The best books by or about the Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan

Who am I?

William J. Buxton is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Communication Studies and Senior Fellow, Centre for Sensory Studies, at Concordia University Montreal, Qc, Canada. He is also professeur associé au Département d’information et de communication de l’Université Laval, Québec City, Québec, Canada. He has edited and co-edited five books related to the life and works of the Canadian political economist and media theorist, Harold Adams Innis.


I wrote...

Harold Innis on Peter Pond: Biography, Cultural Memory, and the Continental Fur Trade

By William J. Buxton,

Book cover of Harold Innis on Peter Pond: Biography, Cultural Memory, and the Continental Fur Trade

What is my book about?

This book comprises eight texts by Innis, including his 1930 biography of Pond as well as his writings on the explorer's myriad activities. Situating Innis's writings on Pond in relation to his broader body of biographical work, I interpret what these texts tell us about Innis's intellectual practice, historiography, and the writing of biography. The book explores how Innis's perspectives shifted with changing intellectual and political circumstances and shows that his advocacy of Pond as an unrecognized "father of confederation" challenged conventional views of Canadian nation-building.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man

William J. Buxton Why did I love this book?

Largely recognized as McLuhan’s first major work, this book provides a trenchant analysis of 1940’s popular culture in the United States, with particular reference to print-media advertising. To this end, it consists of x chapters, each of which consists of an image culled from newspapers and magazines, accompanied by an insightful—and often ironictext. Dismissed by some as lacking in direction and coherence, the book actually has a tightly woven narrative that sheds considerable light on the gender issues, technology, and power structures of the day. 

By Marshall McLuhan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Mechanical Bride as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

OURS is the first age in wruch many thousands of the
best-trained individual minds have made it a full-time
business to get inside the collective public mind. To
get inside in order to manipulate, exploit, control is
the object now. And to generate heat not light is the
intention. To keep everybody in the helpless state
engendered by prolonged mental rutting is the effect
of many ads and much entertainment alike.
Since so many minds are engaged in bringing
about this condition of public helplessness, and since
these programs of commercial education are so much
more expensive and influential than…


Book cover of The Medium and the Light: Reflections on Religion

William J. Buxton Why did I love this book?

Mention has often been made of the extent to which Marshall McLuhan was a devout adherent of the Catholic faith. But little has been known about how he viewed the place of religion in the world particularly with reference to the fate of the Catholic Church. This carefully selected collection of McLuhan’s writings on religion provides one with clarifying insights into his views on a broad range of Church-related issues including the nature of conversion, the spiritualism of youth, the impact of technology on liturgy, and Vatican II.  Overall, by revealing that McLuhan viewed faith as a sense, the volume illuminates the connections he made between religion and media.  

By Marshall McLuhan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Medium and the Light as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Say the name Marshall McLuhan and you think of the great discover's explorations of the media. But throughout his life, McLuhan never stopped reflecting profoundly on the nature of God and worship, and on the traditions of the Church. Often other intellectuals and artists would ask him incredulously, "Are you really a Catholic?" He would answer, "Yes, I am a Catholic, the worst kind -- a convert," leaving them more baffled than before. Here, like a golden thread lining his public utterances on the media, are McLuhan's brilliant probes into the nature of conversion, the church's understanding of media, the…


Book cover of Distant Early Warning: Marshall McLuhan and the Transformation of the Avant-Garde

William J. Buxton Why did I love this book?

This book explores McLuhan’s relationship with avant-garde art. While McLuhan’s engagement with artistic endeavours, has received some attention, Kitnick examines in detail not only how McLuhan’s work on art developed over an extended period, but how his views on artistic practice came to inform the work of others. He builds on McLuhan’s contention that art was not primarily a means of self-expression, but rather the basis for cultural exploration and environmental change. Drawing inspiration from figures such as James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, and Wyndham Lewis. McLuhan, according to Kitnick, saw members of the avant-garde as artists who work within conventional structures in order to disrupt them, thereby throwing them into relief. 

By Alex Kitnick,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Distant Early Warning as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) is best known as a media theorist-many consider him the founder of media studies-but he was also an important theorist of art. Though a near-household name for decades due to magazine interviews and TV specials, McLuhan remains an underappreciated yet fascinating figure in art history. His connections with the art of his own time were largely unexplored, until now. In Distant Early Warning, art historian Alex Kitnick delves into these rich connections and argues both that McLuhan was influenced by art and artists and, more surprisingly, that McLuhan's work directly influenced the art and artists of his…


Book cover of Re-Understanding Media: Feminist Extensions of Marshall McLuhan

William J. Buxton Why did I love this book?

Using McLuhan’s classic Understanding Media as a point of reference, the editors have assembled an impressive collection of essays that succeed in critically extending his ideas into a range of new directions. These include the biases of contemporary urban planning, transport (from a race perspective), gendered domestic and office space, and Black feminist activism. While remaining true to the exploratory spirit of McLuhan’s “probes,” the essays demonstrate both the shortcomings and potentialities of his body of work.

By Sarah Sharma (editor), Rianka Singh (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Re-Understanding Media as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The contributors to Re-Understanding Media advance a feminist version of Marshall McLuhan's key text, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, repurposing his insight that "the medium is the message" for feminist ends. They argue that while McLuhan's theory provides a falsely universalizing conception of the technological as a structuring form of power, feminist critics can take it up to show how technologies alter and determine the social experiences of race, gender, class, and sexuality. This volume showcases essays, experimental writings, and interviews from media studies scholars, artists, activists, and those who work with and create technology. Among other topics, the…


Book cover of Out of School: Information Art and the Toronto School of Communication

William J. Buxton Why did I love this book?

This book dovetails with those of Kitnick as well as Sharma and Singh. While framed by a broader concern with the emergence of the Toronto School of Communication, it gives particular attention to how McLuhan’s notions about “information art,” came to influence artistic practice through initiatives such as “N.E. Thing and Company” (NETCO), Robert Smithson’s West Coast work and “General Idea.” Echoing some of the issues raised by the Sharma/Singh collection, he examines these ventures through the lens of power and gender. It is impeccably edited and handsomely illustrated, in line with the high production standards of McGill-Queen’s University Press.

By Adam Lauder,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Out of School as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Through a series of focused and interconnected case studies, Out of School explores the long history of information art associated with the Toronto School of Communication. It highlights the perspectives of artists inspired by the speculations of Marshall McLuhan and colleagues as well as the philosophical underpinnings of the Toronto School's ideas about information.

Using pre-Internet media such as telex and the telecopier, the artists explored in this book materialized visionary concepts of information without the aid of computers. Harbingers of contemporary digital culture, Bertram Brooker, N.E. Thing Co., Robert Smithson, Wyndham Lewis, General Idea, and other artists approached information…


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Book cover of The Emerald Necklace

Linda Rosen Author Of The Emerald Necklace

New book alert!

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What is my book about?

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By Linda Rosen,

What is this book about?

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