Amusing Ourselves to Death
Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
This important book helps explain the current state of our society, media, and education. Postman begins by contrasting the two great futurist novels, 1984 and Brave New World. He concludes that Huxley made the better prediction—no need for a police state when we have television!
His basic premise is that we have moved beyond the age of information-rich typography into a new world dominated by images and sound bites. The unit of discourse is the thirty second television commercial, which attempts to make an emotional connection with viewers rather than inform them. The result is a dumbing down of everything from the evening news to PowerPoint dominated classrooms. The one thing he clearly gets wrong is the importance of computers, very forgivable when you consider that computers were mostly used for text and numbers back then. See also these longer reviews (2)(3). Unfortunately Postman died in 2003, but his legacy lives on!
Last Days of the Incas
It is serendipitous that this book came out within a few months of my trip to South America. A history book that reads like a novel, it provided much needed context for what I’d seen. It begins and ends with Machu Picchu, from about 1400 to the present. The story really starts with Francisco Pizarro’s “discovery” of the Incas, and kidnapping of the emperor Atahualpa. The author makes the important point that the Conquistadors were not military men, but “entrepreneurs with swords.” They took over Cusco (the “navel” of the Inca world) and Saxawaman. They informed their captives of The Requirement that concludes by blaming the victims if they get hurt, “the deaths and losses which shall accrue from this are your fault.” Many pages are devoted to the rebel Manco Inca and his progressive movement to Pisac, Ollantaytambo, and beyond in an attempt to evade the Spaniards. The book concludes with a summary of recent discoveries, intrigues and fraud.
I’ve recently returned from a trip to Bolivia and Peru that culminated with a visit to Machu Picchu. The “Lost City of the Incas” was never really lost. This is where Pachacuti and other Inca aristocracy came to relax back in the late 1400s CE. Surrounded on three sides by the Urubamba River, the view is truly spectacular with countless peaks receding into the sky. The site itself is dominated by Huayna Picchu, which rises a thousand feet and has ruins on top. The terraced agricultural district supplied food. The urban district provided accommodations for several hundred inhabitants, including a series of sixteen fountains, royal apartments and several religious areas (2) (3). The Inca even fashioned image rocks as a special tribute to certain sacred peaks.