Thursday, May 1, 2014

Audiobook Review: The News by Alain de Botton

A considerable portion of modern society is affected by, or certainly seen through the lens of what many would call “the news”. Outlets and platforms for this portion of our culture are found almost everywhere, distributed through print, radio, television and the ubiquitous internet, covering issues ranging from politics and natural disasters, to box-office totals and the latest reality television star. Depending on who is doing the reporting, consumers of the news may see these issues in varying lights.  Outlets frequently have the power to determine what news will be deemed "important", how that news will be presented, and to what extent the issues will be examined. Many individuals’ perceptions of the world around them are influenced by the messages they receive in the television programs they enjoy and the websites they frequent. Ideally all news organizations would have society’s best interests at heart when examining the world around us, but that is not always the case.  More often than not, there are underlying agendas at play, whether it be the desire to put forth a particular political viewpoint, or the need to score ratings points in order to turn a tidy profit.

Alain de Botton examines these and many related topics in his latest work, The News: A User’s Manual.  This compact volume, presented in a type of outline style covers virtually every angle in examining how the news affects our culture. De Botton offers his view of the ideal methods that organizations and individuals should employ as issues are presented to the world. His themes include politics, world news, economics, celebrity, disaster and consumption. While many of these concepts might seem to be weighty, heady material, de Botton presents all of them in a manner that I found quite compelling.  This isn’t just a treatise on the news itself. It truly examines the inner workings of human society at large. 

The medium I used to enjoy this volume was through an audiobook from  For a busy wife and mother like me, this method of “reading” has proven to be a great resource over the years.  I may not have time to sit and read for 30 minutes in the middle of the day, but I do have that same amount time driving in my car, running errands for the family.  Sometimes I enjoy utilizing books on CD, but going through the platform is so much more versatile.  After installing the free Audible app to my iPhone, I was able to load the entire book to have on hand anywhere.  As I listened, I enjoyed the narrator, Nicholas Bell. This baritone-voiced performer has a lovely English accent and performs The News in a professional, pleasant manner.

I enjoyed listening to The News in the car, but I also found myself listening while tending to tasks at home.  On many occasions I paused the audio to take notes on what was being said.  As a conservative Christian, I may not share all of de Botton’s views, as he is a non-believer himself.  However, many of the thoughts he presents I found to be profoundly true, irrespective of who was sharing them.  Truth is truth, period.  Some of his thoughts have actually helped me in some of my perceptions of those around me and the challenges I face. These philosophies are completely independent of any news organization or media platform.  However, they are found in almost every story and every issue the news decides to include in their broadcasts or publications.

I found de Botton’s hopes and recommendations for the media and society at large to be commendable, but they are fundamentally idealistic.  We live in a fallen society, one that will always be hungry for scandal, sad news and controversy.  Humanity does crave positive, inspiring news from time to time, but ultimately we will return to content that we see as more exciting, sexy or intriguing. That admirable, but unrealistic tone de Botton takes is pleasant, but I found it to be a bit aggrandizing, considering human nature. Oh, that we would crave love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self-control, rather than the division, war, selfishness and materialism that most audiences are drawn to. 

That issue aside, I thoroughly enjoyed de Botton’s work in The News. I found it compelling, motivating and enlightening.  Through his unusual presentation of his thoughts, employing almost an outline-structured format, he conveys ideas never before considered in my mental processes, ones that have actually reshaped my thinking in some ways.  Regardless of how much their interests lie in classic news stories, audiences will find philosophies within The News which affect us all. Perhaps if purveyors of the news listened to this title, our world might creep a bit closer to the one Alain de Botton imagines for us.  That would be news indeed.

About the Author
From the website of Alain de Botton:

Alain de Botton was born in Zurich, Switzerland in 1969 and now lives in London. He is a writer of essayistic books that have been described as a ‘philosophy of everyday life.’ He’s written on love, travel, architecture and literature. His books have been bestsellers in 30 countries.

Alain also started and helps to run a school in London called The School of Life, dedicated to a new vision of education. Alain’s latest book, published in February 2014, is titled The News: A User’s Manual.

Alain started writing at a young age. His first book, Essays in Love [titled On Love in the US], was published when he was twenty-three.



Faith in Media

This title provided for review purposes only.

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