Silver Medal in the Popular Culture Category for the 2023 Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPYs).
Named one of the "Top Ten Books" of 2022 by On the Media (WNYC Studios)
Media of the Masses investigates the social life of an everyday technology—the cassette tape—to offer a multisensory history of modern Egypt. Over the 1970s and 1980s, cassettes became a ubiquitous presence in Egyptian homes and stores. Audiocassette technology gave an opening to ordinary individuals, from singers to smugglers, to challenge state-controlled Egyptian media. Enabling an unprecedented number of people to participate in the creation of culture and circulation of content, cassette players and tapes soon informed broader cultural, political, and economic developments and defined "modern" Egyptian households.
Drawing on a wide array of audio, visual, and textual sources that exist outside the Egyptian National Archives, Andrew Simon provides a new entry point into understanding everyday life and culture. Cassettes and cassette players, he demonstrates, did not simply join other twentieth century mass media, like records and radio; they were the media of the masses. Comprised of little more than magnetic reels in plastic cases, cassettes empowered cultural consumers to become cultural producers long before the advent of the Internet. Positioned at the productive crossroads of social history, cultural anthropology, and media and sound studies, Media of the Masses ultimately shows how the most ordinary things may yield the most surprising insights.
About the author
Andrew Simon is Lecturer and Research Associate in Middle Eastern Studies at Dartmouth College.
"Andrew Simon's masterful history of the cassette crystallizes the crucial importance of technology. Media of the Masses is methodologically innovative, working through materials that were part of everyday life, but rarely present in archives. Important for historians of modern Egypt, and a stellar contribution to the history of new media."
—Walter Armbrust, University of Oxford
"When much thinking about media focuses on technologies of the future, Andrew Simon's Media of the Masses is a refreshing look at the near past, when palm-sized cartridges decentralized communication decades before satellites or the internet entered our daily lives. An important contribution to Arab media studies and the history of technology."
—Marwan Kraidy, Northwestern University in Qatar
"Media of the Masses provides a new lens through which we can understand the history of Egyptian media—the once-ubiquitous technology of cassette tapes. Andrew Simon's 'mixtape' approach offers insightful analysis and paints a rich picture useful for scholars and students alike."
—Laura Bier, Georgia Institute of Technology
"Andrew Simon's new book, Media of the Masses: Cassette Culture in Modern Egypt... looks at the cassette tape as a mode of understanding Egypt's history during [the] 1970s and 1980s. Moving from homes to shops, and from singers to listeners, the book demonstrates how the cassette, an artifact that became immensely popular in the Middle East in these years, undid state power and the division between public and private."
—Orit Bashkin, Issues in Middle East Studies
"In this social history of music and technology, Simon demonstrates how audiocassettes allowed ordinary Egyptians to challenge the power of state-controlled media. It is the story of how a common piece of technology can have an extraordinary impact on culture, politics, and the lives of the people who use it."
—Christina Dolan, Vermont Standard
"Andrew Simon approaches the world of Egyptian cassettes primarily as a social historian in this ingenious and enlightening book, one that is, moreover, an enormous pleasure to read....Whether listening, looking, reading, recalling encounters with his Egyptian interlocutors, or describing his walks around downtown Cairo, his prose buzzes with life and with sounds—as appropriate a tribute to its object as one could possibly wish."
—Martin Stokes, Journal of World Popular Music
"This is an extraordinarily rich and exciting read."
—Avery Weinman, New Books Network
"In Media of the Masses, Andrew Simon tells a compelling story of how audiocassettes transformed Egypt in the 1970s and '80s. By allowing a greater number of people not just to access audio content but also to produce and distribute it, cassettes were at the center of a new popular consumer culture. Simon tells this story through vivid vignettes that shine a light into the role of technology in everyday life."
—Arthur Asseraf, Technology and Culture
"Media of the Masses fills the gaps of historiographical elisions past."
—Mariam Elnozahy, The Markaz Review
"Simon's book offers a closer people's perspective of Egyptian culture and memory through cassette technology."
—Ramona Wadi,The New Arab
"The book's framework gives prominence not only to media technologies but also, crucially, to artists and their music. In so doing, it sheds new light on Egypt's sociopolitical, cultural, and economic developments from the 1970s through the 1990s and beyond."
"This book will captivate anyone interested in the history of technology, mass media, or popular culture."
—Lee Vinsel, Peoples & Things
"[Simon] shows how the humble cassette turned into a lightning rod in a country undergoing major changes."
—Peter Holslin,Passion of the Weiss
"By examining the history of the cassette tape and cassette players in Egypt, Media of the Masses considers much larger historical developments, including political change, labor migration, the refashioning of Egyptian homes, crime, and censorship.... Recommended."
—M. L. Russell, CHOICE
"By the end of Media of the Masses, Andrew Simon has deftly pivoted from the importance of audio to the vitality of all the mundane but essential objects in our environment—the things that are always thereso much so that we don't often see or hear them anymore."
—Marc Masters, Los Angeles Review of Books
"an awe-inspiring achievement."
—Søren Møller Sørensen,Journal of Sonic Studies
"A superb alternative history."
"I highly recommend Media of the Masses. Written in an accessible style, it will be of great benefit to scholars, graduate students, and undergraduates interested in Middle Eastern history, media studies, and (ethno)musicology. It also will be of interest to nonacademic readers interested in Egyptian popular culture."
—Sophie Frankford, International Journal of Middle East Studies
"a triumph across a number of fields, including, but not limited to, media studies, ethnomusicology, history, Middle Eastern studies, and anthropology."
—Jessie Rubin, Current Musicology
"This innovative and overdue study is likely to stimulate further research across numerous disciplines into the dissident world of ordinary people."
—Andrew Hammond, Popular Music