THE ALPHABET EFFECT: The Impact of the Phonetic Alphabet on the Development of Western Civilization by Robert K. Logan

THE ALPHABET EFFECT: The Impact of the Phonetic Alphabet on the Development of Western Civilization

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A study of the evolution of writing systems, particularly as regards the role played by the phonetic alphabet in the development of Western civilization. Logan (physics/University of Toronto) has collaborated in the past with Marshall McLuhan, Alvin Toffler, and Ivan Illich, and his work as presented here shows their influence, particularly McLuhan's. Despite the gimmicky title, Logan's book quickly reveals itself as basically a history of writing. He intimates that the Western abstract, phonetic alphabet resulted in our civilization evolving in a rational, scientific, monotheistic manner. This he compares to the logographic form as developed by the Chinese, where each word is represented by a picture. Again, he stretches this as a contributing factor in the holistic, intuitive, polytheistic character of the Chinese. Logan makes a bit much of these connections. It is more likely that the styles of alphabet are like comfortable shoes to cultures, allowing them to go about their business developing at their own pace. Logan seems to strain credulity in an attempt to create his own theory of civilization, always a temptation. The fact, sadly, is that the real meat of his arguments is rendered palatable in direct proportion to the amount of ""McLuhanism"" that seasons them. His theory's final expression is that with computerization, Eastern and Western modes of thought are likely to fuse--again echoing McLuhan's concept of the ""global village."" Engaging, but really nothing new.

Pub Date: Aug. 18th, 1986
Publisher: Morrow