Personal Stereo is a short cultural history of the Walkman, published in September 2017 as part of Bloomsbury’s Object Lessons series. It was named one of Pitchfork‘s favorite music books of 2017, and it was nominated for the 2018 Association for Recorded Sound Collections Awards for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research.
You can order it here or here.
You can read an excerpt here.
And you can hear me talking about it here, here, and here.
About the book:
When the Sony Walkman debuted in 1979, people were enthralled by the novel experience it offered: immersion in the music of their choice, anytime, anywhere. But the Walkman was also denounced as self-indulgent and antisocial–the quintessential accessory for the “me” generation.
In Personal Stereo, Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow takes us back to the birth of the device, exploring legal battles over credit for its invention, its ambivalent reception in 1980s America, and its lasting effects on social norms and public space. Ranging from postwar Japan to the present, Tuhus-Dubrow tells an illuminating story about our emotional responses to technological change.
“In 2017, having music pumped into your ears through headphones while existing in public is a thoroughly normal thing to do. But as Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow outlines in the delightful Personal Stereo, being able to do so is a relatively recent development … Her thoughtfulness imbues this chronicle of a once-modern, now-obsolete device with a mindfulness that isn’t often seen in writing about technology.” – Pitchfork
“Tuhus-Dubrow is a master researcher and synthesizer…an elegant, engaging storyteller who unpacks complex social and political concepts with clarity and panache … Personal Stereo is a joy to read.” – Los Angeles Review of Books
“Personal Stereo explores the development of the Walkman, its impact on our culture, and its legacy, not only highlighting its time as a status symbol but discussing its surprising resurgence today as part of the analog revolution. Plus Tuhus-Dubrow shares her own personal memories of Walkman ownership, offering a nice intimate touch to a book full of fun pop-culture trivia and anecdotes. Perhaps the best part of Personal Stereo was seeing parallels between reactions to the Walkman and recent complaints about smartphone ownership. (Particularly regarding selfishness and isolation.) Observing these cyclical historical undercurrents, large and small, is both entertaining and engaging. You might have preferred your iPod, but there’s no doubt the Walkman was worthy of a tribute and brief history like this.” – San Francisco Book Review
“Tuhus-Dubrow’s valuable historical and pop cultural analysis provides a genuine yet evenhanded portrait of all that has been loved and lost in the way the personal stereo has impacted public spaces and social communication. Personal Stereo is a clear-eyed study on the way this technology continues to disrupt, for better and for worse.” – PopMatters
“A fascinating and informative, yet also nostalgic, look at the rise and fall of the personal stereo … The author has worked hard to make this book readable, accessible and thorough in its enquiry … Tuhus-Dubrow manages to keep the feel of the book light and engaging. It has enough information in to feel academically researched, yet is written in an easily accessible fashion … Although I enjoyed the final ‘Nostalgia’ section, I think anybody with an interest in design, business, technology, or social and cultural history, will find the first section, ‘Novelty’, an interesting delve into the development of Sony as a company, its founders, and its famous Walkman. Five stars.” – The Bookbag
“A compelling and expertly researched study of the Sony Walkman.” – New Books Network
“Personal Stereo is loving, wise, and exuberant, a moving meditation on nostalgia and obsolescence. Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow writes as beautifully about Georg Simmel and Allan Bloom as she does about Jane Fonda and Metallica. Now I understand why I still own the taxicab-yellow Walkman my grandmother gave me in 1988.” – Nathaniel Rich, author of Losing Earth: A Recent History