Nicholas Brealey £20

The Ascent of Media: From Gilgamesh to Google via Gutenberg, By Roger Parry

I happen to have Mr McLuhan right here...

Media have taken a long and noisy journey from the carving of the story of Gilgamesh in cunei-form on tablets 4,000 years ago to a moment now when you are reading this review about a book or ebook, either in a newspaper or online.

Roger Parry's The Ascent of Media attempts to tell the story of that journey, from early writing, through theatre and Hollywood, the Gutenberg press, posters and telephony to videogames and the internet.

No book on the media is complete without a reference to the communication theorist Marshall McLuhan. Parry obliges with McLuhan's lightbulb analogy. An electric light is used either for close-up brain surgery or to light up a baseball pitch: the light is the medium; what is performed in the light is the content. It's the perfect description, but taken in the 21st century, that light is no longer a single beam. It is absolute, fluorescent, saturating every corner, casting no shadow. We do not seek out media in the way that, 400 years ago, we may have bought a pamphlet or gone to the theatre. They are with us before our first cup of coffee in the morning.

"The media" is now a vast topic and Parry struggles to get to grips with it. The Ascent of Media reads like an informational book, picking up nuggets of history. The growth of the sheet-music industry or the development of map production provide interesting diversions with little side panels for explanation. And Parry opens his book with a series of amusingly short-sighted quotations. "The radio craze will die out in time," said Thomas Edison, who invented the phonograph, while Apple's Steve Jobs predicted that Amazon's Kindle would flunk because "people don't read any more".

While The Ascent of Media picks up on some of the tensions created by each leap forward in media technology, it does not see a bigger picture. The author, a media executive who has worked for the BBC, in commercial radio, and in the advertising industry, should have been ideally placed to write a book on the modern scene. But his text is often characterised by slack-jawed awe rather than hard analysis.

Where is the exploration of the economic, social and political implications of the new media age? There are historical references to, say, how early Hollywood was financed, but Parry doesn't get close to the scale of money that now churns through the industry, and that gives companies such as News International and Google their extraordinary reach and power. Parry calls for a new, digital-age version of the Statute of Anne, the original UK copyright legislation from 1708, but does not say what it should contain.

He also considers whether, with such an abundance of available material, we allow media companies such as Apple to "choose our media diet". It's a dark thought, also raised in Eli Pariser's recent book The Filter Bubble, which describes how Google alters its search results based upon its individual profiles of the user. Again, Parry doesn't take a line.

With its rather piecemeal approach and attempt to cover every subject, Parry's book doesn't find a flow to the journey it takes us on, nor flesh out its conflicts. It works as a guidebook, but does not offer much challenge to the status quo. To return to McLuhan, it may be about the media, but there isn't much message.

Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

Arts and Entertainment
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform