The collection begins with an article on documentary film pioneer Robert Flaherty. Barnouw then moves to a discussion of his Dutch heritage and its role in Western civilization. This is followed by fascinating accounts of ingenious pioneers of camera obscura and magic lantern phantasmagoria, precursors of the magic of motion pictures. There are lively accounts of Barnouw's own experiences, an informative brief history of communications breakthroughs, and an examination of the foibles of media censorship. The final articles discuss the importance of Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray and cinematographer Boris Kaufman, brother of Soviet filmmakers Djiga Vertov and Mikhail Kaufman.
In his writing and in his life, Erik Barnouw has been consistently elegant, self-deprecating, affectionate, and redolent of great depths, encouraging us to look for and foster them in our own lives.