The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America

ISBN: 0679741801
ISBN 13: 9780679741800
By: Daniel J. Boorstin

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About this book

First published in 1962, this wonderfully provocative book introduced the notion of “pseudo-events”—events such as press conferences and presidential debates, which are manufactured solely in order to be reported—and the contemporary definition of celebrity as “a person who is known for his well-knownness.” Since then Daniel J. Boorstin’s prophetic vision of an America inundated by its own illusions has become an essential resource for any reader who wants to distinguish the manifold deceptions of our culture from its few enduring truths.

Reader's Thoughts


This book was published in 1962, and reading it today, it was way ahead of its times. Boorstin definitely had his finger on the pulse of Amerikan culture and all its silliness, even back in 1962. The book introduces the concept of “pseudo-events: a press conference, a presidential debate, a best-selling novel, or a movie made from a novel, events which are manufactured solely in order to be reported by a willing media that is starving for "stuff" to print and/or report about. And this reporting is to a gullible public, too fat and lazy to think critically for themselves, needing to be spoon-fed important events so that they feel good about the culture they live in. It confirms my thinking that Amerika is really a country of hucksters, out there selling the next best thing to make a quick buck. It also introduces the concept of celebrity vs the hero. People are celebrities simply because they are well known, not because they have done anything to merit that well-known-ness, just because they are well known and have a media-generated/invented image that, well, meets some unknown thing in the public's psyche that these people deserve to be... well celebrities. You get the point. It is all an image. Amerika is a clusterfuck.The book is not that easy to read, it came from a VT College via Inter-library-loan. And it makes me want to read more authored by Daniel Boorstin,

Brian Ayres

This book is a classic written in the 1950s, but every page of it drips with relevance to the media age we live in, that of a media environment ripe to distract from the real truth. Having been a member and student of the media, I understand the nature of image building through advertising and public relations as well as pseudo-reporting of events like press conferences and interviews. These days, with the glut of information coming in waves and waves, it is easy to see how individuals can latch on to demigods like Glen Beck, who promise hope and freedom but are selling nothing more than an image of our country that rarely if ever existed. We are all ignorant of the world in which we do not experience and at the mercy of those who report what we do not see. Fear is a powerful emotion the likes of Beck make millions of dollars selling. But emotion and imagery is all many citizens know thanks to a media that tells it like it believes it should be rather than the way things really happened.All of Boorstin's books, whether they be his trilogy of The Americans or his trilogy of World History, are extremely well-written and enlightening for those who read them. Boorstin is a true American historian all students need to read to get a clearer picture of how history has shaped us.

Justin Mitchell

Anyone who has struggled to untangle the writings of Karl Marx, Jacques Lacan, Guy Debord, Raoul Vaneigem or Jean Baudrillard, et al, will find this book, written years before The Society of the Spectacle, The Revolution of Everyday Life, and Simulacra and Simulation a god-send. Boorstin manages to one-up them by a radical new approach to social critique: just saying what you think. I know, this sounds daring and unheard-of, but somehow, somehow, it manages to work. What's more: he uses examples from our day-to-day lives. Like, he makes an attempt to present examples that we can relate to and understand. Who would have thought!In short, this critique feels more credible and less masturbatory than those other, more famous deconstructions of the artificiality and incoherence of modern life, and, despite being written in 1961, reads like it was written last year. I can't believe this book is not ten times more famous than it is!

Kevin Duvall

Boorstin gets a little too cynical in parts, but even then, his words are incredibly profound.


I read this book right around the time that I read articles and books about how architecture was designed to keep the homeless out of downtown L.A. Needless to say, it got my mind spinning and kept me alert with a critical eye. I haven't forgotten the lessons of all I learned during this time period. I still look at everything and search for the deep or "actual" meaning or motive.


Incredibly relevant and important book. There were times when reading this book that I was shocked to remember it was written before the time of blogs and social media. The language is academic and inaccessible, and that is the only reason I give it four stars instead of five. Read this book. "We risk being the first people in history to have been able to make their illusions so vivid, so persuasive, so 'realistic' that they can live in them. We are the most illusioned people on earth. Yet we dare not become disillusioned, because our illusions are the very house in which we live; they are our news, our heroes, our adventure, our forms of art, our very experience."


I loved reading it and have been enjoying talking about it. For a book that was published in the 60s, it was pretty compelling how relevant it is today. It puts under the magnifying glass themes such as hero vs. celebrity and how we allow daily, hourly, minute-to-minute information into our lives and try to paint it as meaningful. Over-saturation makes one common. Boorstin deconstructs how we travel these days - how often we seek to find, if not expect, the comfortable and familiar in places that theoretically should be unfamiliar. I can't say how it's 100% a bad thing, per se, but I see his point. "The more strenuously and self-consciously we work at enlarging our experience, the more pervasive the tautology becomes."Self-consciousness destroys the experience. I get that; it can be a challenge to read and watch stuff that is self-conscious. But it's inherent in so much of what we do. I suppose that detachment, that ability to reflect what one sees without tainting it with too much of an agenda makes the great creators great. This book also made me think about all the images I am bombarded with in daily life. Facebook posts, restaurant signs, Instagram photos, television programming… It's up to me to buy into them, shut them out, or, perhaps observe from a safe distance.


Published in 1961, at a point that now feels like it was the dawn of the age of fraud, though really it was already several decades underway even then. Falling chronogically and philosophically somewhere between Benjamin's "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" and Baudrillard's "America", Boorstin coined the phrase "pseudo-event" which has stuck around, and tried to coin "the Graphic Revolution" (by which he means mechanical reproduction) which didn't quite catch on. The chapter on "The Lost Art of Travel" is a theme we've heard rather a lot on, from Paul Fussell and others, and suffers from the edge of elitism that such critiques tend to. Elsewhere, though, he is "spot on" as they say. One particularly fascinating section is on the history of the Reader's Digest magazine - in order to fulfil its promise to deliver only condensed versions of articles that appeared elsewhere, the editors and writers began to commission and plant longer articles elsewhere solely so they could abridge and reprint them. "Almost 60 per cent [of articles over a four year period] were either confessed originals or disguised originals, fabricated by a contrived back-formation from a contrived original." Not that Reader's Digest per se is so important (though I do recall it being virtually the only printed matter in my grandparents' houses) but in terms of reality being supplanted by its simulacra, you could hardly invent a better scenario.


Provocative though a little "get off my lawn!".


Absolutely, unequivocally recommend. To read this is, in large part, to understand America (and England, in as much as it and other cultures have emulated American idealism).Everything he says about our obsession with ideas and pseudo-events over reality is as true now as it was then. What was particularly interesting was his talk of how we desire this pseudo-reality, how it is appealing, and how indulging it creates desire for even more. Makes me think of Randian concepts like pseudo-self-esteem and second-handedness, and the way she (and Branden) describes these as having a basis in fundamental human nature, about an emotionally-laden choice between focusing on reality and blurring into seductive fantasy.


This book may be one of the most important books written in the latter half of the 20th century. Boorstin, with characteristic insight, was prophetic about the influence of the image, particularly in America. 'Nowadays everybody tells us that what we need is more belief, a stronger and deeper and more encompassing faith. A faith in America and what we are doing. That may be true in the long run. What we need first is to disillusion ourselves. What ails us most is not what we have done with America, but what we have substituted for America. We suffer primarily not from our vices or our weaknesses, but from our illusions. We are haunted, not by reality, but by those images we have put in the place of reality." Boorstin, 1961


interesting, bought it on the strength of title and the authors other books.the premise gets laid out quickly and seemed to be just repeating itself by the time I put it down.quite the jacket color scheme.It also made me look fat so I only read in the quiet darkness of my basement. There are bugs down here.

Sean Goh

You will never look at media, advertising, celebrity, and a great many other things the same way again after reading this.NewsThe counsel on public relations not only knows what news value is, but knowing it, is in a position to make news happen. He is a creator of events.Pseudo-events:-are not spontaneous, but arise due to planning. e.g. interview VS earthquake.-It is planted primarily for the purpose of being reported or reproduced. -Its success is measured by how widely it's reported. "Is it real?" < "Is it newsworthy?"-Its relation to the underlying reality of the situation is ambiguous.Usually intended to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.Propaganda is information deliberately biased, with its effect depending on emotional appeal. Pseudo-events are ambiguous truths intended to 'educate', while propaganda is an appealing falsehood intended to arouse.Both TV and radio (and by extension the internet) abhor dead time. Yet it is in silence that deep thoughts are formulated. The end results is that debaters can only react, not think.CelebrityWe can make a celebrity, but never a hero. We can make them well known, but never great. Celebrity worship is not the same as hero worship.The passage of time destroys celebrity, but creates and establishes the hero.Travelers To journey, to travail, was to do something laborious or troublesome, the traveler was an active man at work.The tourist is a passive pleasure seeker, expecting interesting things to happen to him, expects everything to be done to him and for him.Foreign travel ceased to be an activity, and became a commodity. (the package tour)When one risks so little and experiences so little on the voyage, the experience of being there somehow becomes emptier and more trivial. The tourist arriving at his destination where tourist facilities have been 'improved' remains almost as insulated as he was en route.Museums removed art from their context, in a sense misrepresenting them. To put art together is to take apart the environment and culture in which it was made real.Travel guidebooks and the like provided a scripted travel experience, checking boxes rather than exploring the unknown, star-gazing rather than exploring. We would rather fulfill our own provincial expectations than be surprised. The image ends up outshining the original.People go to see what they already know. The only possible source of surprise is their own reaction. (the modern travel book) We go to test reality by the image, rather than the image by reality (is the country really like what I read about it?)The more ill-suited a novel was for the stage (rapid, frequent scene changes, elaborate action scenes), the better it was for the movie form. The movie was often more widely appealing, as it was more visually vivid than the original novel. The movie form cannot wander as life wanders, it must go from significant episode to significant episode in constantly mounting fashion, or risk boring the audience. At its best the movie remains a simplifying medium.The star system focuses on the personality rather than the work. The most popular book in the short run is the book that tells us most effectively what we already know, nothing more than the projection of our own expectations. Photography as practiced by many DIY photographers, is not a way of producing images with a life of their own detached from their maker. Instead it is a form of narcissism ("Have you seen my photos of the Mona Lisa?") The image is more vivid than the original.The successful dealer in literary, dramatic and musical commodities is one who discovers a formula for the public wants, and varies that formula just enough to sell each new product but not enough to risk loss of the market. "A best seller is a best seller is a best seller."Value has been redefined from something 'worthy of esteem for its own sake; that with intrinsic worth', to something which has become 'regarded favourably by a particular group'. When social scientists speak of value, they speak of the peculiar standards which a society has made for itself.The corporate image is a pseudo-ideal, best to be neutral so as to repel none. Image-rebuilding becomes more about a change of face rather than a change of heart.We serve ideals, but images serve us.The image, being more vivid than the original, has become the original. The shadow has become the substance.Advertising makes us feel the appeal of being appealed to.

Paul Gier

"The Image" provides an interesting discussion about what is and is not really news and about the manipulation of information in popular media. The author suggests that much of what we consider news is merely manufactured information and has little or no relevance to our lives. I found much of the discussion in the book still relevant and applicable today. My only complaint is that the book seemed a bit overly verbose and could possibly have been better organized. It often felt repetitive and was hard to stay interested without skimming/skipping certain parts. Other sections of the book however, seemed very enlightening about how popular media works and how to recognize and filter the fluff from the actual information and events.

Jon Boorstin

My dad wrote this book. I remember stamping the pages with a rubber number-stamper on our dining room table. He'd spent ten years on his latest volume of The Americans; this he wrote in three months. This endures.

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