By Alain de Botton
I believe this book has the wrong title. Let me explain.
Despite having the title “The News: A User’s Manual”, the book reads like a wish-list of how de Botton wants news journalists and media editors to present and publish the news. Furthermore, if it was intended to be read by the lay person, de Botton must have had the dual intention of increasing the lay reader’s vocabulary. Several of the words I looked up in my offline dictionary app weren’t to be found.
I liked how his views were presented though – this short book is split into 8 main topics: politics, world news, economics, celebrity, disaster, consumption and a conclusion. Each topic is split into further sub-topics, each point in the sub-topic is numbered and lasts about a page. This organisation doesn’t disrupt the fluidity however, and the way that points are made in such small sections provides the perfect opportunity to pause and reflect on each point made.
It presents the author’s views on what the news should ideally be and how it can enrich us. He made numerous valid points, but for the purposes of this review I will concentrate on those I consider to be the most important. The book is written for a British audience, using several British news story excerpts to highlight de Botton’s points. His points are all well put and I didn’t really want to have to paraphrase them for this review for that very reason.
Firstly, the perception that political news is boring is not a minor issue. Often there is an important matter which fails to engage us, and we can react more strongly to matters which effect very few people.
Another valid point is how the process of the reader developing views on serious issues on which so little information is actually conveyed, makes us feel like we are being ruled by crooks and idiots who seem to be ignoring logical solutions. The news fails to explain why difficult decisions are so difficult.
On celebrity news, de Botton portrays hero worship as childish and demeaning, a sign that we find ourselves inadequate. He argues that celebrity news should be used as a self-improvement tool, focusing on what we can learn from the individual.
De Botton believes that the purpose of dramatic tragedies should be so we can compare ourselves to the villain, that the stories read like fables and imparted a moral statement. We are a hideously flawed species, he says, and the criminals need to be humanised if we are to learn anything from these kinds of stories.
And on that note I shall say I have learnt something from this book. The contrast de Botton demonstrates between how the news is portrayed and how it ought to be to best enrich us, will ensure I will take his comments into consideration when I read/watch the news or am deciding on my personalisation of news received on news apps. The purpose of the editors may be to sell advertising space, but my intention in perceiving the news is to obtain a fair and accurate perspective of the world around me.