The News: A User’s Manual (Vintage International)

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The News: A User’s Manual (Vintage International)

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The News: A User’s Manual (Vintage International)

The News: A User's Manual (Vintage International)

The News: A User’s Manual is an insightful analysis of the impact of the incessant news machine on us and our culture.
   The news is everywhere. We can’t stop constantly checking it on our computer screens, but what is this doing to our minds? We are never taught how to make sense of the torrent of news we face daily, which has a huge influence on our sense of what matters and of how we should lead our lives. Alain de Botton takes twenty-five archetypal news stories—including an air

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Benjamin Smith

May 1, 2016 at 2:31 am
29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars
Can news help us lead better lives?, February 12, 2014
Benjamin Smith (Urbana, Illinois) –

The News: A User’s Manual provides us with a fresh look at a familiar topic. Most of us consume quantities of news without ever asking why and what for. Such unreflected practice is likely to harbor surprises. de Botton takes the various topics of mainstream news and dissects them for us, showing us why we are right to find them fascinating, pointing out how their current manifestations may hide unseen dangers, and suggesting ways in which media organizations could forge a more constructive path.

His analysis is sharp and his idealism is realistic (that’s not a contradiction in terms!). “The news” possesses an enormous influence over how we see our communities, how we see ourselves, and what we believe is possible. Right now, the news is doing a terrible job on all counts. That needn’t be the case. de Botton shows us what is broken and gives us inspiration to imagine a media ecosystem that allows each of us to lead better lives. Let’s hope a few brave souls take these ideas to heart.

(Disclaimer: I’ve read most of Alain de Botton’s work. I’m inclined to think he’s a helpful guide to navigating contemporary dilemmas.)

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W. Tuohy

May 1, 2016 at 3:11 am
25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars
Timely, but shallow, March 28, 2014

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To date other Amazon reviewers have given either five-stars or one-star ratings. In my opinion tHis book is neither great nor awful. It offers stimulating and timely comments about the news media, but fails (e.g.) to differentiate among sectors of the population with diverse intellectual capabilities, needs, and tastes. There is less than hoped for depth to the author’s thinking. Often his policy prescriptions are shaped by a relatively (too) simple interpretation of human nature and its needs. In sum, two stars for depth of analysis, but more credit for selection/importance of the topics and writing style (fun to read). Major chapter headings are: politics, world news, economics, celebrity, disaster, and consumption.
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Montana Skyline

May 1, 2016 at 4:07 am
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars
Not Botton’s best by a long shot, June 24, 2014
Montana Skyline (Montana) –

I own and have enjoyed most of De Botton’s books, and generally find his slant on diverse subjects if not always original, nevertheless fresh and thought-provoking. I usually also find his discursive style and phrasing simply fun to read. So, I am sorry to rate this effort as “okay”…and to suspect that I am being generous. It is evident from some comments that other readers found the book much richer and more entertaining than I did, but I could only recommend this to De Botton devotees, and then with caveats.

It is a stretch to say that this book has anything new to say about what “news” is or how it is presented. In fairness, De Botton’s idea of news goes well beyond what we typically mean when we refer to journalism, whether written or broadcast. But even allowing for less-than-useful digressions, it is difficult to imagine many readers will better prepared to understand, benefit from or even critique the news: In short, hardly a “users manual.” It is striking that some sections barely manage to include a few sentences about news reporting, almost as an afterthought — rather as though a helpful editor said: “Say, shouldn’t this section make some reference to news?”

When he focuses, De Botton’s principle argument is that the news should be developed and conveyed rather more like art generally and literature in particular. This prompts him offer such advice as the need for “creative writers” of news to “understand that falsifications may occasionally need to be committed in the service of a goal higher still than accuracy: the hope of getting important ideas and images across to their impatient and distracted audiences….perhaps by adapting a fact, eliminating a point, compressing a quote or changing a date.” [Pages 82-83.] Not sure this is what we want from most journalists. In fact, I thought the hayday of “gonzo” and “advocacy” journalism was behind us. In any case, the notion that journalism should be about artfully shaping the news not only to provide information to audiences but instruct them, both consciously and subconsciously, on what to think about that information is an old idea with a dubious history.

If you do not find either De Botton’s diagnosis of the ills of the news or his prescribed remedy persuasive, you might still enjoy some of his asides and genial ramblings. As usual, he has some clever and witty things to say, even if most have little to do with the news as such. His critique of how various kinds of news are reported is often painfully on target, even if not wholly original. I found myself often nodding in agreement. It is difficult to escape the feeling, however, that his critique is being offerred from the couch and with little experience or grasp of how news reporting is actually done, as opposed to how he as a reader/viewer perceives it. I can imagine having this sort of grumbling conversation with friends in a coffee house…as long as none of them actually does news reporting!

To summarize: De Botton thinks those who provide the news could do a much better job of educating us about…well, nearly everything. And they could do this if they looked more to the arts for lessons about shaping images and forcefully conveying meaning. A quick read with some clever comments and occasional insights, but not something you are likely to keep handy on your bookshelf, pull down for reference or re-read from time-to-time for pleasure, as one might with other of De Botton’s books.

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