Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work! by Douglas Coupland
(Atlas & Co., 2010, 216 pages)
This is a brilliant little biography. Douglas Coupland is a Canadian novelist and visual artist, but this biography of Marshall McLuhan, the father of media studies, was my introduction to Coupland. I couldn’t have asked for a better one. He draws out the essential intellectual features of McLuhan’s work, offers a quirky and interesting portrait of the man, and tells a fascinating story about the development of technology. He writes knowledgeably and insightfully about the way McLuhan’s Catholicism, Canadian heritage, and family background shaped his thought.
Most distinctly, Coupland picks up on the ways that McLuhan anticipated digital culture. In this respect, Coupland demonstrates the meaning of McLuhan’s famous dictum, “The medium is the message.” The book borrows its formatting from immediately recognizable elements of internet culture. Discussions of particular books by McLuhan are accompanied by pages from online booksellers, listing current prices and descriptions of the books. Google Maps or Mapquest-style driving directions accompany major shifts in McLuhan’s life, like his move from St. Louis, MO to Windsor, Ontario.
This is certainly not the definitive biography on McLuhan, but it may be the most interesting. Whether or not you’re familiar with the work of McLuhan, this biography could be enjoyed as an entertaining introduction to this important intellectual and cultural figure of the twentieth century.