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,

Kevin Duvall

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


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.


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.

John-paul Pagano

The seminal non-academic work on media studies. Along with Walter Lippmann's Public Opinion, it forms an indispensable diptych for understanding how politics and culture mediate our democracy.


As someone who is familiar with most of the ideas presented in the text, I think this is a thought provoking read. I certainly didn't think it was the most organized in terms of connecting ideas and arguments, however, I still think the perspective is extremely valuable. It provides a glimpse at media and consumerism in American history. It is amazing how much stays the same even as 50 years pass and technology changes.

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.


A classic Chicago School text on the rise of the Image in 20th century America. Written in the early 70s, followers of entertainment news and the tabloids would find Boorstin's observations even more valid nowadays. His definition of "celebrity": "Someone who is known for their well-knownness." Heidi Montag, anyone? The American obsession with image has led to an age of politics where candidates now orchestrate pseudo-events designed to appear spontaneous and revelatory but are in fact anything but.


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.


This is a curious book. Everyone reads this book when they take Media Studies classes in college. When in college, the student reading the book is usually on the good side of history. The problem is after graduation. In college, this book can help make a person a better anti-capitalist, but soon after graduation this book gets dusted off and packed away into the suitcase that the former idealist takes to countless job interviews at marketing firms.This book is a lot like art school: it sounds like a good idea in theory, but you better be careful or you'll just end up working in advertising.


Good thing Daniel Boorstin is deceased. Facebook would send him to despair - but it would not surprise him, as it is a logical extension of what this book is all about.What's the root of the problem this book addresses? It is that we demand and expect far more that real life can give, thanks to the illusions that the Graphic Revolution presents to us. The Graphic Revolution is the coming of the media (print, sound, video) that allow the creation of the pseudo-world, the artificial world that implies that all things are possible. In our desire, we have come to prefer illusion to reality because reality can't possibly come up to our expectations.This book was written in 1961 and, though the celebrities mentioned are from the 1920's to the 1950's, Boorstin's thesis holds true today.We live in a self-referential world of images, of pseudo-news (packaged "news" instead of spontaneous events), of celebrities that are known for being known, of "adventure" vacations that are packaged so that nothing unexpected will happen.Never bored, and never resentful of the illusions that make up our world, we are instead fascinated even by the process that creates them. We love to watch how a movie is made, we are eager to hear about the ad campaigns that are designed to beguile us. Reality TV is as far from reality as can be, but we watch.We are pleased and entertained yet uncomfortable and never more than temporarily satisfied by living with illusion rather than reality. The image that things and people convey has become what we deal with rather than the actual things and people themselves. Boorstin is dead on when he speaks of businesses redesigning logos and ad campaigns in order to appear in a different way to the public - while the actual nuts and bolts company and product changes not at all. Think of BP as "Beyond Petroleum" with pleasing flowery green and yellow colors at the gas stations.Here is something right from the newspaper today in a story about South Africa - "During the past month, this country has shown its best side to the world. Leaders from both government and business have declared that South Africa has successfully "rebranded" itself, recasting an image tarnished by AIDS, poverty and corruption, into one of geniality, prosperity and competence."Boorstin would ask - to the South African on the street what has "rebranding" meant? Nothing.And so it goes in everything. Go to Africa and stay in places that could just as well be the United States. Take a "safari" in total safety with no unexpected encounters.In short, we do not live lives of real experience. We are removed from the real and constantly exposed to reflections of our own expectations. Taking pictures of the Grand Canyon with a new electronic gadget can more than equal the thrill of seeing the Grand Canyon itself. The big picture window that allows others to see us in our living room has replaced the porch where we could talk with our neighbors. Need I mention the common "chandelier window" on so many recently built houses that serves no purpose but image building? Following others on Facebook has replaced seeing people in the flesh. Things of no consequence on Twitter are considered news worth following.This guy Boorstin had the whole thing pegged 50 years ago.This is not a difficult read but it isn't a book you want to sleep through because there is much to discover in what the author has to say. He is of the generation that revered the spoken and written word (he was Librarian of Congress) so he could see how things were going from a vantage point that hardly remains in the 21st century.I give only 4 stars because I think early chapters in the book give too many examples. The pervasiveness of what he is trying to illustrate is so familiar now that the examples are un-necessary to the point of tedium, though they are interestingly quaint. Skip to chapter five and the freight train of his idea rolls in at full speed.One leaves the book wondering - how does one escape the world of illusion? Boorstin's suggestions for doing so are hardly encouraging.

Kassidy harris

This book is so pertinent NOW. Daniel Boorstin is able to entwine history with current issues seamlessly, making all of his books (i have now read them all) fascinating reads. Where one historian can write dry prose, Boorstin enlivens it by pulling the issues into the present so that you can relate to them easily. The Image gave me an illuminated view on this election madness, and is a book I'll read again for sure.

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.


Good, but reads as a little dated at this point, perhaps because we've become so immersed in the world he describes. The analysis is spot on.


Boorstin writes about the rise of the image as an accepted alternative and replacement for truth in modern and post-modern America. While his tone is sometimes curmudgeonly, his insights into what this crass substitution means for the modern day are stunningly clear.Especially scary are his descriptions of politicians in the '60s, because of how much they apply to modern politics. Nothing ever changes.

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