Books to inspire me
May 13, 2005 6:11 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for books that can give me a new perspective on our modern world and culture.

I recently read both Malcolm Gladwell books and have decided I really need to consume more material like this. I'm interested in the subtle (and not so subtle) ways humans are conditioned by forces like the media, education systems, and pop culture.

All suggestions will be appreciated.
posted by davebush to Society & Culture (28 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've read a bunch of Thomas de Zengotita's stuff in Harper's, and his book Mediated seems like it would fit your description of "ways humans are conditioned by etc.". It's not like Gladwell's work though, it's more social analysis and criticism and less research-based. Some other good "pop sociology" books that more closely remind me of Gladwell's work in style are Jamie Surowiecki's "The Wisdom of Crowds", Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation", and the new book "Freakonomics".
posted by matildaben at 6:25 PM on May 13, 2005

I don't know about "inspiring," but Toxic sludge is good for you: Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry was a fun and interesting read on the use of PR in political issues like nuclear power, fast food, and more.
posted by whatzit at 6:28 PM on May 13, 2005

How about the guy who dropped out of the consumer society just as it was getting started--Walden by Henry David Thoreau.
posted by LarryC at 6:57 PM on May 13, 2005

Coercion is also good. Just a look in general on how people are influenced by salesmen, cults, PR groups, etc. Quite good.
posted by easyasy3k at 7:10 PM on May 13, 2005

Give I Am Me I am Free: The Robots Guide To Freedom by David Icke a shot.

It is pretty out there, but if you have an open mind, it can be interesting.
posted by nitsuj at 7:32 PM on May 13, 2005

Ishmael and the two follow-ups attempt to explain the current state of our culture from a pre-historical perspective. My Ishmael specifically deals with the current education system, and is heavily influenced by John Taylor Gatto whose online book was featured on the blue.
posted by bitpart at 7:55 PM on May 13, 2005

I'd add Guns Germs and Steel to the list.
posted by anildash at 9:24 PM on May 13, 2005

I would like to second Guns Germs and Steel and add this: Got Game: How the Gamer Generation is Reshaping Business Forever. Granted, it's a book aimed at managers who employ Generation Y, but mostly it's just a really interesting take on how those of us whose first game system was the original NES have a bit of a different outlook on life.
posted by ebeeb at 9:58 PM on May 13, 2005

not to discredit nitsuj in any way, but for those who don't know, David Icke was formerly a prime time sports presenter for the BBC who quit, claiming that the world was in fact run by lizards....
posted by forallmankind at 10:07 PM on May 13, 2005

I'd like to second Coercion (and add most of the rest of Douglas Rushkoff's output to the list), Guns, Germs and Steel (and add Jared Diamond's newish Collapse) and the work of John Taylor Gatto. Writers like Thomas Frank and James Twitchell might also be appealing, and, if you're specifically interested in the culture stuff, there's a whole raft of books like David Brooks' Bobos in Paradise and John Seabrook's Nobrow that will likely be right up your alley. Ooh, and Susan Faludi, and Susan Douglas' Where the Girls Are, and Cute, Quaint, Hungry and Romantic, by Daniel Harris, and some of Barbara Ehrenreich's stuff, and... I don't really have a good way to wrap up this sentence.
posted by box at 10:41 PM on May 13, 2005

I'm going to say Neil Postman's 'Amusing Ourselves to Death' is probably one of the best books I've read. Great, great book. Manufacturing Consent (can be boring), A People's History of the United States, and Lies My Teacher Told Me are also pretty decent.

And for Thoreau, I never bought into somone who had bills for laundry service that extolled the virtues of living simply.

One day I'll learn basic html skills and be able to provide links :(
posted by efalk at 11:36 PM on May 13, 2005

Guns Germs & Steel is pretty good, but doesn't really address the things that you are looking for. Here are my recommendations:

Anything by Thomas Frank, especially The Conquest of Cool.

Stuart Ewen, All Consuming Images and PR!

Roland Marchand, Advertising the American Dream.

Lizabeth Cohen, A Consumer's Republic.

And my personal favorite assessment of the modern condition, Marshall Berman's All That is Solid Melts into Air.
posted by googly at 12:03 AM on May 14, 2005

The Technological Society and Propaganda by Jacques Ellul.

Saharasia by James De Meo
posted by telstar at 12:34 AM on May 14, 2005

Richard Sennett's 'The Fall of Public Man' is still worth the read.
posted by TimothyMason at 2:16 AM on May 14, 2005

I think that Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison by Michel Foucault is worth reading or re-reading in this regard (though it's more focused on the correctional techniques of people, power, and institutions). Check out some of the Amazon reviews for more in-depth discussions of the book to see if there's a fit or interest.
posted by safetyfork at 6:08 AM on May 14, 2005

Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood looks at how kids are targeted by both obvious and hidden advertising. The author sneaks into this expensive convention for marketing experts who advertise to kids. Fascinating little tidbits like grocery stores placing cereal boxes with kids' favorite cartoon characters on them at kid's eye level, so the kids will beg for them. Or the big proportion of barbie dolls produced that year that have a shopping theme.
posted by leapingsheep at 6:12 AM on May 14, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks to all - I truly apreciate these suggestions. Ask MeFi is a wonderful thing. Seriously.
posted by davebush at 6:34 AM on May 14, 2005

A Short History of Progess by Ronald Wright

Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan

Not exactly pop culture, more along the lines of "How we got here and where the hell are we going?" Wright looks a bit more at our relationship to and use of our environment over the course of human evolution, whereas Sagan and Druyan are a bit more focused on human to human interactions and the course of the planet's evolution. Both are really compelling looks at inate human nature and how it plays out in modern society. Sagan and Druyan are far more uplifting than Wright, but both have had enourmous impact on my perception of humanity.

On the pop culture side, I haven't yet read it myself, but I've heard interesting things about Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser.

And I heartily second Thoreau's Walden.
posted by nelleish at 7:11 AM on May 14, 2005

Look no further and read Awareness by Anthony De Mello. Explores the nature of how you are taught to think!
posted by thimk at 8:49 AM on May 14, 2005

Can't Buy My Love - How Advertising Changes The Way We Think And Feel by Jean Kilbourne. It's a fantastic read.
posted by SisterHavana at 9:22 AM on May 14, 2005

Not sure if this applies, but The Moral Animal : Why We Are, the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology by Robert Wright was informative. Despite all modern life's influences, some things about us may just be conditioned by years of existence, generation after generation.
posted by zenorbital at 11:42 AM on May 14, 2005

Seems like Everything Bad is Good for You is making waves. Basically says that video games and modern TV actually engage the mind and increase intelligence. I want to read it for that exciting, progressive, optimistic futurist feel. Here's a New Yorker review.
posted by NickDouglas at 2:34 PM on May 14, 2005

not to discredit nitsuj in any way, but for those who don't know, David Icke was formerly a prime time sports presenter for the BBC who quit, claiming that the world was in fact run by lizards....

Like I said, you have to have an open mind, but his books are interesting. I'm not saying that you should believe every word this man (or anyone, for that matter) has to say, but that doesn't mean that he has some interesting things to say. For instance, I don't believe that the world is run by lizards, but I still found the book interesting. Call me crazy.
posted by nitsuj at 5:43 PM on May 14, 2005

Within the Context of No Context by George W. S. Trow
posted by nicwolff at 8:38 PM on May 14, 2005

Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton. His other works are highly recommended too.
posted by koenie at 8:42 PM on May 14, 2005

for a more Marxist, literary take, i recommend all that is solid melts into air: the experience of modernity" by marshall berman.
posted by alkupe at 9:24 PM on May 14, 2005

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