The best books about mass media

5 authors have picked their favorite books about mass media and why they recommend each book.

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Amusing Ourselves to Death

By Neil Postman,

Book cover of Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

When Neil Postman wrote this book in 1985, few realized how brilliantly it would predict our present media-saturated times. Postman foresaw how the blurring of news and entertainment would eventually turn politics into theater; how the allure of quick and sensational news bites would diminish our ability to focus on serious, sustained issues; how glitzy if appealing entertainments would shrink our attention spans; and, most dangerous of all, how the immersion in “amusements,” a seemingly benign and enjoyable process, would have dire consequences for human happiness, well-being, education, journalism, and politics. We highly recommend this book because navigating the road to the good life means knowing when and how to control our amusements instead of letting them control us.

Who are we?

We are both listed among the “50 Most Influential Living Psychologists in the World” –which we guess makes us at least modestly expert in our field! Our best-selling book Mistakes Were Made (but not by ME): Why we justify bad decisions, foolish beliefs, and hurtful acts, reflects our combined areas of expertise and research. Social psychology is the field of psychology that examines the power of the situation and of other people in influencing our thoughts, behavior, and beliefs—and we are passionate about the contributions of our profession to understanding, and even changing, the apparently irrational habits of humanity. For us, learning to admit mistakes and then learning how not to repeat them are central skills in navigating the road of life. That’s why we welcome this opportunity to recommend books that we believe will help people do just that.

We wrote...

Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts

By Carol Tavris, Elliot Aronson,

Book cover of Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts

What is our book about?

When we make mistakes, cling to outdated attitudes, or mistreat other people, we must calm the cognitive dissonance that jars our feelings of self-worth. And so, unconsciously, we create fictions that absolve us of responsibility, restoring our belief that we are smart, moral, and right—a belief that often keeps us on a course that is dumb, immoral, and wrong. Backed by decades of research, Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) offers a fascinating explanation of self-justification—how it works, the damage it can cause, and how we can overcome it. Extensively updated, this third edition has many relevant and revealing examples, including the application of dissonance theory to divisive social issues such as the Black Lives Matter movement and “he said/she said” claims. It also features a new chapter that illuminates how cognitive dissonance is playing a role in the currently polarized political scene, changing the nation’s values and putting democracy itself at risk. 

The Age of American Unreason

By Susan Jacoby,

Book cover of The Age of American Unreason

If you’ve ever wondered if people today are dumber than people in the past, you should watch Idiocracy. And then read this book. It shows how we’ve devolved into people who look at lists of the best five books and never actually read those books. In 2008, for a column for the L.A. Times, I had her take a quiz from the author of the book How Dumb Are You?: The Great American Stupidity Quiz and she got two wrong. I got 11 wrong. The point is: Read her book instead of mine.

Who am I?

I started worrying about populism in 2008, when vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin chastised the elitists, whom she defined as “people who think they’re better than anyone else.” Meanwhile, she thought she was so much better than anyone else that she could serve as backup leader of the world despite the fact that she believed that the political leader of the United Kingdom is the queen. After she lost she vowed, “I’m never going to pretend like I know more than the next person. I’m not going to pretend to be an elitist. In fact, I’m going to fight the elitist.” She was unaware that there is a third option: to study so that you know more than the next person. 

I wrote...

In Defense of Elitism: Why I'm Better Than You and You Are Better Than Someone Who Didn't Buy This Book

By Joel Stein,

Book cover of In Defense of Elitism: Why I'm Better Than You and You Are Better Than Someone Who Didn't Buy This Book

What is my book about?

To find out how The New Dark Ages started and usher in the Intellectual Restoration, I spent a week in the county with the highest percentage of Trump voters. I went to the home of Trump-loving Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams; talked to Tucker Carlson; got lessons in obfuscation from a fake news kingpin; reproduced the experience of being an inexperienced government official by acting as mayor of L.A. for a day and interviewed members of secret organizations trying to create a new political party. All while wearing a cravat. 

The Opinion Makers

By David W. Moore,

Book cover of The Opinion Makers: An Insider Exposes the Truth Behind the Polls

Early in my career I was responsible for running the UK brand tracking and customer experience studies of a global brand. I was constantly battling to reconcile what the research told me with what the real data from the business showed was actually going on. This book, written by someone who was a senior editor at the Gallup market research company for years, helped me appreciate some of the reasons that survey results are inaccurate. It also reveals how opinion polls can be used to distort elections and manipulate people – scary stuff.

Who am I?

Having studied statistics in the 1980s and realised that forecasting energy reserves wasn’t for me, I stumbled into a career in market research. A chance reading of a book on psychoanalysis opened my eyes to how little we all understand ourselves and I started to look for better ways to identify how consumers think. After developing techniques from psychoanalysis and behavioural science I started my own consultancy firm in 2005. Over the last seventeen years I’ve been lucky enough to advise some of the world’s biggest brands, make regular appearances in the media discussing consumer affairs and, with my book Consumer.ology, to upset some of the biggest market research companies.

I wrote...

Consumer.ology: The Truth about Consumers and the Psychology of Shopping

By Philip Graves,

Book cover of Consumer.ology: The Truth about Consumers and the Psychology of Shopping

What is my book about?

Consumer.ology looks at the gap between what people think makes them buy and why they really do.  Described by one reviewer as a “fascinating romp through the psychological underpinnings of consumer behaviour,” it explains why shoppers make the purchases they do and illustrates why and how many famous brands like Red Bull, Coca-Cola and Mattel have been misled by what people have told them in market research.

Along the way, the book reveals many of the ways in which shoppers are influenced, why they inadvertently mislead brands who are trying to understand them better, and includes fascinating insights into human decision-making that have emerged from behavioural science. 


By John Preston,

Book cover of Fall: The Mystery of Robert Maxwell

The best true crime books are similar to any good biography, in that they are crafted, powerfully-researched lives of unusual people. With true crime, the life of the subject usually goes awry, however, by degrees from childhood, culminating in disaster, which affects others. Crime takes different forms. This gripping book charts the downfall of the brilliant but unscrupulous media baron Robert Maxwell, ending in his mysterious death in 1991. Had he lived, he may well have gone to jail, like his daughter, Ghislaine. Author John Peston has an eye for grotesques and a nice sense of humour. 

Who am I?

The author of biographies, histories, and true crime books, Howard Sounes is best-known for Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan, now in an updated edition; Charles Bukowski: Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life; and Fred & Rose, the bestselling story of married English serial killers Fred and Rose West. Other books include Amy, 27, Seventies, Heist, and biographies of Paul McCartney and Lou Reed.

I wrote...

This Woman: Myra Hindley’s Prison Love Affair and Escape Attempt

By Howard Sounes,

Book cover of This Woman: Myra Hindley’s Prison Love Affair and Escape Attempt

What is my book about?

In 1973, Myra Hindley, the most notorious woman in Britain, is serving a life sentence for the Moors murders, in which she and her boyfriend killed five children and teenagers. It was a case that shocked the world. Behind bars she has fallen in love. When Hindley is refused parole, she persuades a sympathetic prison officer and former nun to help her break out of London's Holloway prison. Revealing the 'most wicked woman in Britain' in a new light, This Woman is an atmospheric prison story and a love story that will make readers think again about the woman behind the Moors murders.

Myth, Media, and the Southern Mind

By Stephen A. Smith,

Book cover of Myth, Media, and the Southern Mind

Smith, professor of communications at the University of Arkansas, examines the stories that Southerners have told about themselves—the “myths” of the South. The Old South/Lost Cause/New South myths “controlled Southern culture and Southern rhetoric for one hundred fifty years,” he argues, but by the mid-twentieth century, the strain between myth and reality finally became too great and “a period of mythic confusion,” ensued. By the 1970s, however, Southern artists, scholars, journalists, politicians, and preachers—both Black and white—had forged a new myth, based on the themes of distinctiveness, racial civility, and community. When Smith wrote, he was confident that there will always be some myth of the South, that it won’t become a mere quadrant of the U.S. with a "dysfunctional amythic culture." We shall see.

Who am I?

I’ve written a couple of books about other subjects, but most of my professional life has been devoted to writing, speaking, and teaching about the South. I’ve been doing it ever since I went north to college and graduate school in the 1960s. My early books and articles were written as a sociologist, mostly for other sociologists, but in the 1970s I started writing what I learned to call “familiar essays” for a more general readership, and lately I’ve been writing about Southern foodways—three books about barbecue (so far), one of them a cookbook. I’ve also written several country songs (only one of them recorded).

I wrote...

Mixing It Up: A South-Watcher's Miscellany

By John Shelton Reed,

Book cover of Mixing It Up: A South-Watcher's Miscellany

What is my book about?

Here’s what my publisher says: Mixing It Up is a medley of writings that examine how ideas of the South, and what it means to be Southern, have changed over the last century. Through essays, op-eds, speeches, statistical reports, elegies, panegyrics, feuilletons, rants, and more, Reed’s penetrating observations, wry humor, and expansive knowledge help him to examine the South’s past, survey its present, and venture a few modest predictions about its future. Touching on an array of topics from the region’s speech, manners, and food, to politics, religion, and race relations, Reed also assesses the work of other pundits, scholars, and South-watchers.

Information Anxiety

By Richard Saul Wurman,

Book cover of Information Anxiety

This book took me and the business world by storm. Wurman truly nailed a feeling that was widely experienced but had not yet been named. He explained how information anxiety resulted from constant overstimulation, especially when we don't have the time or opportunity to make an orderly transition from one idea to the next.

He explained how no one functions well when figuratively gasping for breath. Learning, he said, requires ‘way-stations’ where we have the chance to stop and think about an idea or subject matter before moving on to the next. So true! I particularly like his analogy that basing your view of the world on isolated events is like basing you knowledge of music on what you hear in an elevator.

Most important to me are the five ways to organize information as laid out in the book. If you're wondering, they include by category, time, location,…

Who am I?

I hold the registered trademark as "The Work-Life Balance Expert®," and work with organizations that seek to enhance their productivity by improving the effectiveness of their people. I've spoken to Fortune 50 companies such as IBM, Cardinal Health Group, Lockheed, American Express, the IRS, Wells Fargo, and Westinghouse. My books have been published in 19 languages and have been featured in 68 of the top 75 American newspapers, as well as Time Magazine and the Wall Street Journal. At heart, I'm a simpler living advocate. I believe in giving back to his community and am an active volunteer for Art Space in downtown Raleigh, and the North Carolina Museum of Art.

I wrote...

Breathing Space: Living and Working at a Comfortable Pace in a Sped-Up Society

By Jeff Davidson,

Book cover of Breathing Space: Living and Working at a Comfortable Pace in a Sped-Up Society

What is my book about?

Breathing Space is a big concept book on the topic of work-life balance that is easy to read and easy to understand. It explains why most people are drowning in the over-information age. If you face too many emails, too much to read, or simply too much to do, this book will change your life. It explores the socio-cultural roots of our rush-rush society, and then shows how, against all odds, you can craft a personal plan that will enable you to stay productive, competitive, happy, and balanced, most of the time.

Breathing Space is the breakthrough book for a time-pressed generation, with major features in USA TodayThe Washington PostBoston HeraldChicago Tribune, and 75 other newspapers, plus Executive FemaleOffice SystemsLeaders, and Men's Health. Get in control of your space, and control of your time and life will follow.

Privacy and Publicity

By Beatriz Colomina,

Book cover of Privacy and Publicity: Modern Architecture As Mass Media

Beatriz Colomina explores how Adolf Loos set the stage for the occupants of a house to live in. Through a lively discussion of the relationship between private and public areas within the homes that he designed, she discusses the relationships between the open spaces, corridors, light, dark, and view. The comparison is between the home as a place to dwell and the home as a place for performance – a theatrical set.

Who am I?

For more than thirty years I have been discussing, formulating ideas, and writing about Architecture, Building Reuse, and Interiors. I lead the MA Architecture and Adaptive Reuse programme and direct graduate atelier Continuity in Architecture at the Manchester School of Architecture. I am currently the Visiting Professor at the University IUAV of Venice where I am conducting research on the sustainable adaptation of existing buildings with particular emphasis on the environmental concerns within the inherently fragile city of Venice.

I wrote...

Inside Information: The Defining Concepts of Interior Design

By Sally Stone,

Book cover of Inside Information: The Defining Concepts of Interior Design

What is my book about?

Inside Information is a chatty and well-informed conversation about the theoretical ideas that inform the interior. Written as a collection of 26 conversations, from Ante to Zeitgeist, Inside Information explores the rich diversity of areas that inform the subject, and ideas that underpin it. This thesaurus of interiors transcends the boundaries and genres that often define interiors, providing a comprehensive view of the concepts and vocabulary of interior design. It is a practical introduction for the professional, a set of provocation for the scholar, a ‘good read’ filled with anecdote and speculation for the amateur, and primer for the students.

Challenging the News

By Susan Forde,

Book cover of Challenging the News: The Journalism of Alternative and Community Media

Journalism takes many forms, and this readable study by a journalist-turned-academic examines some of the more alternative styles and outlets that operate beyond the corporate mainstream media industries. Alternative they may be, but the projects studied by Forde produce proper journalism rather than the uninformed commentary or aggressive shouting adopted by some who like to style themselves as ‘alternative media.’ None of the journalists she interviews would see themselves as heroes but, by defying the odds to produce independent reporting in the cause of social justice around the world, they engage in countless small acts of heroism every day. 

Who am I?

I’ve worked in and around journalism long enough to know that not all journalists are heroes. Few even aspire to be. But there is something quietly heroic about the daily task of holding the powerful to account, even in democracies where the risk of imprisonment or assassination is less than in more authoritarian states. Here is my selection of books to remind all of us about some of these more heroic aspects of the journalism trade. I hope you find reading them enjoyable and maybe even inspiring.

I wrote...

Journalism: Principles and Practice

By Tony Harcup,

Book cover of Journalism: Principles and Practice

What is my book about?

I was inspired to write this after moving from doing journalism to teaching it, and being disappointed by most of the books on offer. Many academic tomes were full of gobbledebollocks and seemed to look down on mere hacks, while journalists’ own efforts tended towards the unreflective. I wanted to fill the gap by producing a readable book about what journalism is for as well as how to do it. Stories from interviews with journalists, combined with my own experiences and discussion of the scholarly literature, make the book what it is - one that takes entertainment as seriously as ethics.

How to Stay Safe on Social Media

By Effie Manolas,

Book cover of How to Stay Safe on Social Media: Social Media Dos and Don'ts: What Kids and Parents Should Know

This book focuses on cybersecurity for parents and teenagers, specifically focusing on social media. As a parent of a teenager myself, I know how critical this area really is. Teens are often using social networks and communication channels that their parents are mostly or completely unfamiliar with. Due to that lack of familiarity, parents have a hard time monitoring or setting appropriate limits on the ways their children use social media. Author Effie Manolas wrote this book for both parents and teens, enabling an open conversation on both the benefits and the risks of social media.

Who am I?

I have been an information technology and cybersecurity professional for over two decades. I’ve learned over and over again that “people are the weakest link.” You can build the most secure system in the world, with stringent password requirements. But if the user writes their password down and leaves it where someone else can see it, system security is irrelevant! The easiest way to gain access to a system is via “social engineering” – to trick a human being into giving you the access you need, rather than trying to hack the system itself. The books on this list will help the reader lower their chances of being exploited like this.

I wrote...

10 Don'ts on Your Digital Devices: The Non-Techie's Survival Guide to Cyber Security and Privacy

By Eric J. Rzeszut, Daniel Bachrach,

Book cover of 10 Don'ts on Your Digital Devices: The Non-Techie's Survival Guide to Cyber Security and Privacy

What is my book about?

In nontechnical language and engaging style, 10 Don’ts on Your Digital Devices explains to non-techie users of PCs and handheld devices exactly what to do and what not to do to protect their digital data from security and privacy threats at home, at work, and on the road. These include chronic threats such as malware and phishing attacks and emerging threats that exploit cloudbased storage and mobile apps.

Through ten vignettes told in accessible language and illustrated with helpful screenshots, 10 Don’ts teaches non-technical readers ten key lessons for protecting your digital security and privacy with the same care you reflexively give to your physical security and privacy.

The Little Ones of Silent Movies

By Loris Malaguzzi, Tiziana Filippini,

Book cover of The Little Ones of Silent Movies

At Gianni Rodare Scuola for 3-month to 3-year-olds, I watched 2 to 3-year-olds draw, a year-long project described in the book The Little Ones of Silent Movies by Loris Malaguzzi and Tiziana Filippini: The authors explain:

“Children are born with “insuppressible, vital, eager urges to build conversational friendships... Words that come later are not a sudden event born from nothing but emerge from a submerged silent laboratory of attempts, trials, and experiments in communication using tools children constantly improve through long preparation. The results—words and drawings—show the strong desire to communicate and interact, basic traits of children.”

I love this book because its text explains and drawings show the roots of language. It inspired me to observe babies more closely and introduce paints and markers.

Who am I?

I’ve always been fascinated by children’s language development and am a word hound. For over five decades I’ve been a teacher, teacher trainer, school founder/director, mentor, founder/executive director of a large children’s museum; author of 6 classic textbooks on how children think and learn, and author/self-publisher of one of my many story-poems. My passions are writing, studying new findings in brain development, and launching top-quality schools in underserved urban areas. Between 1969 and 1990, I founded six schools, five still running, three as private non-profit schools and two as essential entities (one called the “safety-net") in their public school systems. The MELC is the only U.S. school accredited by Reggio's founders.

I wrote...

Parsley: A Love Story of a Child for Puppy and Plants

By Ann Lewin-Benham, Karen Busch-Holman (illustrator),

Book cover of Parsley: A Love Story of a Child for Puppy and Plants

What is my book about?

Sophisticated rhymes and beautiful illustrations. A youngster, puppy alongside, carefully selects a planting location, tests the soil, hoes it: “Every row was straight/Where the seeds would germinate”—spreads the seeds“not too thick, not too thin, and one by one. I pushed the dirt back on /And gently tamped it down./Then I was done. The days were very slow/My seeds would never grow.” Finally: “Tender little things/On skinny little stalks/With “wings” eventually become bushy. Then, a surprise ending! 2-pages of illustrated planting instructions conclude the book. 16 pages of free downloadable activities are on the author’s website.

“Could become a classic like Ferdinand, to be kept and re-read to remind us of the wonder of life.” - Jorgia Bordofsky, Santa Barbara, CA

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