McLuhan has strong claims to being the most important thinker Canada has ever produced. In his first book, The Mechanical Bride, published in 1951, he established himself in the emerging field of cultural studies by offering a caustic survey of the dehumanizing impact of popular magazines, advertising, and comic strips. By the 1960s, he had widened his lens to examine the power of media as a whole. In The Gutenberg Galaxy, he offered a map of modern history by highlighting the hitherto-unexplored effect of print in shaping how we think. This was followed by Understanding Media, which prophesied that new electronic media would rewire human consciousness just as effectively as print once did, giving birth to a “global village” where people all over the world would be linked via communication technology.
McLuhan has also long been a fiercely polarizing figure, especially during the height of his fame in the 1960s and ’70s. For instance, the American novelist and social critic Tom Wolfe praised him in the most extravagant terms: “At the turn of the nineteenth century and in the early decades of the twentieth there was Darwin in biology, Marx in political science, Einstein in physics, and Freud in psychology. Since then there has been only McLuhan in communications studies.” Meanwhile, the German essayist and poet Hans Enzensberger denounced McLuhan as a “reactionary” and a “charlatan,” a shallow theorist who attempted to “dissolve all political problems in smoke” and promised “the salvation of man through the technology of television.”
One of the most contentious aspects of McLuhan’s life and work was his devout Catholicism, which some critics saw as antithetical to his academic pursuits. . .