Major Influences

G.K. Chesterton

The people, professors and books McLuhan encountered while at Cambridge served as major influences shaping the “McLuhan” communicator's know today. While there he was molded by many influential thinkers, including G.K. Chesterton. McLuhan had first become familiar with Chesterton’s works while still at the University of Manitoba, when his friend Tom Easterbrook recommended Chesterton’s What’s Wrong with the World? The ideas Chesterton presented in his work had a lasting impact on McLuhan.

I.A. Richards visiting the Alps, ca. 1930.

Another influence on McLuhan was Philosophy of Rhetoric Professor I.A. Richards. Richards, a former psychologist, was in the midst of doing his second experiment on critical skills of Cambridge students when McLuhan met him. After reading the results of Richards’ first experiment as documented in Practical Criticism: A Study of Literary Judgment, McLuhan expressed disagreement with Richards. His disagreement turned to disgust when he was forced to face Richards’ atheistic ideas.

Despite these initial put-offs, McLuhan received valuable training and ideas from Richards which would guide his later intellectual endeavors. Richards’ taught his students what mattered most about a poem was the way it communicated certain effects to the reader’s mind (Marchand). McLuhan took this idea and applied it to the study of media, inspired by another professor, F.R. Leavis, who encouraged his students to analyze their cultural surroundings, particularly by analyzing advertisements (Gordon, Marshall 48-49).