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


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.


"Always the play; never the thing"A superbly titled and entirely prescient book, this one. As America's Graphic Revolution was spiraling with television, movies, and other 'images' created for easy consumption, Boorstin wrote about how there is simultaneously much more and much less to everything we see. This book was written in 1961, so many of the examples he uses seem so innocuous and quaint compared to what we're accustomed to today. Boorstin died in 2004, so how did he not go crazy through the Lewinsky scandal, Paris Hilton, 'reality' television, the Colbert Report, the 24-hour news cycle, and internet news aggregates / blogs? I suppose each of the chapters presented in this book has spawned entire genres of 'image' studies: behind the scenes of the media, celebrity worship, digestible movie adaptations, etc. Overall I recommend this book as a skimmer, as the scholastic, academic approach to the topic was a bit much. Of course, my preference for an easier read only reinforces Boorstin's point, right?


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.

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!


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.


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."


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.


Written by U.S. historian and writer Daniel Boorstin in 1961 this book focuses on what the author even back at the beginning of the Kennedy administration called the ‘pseudo events’ in our ( U.S. )society as opposed to the ‘real’ world which he sees them replacing. While I’m a fan of Boorstin ( see The Discoverers ) and I have a lot of sympathy with his view of particular areas of society , e.g. journalism or advertising , I’m not sure his overall criticism is warranted . His view is probably fairly elitist and has little time for popular culture. And if all this is a problem he does not say much about why it is a problem and what we can do about it . Apparently it is still used as a text in sociology classes and that is probably a fair comment on how I assessed it . Also of some interest is the light that his thesis throws on the culture and nature of the U.S. where most of these ‘pseudo event’ originated.


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.

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.

Aaron Goldfarb

One of the greatest and most profound books I've ever read. I wish it hadn't taken me 33 years to get to it. Written in 1962 yet it could have been written this year. So far ahead of it's time, so incredibly in tune with where the world was heading (and is still heading). I can't imagine how disgusted Daniel Boorstin would be with this place if he was still alive today.

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.


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.


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,

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.

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