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Creation of the Media: Political Origins of Modern Communications Paperback – 6 Apr 2005

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Product details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Export Ed edition (6 April 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465081940
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465081943
  • Product Dimensions: 15.5 x 2.8 x 23.4 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 987,277 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Paul Starr is Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton University and its Woodrow Wilson School of Public Affairs. He is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Social Transformation of American Medicine and The Creation of the Media. Starr is the co-founder and editor of The American Prospect. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

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COMMUNICATIONS in Europe and America during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries underwent a radical transformation, but not because of any revolution in communications technology. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Amazon.com: 8 reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Highly Recommended! 22 Nov. 2004
By Rolf Dobelli - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
International in scope, immensely detailed and authoritative, this study successfully incorporates the evolution of technology, laws, political policy and social development to put the origins of modern media into context. This historical perspective is long overdue. Since media development is actually the story of societal development, author Paul Starr does a tremendous job of detailing the roles of such diverse factors as innovation, invention, patronage, luck, law and competition, all of which shaped the media's development and helped determine its ultimate societal impact. This book is refreshingly light on political criticism, so each set of facts stands on its own. While Starr occasionally meanders from the main topic, the book's rich detail shows that he clearly enjoyed his research and writing. We consider his book essential reading for anyone interested in new and old media and how they were - and are - influenced by their societies.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
By Stephen Scott - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is by far the most exhaustive reading on the creation, growth, and perpetuation of media I have ever read.
At the outset, this is not a light read. Laced with history, the sociology of people within history, and trends operating in American and European culture, this is for serious students of both history and media. For that crowd, it will be a very pleasant read.
I give high praise to Paul Starr for being able to outline not only the growth of media and opinion, but also putting the growth in light of America's capitalistism and industrial strength.
He starts out by analyzing how European Nations like France and England tried to promote literacy through newsprint and postal services. He then outlines how those measures spilled into the United States during the Colonial Period.
Of course, newspapers were only the tip of the iceberg. Starr carefully analyzes how new inventions like the telephone, telegraph, film, and radio were used heavily for capitalistic gain as well as entertainment. At first, the U.S. Supreme Court was reticent to recognize First Amendment protection to these new mediums.
He also compares and contrasts Europe's tendency to nationalize many inventions instead of letting the market allow inventors to make money on their projects. Meticulously, he shows how the U.S. Navy tried to squelch Marconi's patent for wireless radio, and eventually how the Radio Act of 1927 preserved both the national and private interest.
In the end, Starr seems to point out that American Capitalism was instrumental not only in creating the media, but also allowing it to diversify and eventually find the same protection as print media--and eventually find a huge diversification in points of view.
Of course, all along he finds the naysayers like the Catholic League, the Hayes Code, and the Book Publishers Code that operated out of a fear of the public who did not trust these new medias.
Starr is a talented writer of history and can bring the elements related to new medias with such deft and articulation. He keeps the attention, occassionaly straying from the subject, but returning before interest is lost. Moreover, he does real well in keeping his own biases and prejudices aside, simply telling history instead of trying to interpret everything as either a conservative backlash, or a liberal trick.
Kudos to Starr. I look forward to his future endeavors.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
savvy comparative argument 19 April 2010
By Seaboard Lit Prof - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Starr's history of the "developmental path" of communications in the US offers a quiet but significant argument about the role of the state. He argues--on sound empirical and comparative grounds--that the major media forms in the US were shaped by distinctive political decisions made by the state. As a result, American media and media industries didn't follow the same historical path that shaped the media in European nations. But Starr is not making an argument for "American exceptionalism" in any crude or ideological sense. Yes, Starr clearly thinks the US has more successfully nurtured a robust public sphere (at least before WW II), and that its path of development has given it certain advantages in the global marketplace. But he is far from merely telling a triumphant story of American enterprise. Instead, he gives detailed historical evidence that will refute any jingoistic claim that private property interests and free market ideology are the key to US success.

On the other hand, Starr argues, the very success of US media have also produced what Starr calls an "American dilemma": while democratic ideas helped create new media, those media have become vast industries with enormous power--power that has the potential to erode the very democratic practices and spaces (discussion, access, association, diversity) that brought them into existence.

Starr's arguments unfold quietly and across the different chapters. This is not a bald polemic. But I would identify two key arguments that emerge (neither of which will easily comport with the right or the left):

1. Commercial activity has always been part of the public sphere of mediated discussion, expression, and political debate. There is no pure, disinterested space of political speech; from the earliest newspapers and pamphlets to highly capitalized broadcasting, the search for profit has been part of what spurred innovation, expanded public discussions, and sparked competitive contests. While this links public speech to interests and ideology, it can also allow multiple perspectives and represent the interests of less powerful groups--although the interests of capital and ruling elites do try to dominate. (Free market types will like this thread in Starr's book, while more left-leaning thinkers may not.)

2. While private and commercial interests have be part of the successful creation of media in the US, from the first it has been the state that has been the key the US competitive advantage. By supporting free speech in law, low taxation on print, broad access to education (in the North, though not in the South), infrastructure of roads, post offices, and postal rates, and by (sometimes) keeping monopolies from chocking off innovation, the state has been crucial to US success. It is a glaring mistake to assume that a hands-off government is the reason the US has succeeded so well in fostering high literacy (with damning exceptions like the exclusion of African Americans from access to education, even after abolition), technological innovation, and media industries like sound and cinema that have been adopted around the globe. (More left-oriented types will applaud this part of the book.)

Note that Starr ends his history in the 1940s, right as the most pressing questions of the power of media industries and public relations begin to worry a lot of people. He doesn't down play these worries. But he does think they are inevitable "tensions" that can't be eliminated--though they should be carefully examined and deliberated. Starr's history is an excellent synthetic account that is very helpful for taking up just those problems.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
What Makes America Great? 27 Feb. 2008
By J. Krohn - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Paul Starr examines the development of communication in America and how it caused American democracy to develop differently from European powers.

Starr lays out the argument "that the United States has followed a distinctive developmental path in communications ever since the American Revolution. The origins of that path lie in the country's founding as a liberal republic and its response to the peculiar challenges of building a nation on a continental scale." (pg. 2) Starr sees the role of communications, especially newspapers and the way the Post Office was used to subsidize the press along with the restraint in state authority as the key to place the United States on a course that sharply diverged from the patterns in Britain and the rest of Europe. Newspapers played an important part in the development of the United States. American papers focused on news with political commentary added for color while European papers focused more on literary essays. This made newspapers more popular with the masses in America. From this beginning, Starr continues to follow the development of film, radio and TV along with the recent growth in the Internet. In almost all cases, the major inventions or improvements in communications occured in the U.S. The role of a large educated middle class and the ability to communicate have for Starr resulted in our liberal form of democracy.

Read this along with Michael Linds "The American Way of Strategy" to gain a new perspective of why the United States is currently involved in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Fantastic overview -- I learned a ton 18 Aug. 2012
By Stuart Shapiro - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I thought I knew a fair amount of American history but I learned a great deal from this book. The scope is huge ranging from the colonial period until World War II and also international in that comparisons with Britain and to a lesser degree France and Germany are constant. I will admit that the book's thesis, that political decisions, have enormous impacts and that the development of media (and industry in general) would have been impossible with government, is something I am inherently sympathetic toward.

A very minor critique on writing style is that smaller paragraphs would have been helpful. But this is a tiny criticism of a great book.
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