Book Review: The Influencing Machine

I recently finished the book:

Gladstone, Brooke, Josh Neufeld, Randy Jones, and Susann Jones. 2011. The influencing machine: Brooke Gladstone on the media. New York: W.W. Norton.

I’m sorry I missed this book when it came out in 2011. It was brought to my attention when I heard Brooke Gladstone speak at the opening reception of the 2014 Alaska Library Association conference in Anchorage, Alaska.

This is a graphic non-fiction book. Partly because Ms. Gladstone says she has always wanted to be a comic book character and partly because she believes that the book would be four times longer if she couldn’t use pictures. I believe her.

Ms. Gladstone has pulled off a remarkable piece of media critique that it is well documented, insightful and yet fun to read. One of her major themes is that negative views of media have been around since the invention of writing. While today some bemoan the death of print, on page 134, Ms. Gladstone shows that reading was once viewed with suspicion:


But she doesn’t stop with “It’s always been this way, deal with it.” She acknowledges that abuses have taken place and that media is biased – just not in the way that most people think. She catalogs these biases and the research behind them. She also covers wartime reporting, some conspiracy theory history, social psychology and even how The Matrix really does shape our lives. The book concludes with a ten page bibliography that is already adding to my reading list.

While she doesn’t really mention libraries by name, The Influencing Machine does have a message for librarians in general and in my opinion, for government information librarians in particular. Ms. Gladstone spurns government press releases but adores primary sources. On page 64 I. F. Stone is praised as a “legendary reporter” who “pored over government documents other reporters ignored, scooping them with stories hidden in plain sight.” Another mention of government documents comes on p. 150 in the “I, Media” chapter where part of being good information consumers is “… when we care enough — reading the original documents they worked from.” I can tell she’s referring to govdocs because of the picture:


As I and my Free Government Colleagues have been arguing elsewhere for years, government information is too important to leave under the sole control of the government.  Librarians have a responsibility to curate and preserve information from all levels of government that is important to their community. They won’t do a perfect job because there are never enough resources, but they do need to try. For the future I. F. Stones. For you and me when we want to peek behind the headlines.

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