Title: The News: A User’s Manual
Author: Alain de Botton
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: 11th February 2014
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
The news is everywhere and we check it constantly – but what is it doing to our minds?
The news occupies the same dominant position in modern society as religion once did, but we rarely consider its impact on us. In this dazzling new book, Alain de Botton, the bestselling author of Religion for Atheists, takes twenty-five archetypal news stories – from an aircrash to a murder, a celebrity interview to a political scandal – and submits them to unusually intense analysis.
He raises questions like: how come disaster stories are often so uplifting? What makes the love lives of celebrities so interesting? Why do we enjoy politicians being brought down? Why are upheavals in far-off lands so … boring?
De Botton has written the ultimate manual for our news-addicted age, one sure to bring calm, understanding and a measure of sanity to our daily (and sometimes even hourly) interactions with the news machine.
While my interest in this book was only piqued because of my university studies in Media and Communications, I was thoroughly enchanted. De Botton has created a witty and intriguing account of society’s interaction and reliance on the news, offering fresh insights in a truly accessible way.
But don’t think for a moment that this book is just for those studying or working in the media. It gives all readers a chance to analyse their behaviour in a world where the news is ‘meant to be the most normal, easy, obvious and unremarkable activity in the world, like breathing or blinking.’ De Botton takes this notion and with his book aims ‘to make this ubiquitous and familiar habit seem a lot weirder and rather more hazardous than it does at present.’ And these two quotes are just from the first section of the Preface! There are so many fantastic sentences which encapsulate how and why societies and individuals interact with the media in the way they do.
In fact, I was even able to use quotes from this book in a university essay I wrote earlier this year. I generally find academic works tedious and inaccessible, which is why I was pleased to find de Botton’s prose so engaging. He truly is an academic of the people, helping them to understand important issues without unnecessary academic jargon.
The only reason I have not awarded ‘The News’ a five-star rating is because of the chapter on Economics. Here, de Botton uses business jargon and I didn’t find myself engaged in the slightest, despite finding the rest of the book immensely enjoyable.
It is also a disappointment that de Botton did not examine the role of new media, such as social networking, because I would really like to read his insights in that respect. Fingers crossed that he only left it out because his musings on that topic could fill a book themselves!
Unfortunately, my words cannot quite do justice to how I feel about this book. It reached me in a period where I wasn’t enjoying my studies and re-instilled in me a sense of purpose. It is a highly engaging read, written in a very accessible style, which I think everyone should take a look at. It will remain at the front of my bookshelf and I am sure I will pick it up again and again to reexamine de Botton’s thoughts on the media and thereby work on my own.