benjamin, Michel Foucault, and Gilles Deleuze, Mirzoeff fashions a lucid and accessible introduction to how images shape our lives and effect change, political and social. He cites some staggering statistics: in 2011, there were some 3 trillion photographs in existence and in 2014, 1 trillion were added, mostly digital. Six billion hours of YouTube videos are watched every month. The author starts with the selfie, a form of self-portraiture once only available to the wealthy. It has created a “new global majority’s conversation with itself.” Then it’s the role of the brain in how we see images. Next, he takes on the role of images in wars and has some thought-provoking things to say about drones, which epitomize the “new moment in global visual culture.” Mirzoeff then moves on to the development of filmic screen images and railways as two material networks that produced different ways to see the world. He finishes with discussions of today’s mega-cities, climate change, and a world of political unrest and uprisings. Even though it sometimes feels like a textbook, the book offers numerous insights into ‘reading’ the significance of images in the world today and is filled with intriguing, insightful nuggets—e.g., the relationship between impressionism and the 19th century’s industrial fog or the role of street art in political protests.

A challenging and provocative inquiry into how we see the world…now, “the point is to change it.”

Pub Date: April 12th, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-465-09600-8
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2016


NonfictionUNDERSTANDING MEDIA by Marshall McLuhan
by Marshall McLuhan
NonfictionAS SEEN ON TV by Karal Ann Marling
by Karal Ann Marling
NonfictionTHE SHAPE OF A POCKET by John Berger
by John Berger