Public Opinion is Walter Lippmann's groundbreaking work which demonstrates how individual beliefs are swayed by stereotypes, the mass media, and political propaganda.
The book opens with the notion that democracy in the age of super fast communications is obsolete. He analyses the impact of several phenomena, such as the radio and newspapers, to support his criticisms of the sociopolitical situation as it stands. He famously coins the term 'manufactured consent', for the fomenting of views which ultimately work against the interests of those who hold them.
Lippmann contends that owing to the masses of information flung at the population on a daily basis, opinions regarding entire groups in society are being reduced to simple stereotypes. The actual complexity and nuance of life, Lippmann contends, is undermined by the ever-faster modes of communication appearing regularly. News by nature presents or emphasizes only some of the facts, is consumed cheaply en masse, and ultimately projects the opinion of its editors upon the public.
The result is that individuals hold social and political worldviews which are, to a greater or lesser extent, inadequate and irreconcilable with reality. These limitations in human cognition work against social cohesion, preventing humankind from achieving the greatest possible good for the greatest number of people.
A classic text of political science and media studies, Public Opinion retains enormous relevance to this day. First published in 1921, the book predates the Internet and television, yet identifies trends which may be observed in the modern day during the everyday news cycle, at times of democratic elections, or elsewhere as with 'infotainment'.