Review of the book The cognitive style of PowerPoint: Pitching out corrupts within

Lowenthal, P. R., & White, J. W. (2008, January). [Review of the book The cognitive style of PowerPoint: Pitching out corrupts within]. Education Review.


PowerPoint was recently listed by authors in USA Today as one of the top 25 inventions “…that changed our lives since 1982” (Acohido, Hopkins, Graham, & Kessler, 2007). The authors boast that, “lecturers from CEOs to sixth-graders display topic headings and charts with the click of a mouse.” While we could argue about the significance of certain things on the their top 25 list (e.g., lettuce in a bag), we whole heartedly agree that PowerPoint has “changed public speaking forever.”

The use of slideware software has become ubiquitous; whether in a corporate board meeting or a classroom, PowerPoint is commonplace. In fact, it is estimated that over 30 million PowerPoint presentations are given each day(Weinstein, 2006). This rise in popularity has attracted supporters and critics alike. Supporters can be found in every school, college, and university throughout the country; critics are fewer, but their numbers are steadily growing.

The most notable, or at least the most vocal, critic of PPT is Edward Tufte. The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint is a brief monograph, or treatise, that is a must read for any PowerPoint user and every educator. Tufte argues the following:

  • PowerPoint’s low resolution is inadequate to display rich content.
  • PowerPoint’s low resolution encourages bulleted outlines which dilute thought.
  • PowerPoint’s deeply hierarchical and linear structure decontextualizes and hides information.
  • PowerPoint has a tendency to fragment narrative and data.
  • PowerPoint encourages a preoccupation with format, conspicuous decoration, and phluff rather than content.
    In this review we on each of these points.

Keywords: PowerPoint, Presentations, Tufte, Keynote, Lecture, Design