Masters of the Word: How Media Shaped History

Masters of the Word: How Media Shaped History

William J. Bernstein

Language: English

Pages: 448

ISBN: 0802121381

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


William J. Bernstein’s A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World, an Economist and Financial Times Best Book of the Year, placed him firmly among the top flight of historians like Jared Diamond and Bill Bryson, capable of distilling major trends and reams of information into insightful, globe-spanning popular narrative.

Bernstein explains how new communication technologies and in particular our access to them, impacted human society. Writing was born thousands of years ago in Mesopotamia. Spreading to Sumer, and then Egypt, this revolutionary tool allowed rulers to extend their control far and wide, giving rise to the world’s first empires. When Phoenician traders took their alphabet to Greece, literacy’s first boom led to the birth of drama and democracy. In Rome, it helped spell the downfall of the Republic. Later, medieval scriptoria and vernacular bibles gave rise to religious dissent, and with the combination of cheaper paper and Gutenberg’s printing press, the fuse of Reformation was lit.

The Industrial Revolution brought the telegraph and the steam driven printing press, allowing information to move faster than ever before and to reach an even larger audience. But along with radio and television, these new technologies were more easily exploited by the powerful, as seen in Germany, the Soviet Union, even Rwanda, where radio incited genocide. With the rise of carbon duplicates (Russian samizdat), photocopying (the Pentagon Papers), the internet, social media and cell phones (the recent Arab Spring) more people have access to communications, making the world more connected than ever before.

In Masters of the Word, Bernstein masterfully guides the reader through the vast history of communications, illustrating each step with colorful stories and anecdotes. This is a captivating, enlightening book, one that will change the way you look at technology, history, and power.

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Artifacts Have Politics?” Daedalus 109:1 (Winter 1980): 121–136. Wise, Jennifer, Dionysus Writes (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998). Wooten, James, Dasher: The Roots and Rising of Jimmy Carter (New York: Summit Books, 1978). Wolff, Hans Julius, Roman Law (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1951). Wriston, Walter, “Bits, Bytes, and Diplomacy,” Foreign Affairs 76:5 (September–­October 1997): 172. Zechmeister, E. B., et al., “Growth of a Functionally Important Lexicon,” Journal of

of radio treason (in ancient Greece), 67, 74 Trial of the Four, The, 285–86 Tunisia and the Internet, 326–28 Tunisian Revolution, 13, 326–27 Tunstall, Cuthbert, 172–75 Tutsis, 247–50 Twelve Tablets, 83–85 “twilight immunity,” 280 Tyndale, William, 172 background and life history, 170–72 Catholic Church and, 172, 174, 176–77 Cuthbert Tunstall and, 172–75 Hebrew and, 170–71, 175–76 imprisonment and execution, 177 John Walsh and, 171–72 Martin Luther and, 171–73, 175, 176–78 Thomas

and Phoenicians. In 732 BC, the Aramaeans’ luck ran out. The Assyrians under �Tiglath-pileser III took Damascus, pillaged it, and deported its inhabitants to the Euphrates. Ten of the original twelve tribes of Israel disappeared into history with them, lost when the northern Jewish kingdom of Israel, which had fatefully allied itself with the Aramaeans, also fell victim to the Assyrian hordes. The Assyrians spared the southern Jewish state of Judah and its capital at Jerusalem for reasons that

different characters—the first movable type. More than a millennium before Gutenberg, both Cicero and Saint Jerome conceived of printing frames filled with portable alphabetic type.5 Centuries before Gutenberg, the Chinese became adept at woodblock printing for both written characters and images, and they even used movable wooden character blocks. Finally, the Koreans, who had developed an alphabetic script, beat the Europeans to movable alphabetic metallic type by at least several decades.6 To

many people in so many places so quickly, and neither before nor after has anyone so dominated publishing in a major European language. J. K. Rowling, eat your heart out. At an average print run of 1,000 to 1,500, Luther’s pamphlets reached at least two million citizens when read aloud, resold, or simply recirculated to family, friends, and acquaintances, more than enough to reach all the world’s German speakers. While the Waldensians had the capacity to spread their theology across thousands of

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