New York Times Book Review • Notable Book of the Year
Washington Post • 50 Notable Works of Nonfiction in 2019
NPR.org • NPR 2019 Concierge
Slate • 10 Best Books of the Year
Chicago Tribune • Best Books of the Year
Publishers Weekly • 10 Best Books of the Year
Audience of One reframes America’s identity through the rattled mind of an insomniac, cable-news-junkie president.New York Times chief television critic James Poniewozik offers a “darkly entertaining” (Carlos Lozada, Washington Post) history of mass media from the early 1980s to today, demonstrating how a volcanic, camera-hogging antihero merged with America’s most powerful medium to become our forty-fifth president. In charting the seismic evolution of television from a monolithic mass medium into today’s fractious confederation of spite-and-insult media subcultures, Poniewozik reveals how Donald Trump took advantage of these historic changes by constantly reinventing himself: from a boastful cartoon zillionaire; to 1990s self-parodic sitcom fixture; to The Apprentice reality-TV star; and finally to Twitter-mad, culture-warring demagogue. Already lauded as a “brilliant and daring” (Annalisa Quinn, NPR) work that defines a generation, Audience of One emerges as a classic in cultural criticism.
Epochal shifts in entertainment media have driven the derangement of American politics, according to this caustic, scintillating cultural history. New York Times television critic Poniewozik sets Donald Trump's political rise against American television's evolution, from a three-network monopoly broadcasting inoffensive, common denominator fare to a fragmented cable and internet spectrum of isolated niche channels, a world where liberals watched Mad Men while conservatives watched Duck Dynasty. That polarization, he argues, bred new televisual genres that incubated the Trumpian worldview: antihero dramas where ugly violence is needed to defeat even darker forces, reality shows where life is a cutthroat, zero-sum struggle between amoral operators, and cable news shows that portray the world as a chaos of noisy, flashy dogfights where perceptions of truth are dictated by tribal allegiance. Meanwhile, Trump's own media persona "the blunt, impolite apex predator" on The Apprentice, the trash-talking bully in pro-wrestling cameos, the birther conspiracy theorist on Fox News guest spots shaped his political style and then subsumed him entirely: Trump became "a cable news channel in human form: loud, short of attention span, and addicted to conflict," Poniewozik writes. "TV became president." Poniewozik's trenchant, brilliantly witty critique of the cultural archetypes percolating into American politics is one of the best analyses yet of the Trump era.