ABOUT THIS BOOK
One of the most respected and honored historians of the media, Erik Barnouw has been called a major national resource by The Nation. Norman Corwin dubbed him America’s Gibbon. He is the writer, says critic John Leonard, “from whom the rest of us steal instead of doing our research.” Media history is his subject, and, as this memoir makes so delightfully clear, it has also been Erik Barnouw’s life. Barnouw’s story, told with wit and charm in Media Marathon, is the story of American culture adjusting to the twentieth century, of new media repeatedly displacing the old in a century-long competitive upheaval.
Born in Holland in 1908 and an immigrant to the United States at the age of eleven, Barnouw spent his early working years in an astounding array of occupations—actor and stage manager, lyricist, translator, director, producer, teacher, and union official. This varied background, described here in rich detail, informs his writings about the world in which he moved, specifically regarding the shifting channels of twentieth-century mass communication. Telling his story through a series of personal profiles of the famous, the infamous, and the little known but powerfully influential, Barnouw recounts the events that took him from the vaudeville stage to the Library of Congress, where he became the first chief of its newly formed Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recording Sound Division. Thornton Wilder, Pearl S. Buck, Joshua Logan, Dwight Eisenhower, Lynn Fontanne, Tallulah Bankhead, and Akira Iwasaki—these are among the featured characters in the drama of American media, rendered here in striking close-ups.
From The Hague to retirement in Vermont, with stops in India, Japan, and Russia, Barnouw’s remarkable story gives readers the chance to relive crucial chapters of modern media history—and to relive them with one of that history’s masters as an incomparable guide. A book for those interested in the “mass media,” its evolution, and role in society, Media Marathon will appeal to students, scholars, and general readers alike.