Synopses & Reviews
America's leading role in today's information revolution may seem simply to reflect its position as the world's dominant economy and most powerful state. But by the early nineteenth century, when the United States was neither a world power nor a primary center of scientific discovery, it was already a leader in communications in postal service and newspaper publishing, then in development of the telegraph and telephone networks, later in the whole repertoire of mass communications.
In this wide-ranging social history of American media, from the first printing press to the early days of radio, Paul Starr shows that the creation of modern communications was as much the result of political choices as of technological invention. His original historical analysis reveals how the decisions that led to a state-run post office and private monopolies on the telegraph and telephone systems affected a developing society. He illuminates contemporary controversies over freedom of information by exploring such crucial formative issues as freedom of the press, intellectual property, privacy, public access to information, and the shaping of specific technologies and institutions.
America's critical choices in these areas, Starr argues, affect the long-run path of development in a society and have had wide social, economic, and even military ramifications. The Creation of the Media not only tells the history of the media in a new way; it puts America and its global influence into a new perspective.
"In this engrossing, panoramic history of the development of American media, Pulitzer winner Starr (The Social Transformation of American Medicine) ranges from our nation's founding, when the Constitution made the postal service the one nationalized industry and the Bill of Rights denied the federal government any role in regulating the press, to the eve of WWII, when commercial radio broadcasting flourished under very different cultural, political and economic conditions. Throughout, Starr shows that our country's original impulse to promote the postal service and press as part of its vision of nation building established a pattern of support for an open, continent-wide market that would assume different forms and policies as new waves of media were introduced. Starr brilliantly argues, however, that the government preference for keeping things decentralized was finally challenged by the advent of the telegraph, as its technology and associated economies of scale centralized the communications industry. Confronting thorny new issues of monopoly and threats to the guaranteed rights of free expression and individual privacy, the country then had no choice but to take on a regulatory role. Starr vividly demonstrates how complicated that role became with media like motion pictures and broadcasting, as the nation experienced immigration, urbanization and major cultural shifts: suddenly, counter forces in favor of moral regulation were petitioning the government to use all of its power to restrain mass media. The culture wars had begun. Agent, Bill Leigh. (Apr. 15) Forecast: The striking parallels in Starr's sweeping and authoritative study to such current hot topics as the USA Patriot Act, FCC licensing procedures and the media role in political campaigns should draw the attention of serious readers. An author tour, national ad campaign and NPR coverage could expand interest further." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Starr...once again demonstrates his ability to treat a complex subject thoroughly yet succinctly." Library Journal
"I though I knew the history of the media. And I thought I understood its significance. But after reading Paul Starr's erudite history, I now see how much I had to learn. A fascinating and illuminating meditation." Eric Alterman,
Author of What Liberal Media?
"Daring and dazzling. No other work has integrated the history of communications so thoroughly, and no other work is likely to do so any time soon....The Creation of the Media is a major intellectual achievement, an indispensable work." Michael Schudson, Professor of Communication at the University of California, San Diego and author of Discovering the News
"Paul Starr's masterful study makes plain how deep are the roots of the media's splendors and miseries alike. It's easy to gesture airily at 'structures' but Starr fills in the blanks with his thorough account, emphasizing differences between America's communications system and others'. Anyone who thinks entrepreneurs make media all by themselves, indifferent to government policy and culture, will find The Creation of the Media especially illuminating." Todd Gitlin, Professor of Journalism and Sociology at Columbia University and author of Letters to a Young Activist
"The Creation of the Media
is a remarkable achievement a comprehensive trans-Atlantic account of the rise of mass communications: postal services, newspapers, the telegraph, the telephone, film, and radio. It is also an exceptionalist account, which shows in convincing detail how the decentralized American mix of public and private differed from the statist approaches of Great Britain, France, and Germany and how that difference underwrote the leadership of the United States in the spread of mass media. But unlike other exceptionalist narratives, Starr's book is not a simple tale of triumph. His argument is subtle and qualified, and shrewdly ambivalent in its dénouement." Jackson Lears, The New Republic
(read the entire New Republic review
In this wide-ranging social history of American media, from the first printing press to the early days of radio, Starr shows that the creation of modern communications was as much the result of political choices as of technological invention.