Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 266

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The Lonely Crowd was one of the first analyses of postwar American society. Most important, Reisman makes a fresh application of established sociological principles to Americans living in a radically changed world while introducing new theories of personality to explain the changing American character and its impact on the individual. His work was well received: Reviews in The Journal of American Sociology, for example, praised the work highly.

In another book, Faces in the Crowd: Individual Studies in Character and Politics (1952), Riesman continues his exploration into the minds of the Americans he identified by personality type in The Lonely Crowd. Although Faces in the Crowd can be read as a separate volume, it is a valuable application of the principles established in the earlier study. In both works, the real importance is Riesman’s connection between theory and society.

Other works that may interest the reader of The Lonely Crowd include Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964), a landmark study of the impact of the media on the American culture. McLuhan suggests that the agenda of popular culture is larger than the messages it conveys. Although a difficult work, Understanding Media provides a valuable follow-up to Riesman’s studies. Similarly, Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock (1970), a popular best-seller when it was published, demonstrates the correlation between a bewildering world and anomic behavior. The Lonely Crowd, then, serves as a springboard for the application of sociological theory. As such, it has set a direction followed by many authors since its publication in 1950, and it is basic reading for any serious student of American culture.