More a collection of related essays and less a book with a coherent, unified message, this is a set of nine essays on a variety of topics. I'll list them here just to give the reader some idea of the vast area these essays cover. They are "On the Fetish Character in Music and the Regression of Listening," "The Schema of Mass Culture," "Culture Industry Reconsidered," "Culture and Administration," "Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda," "How to Look at Television," "Transparencies on Film," "Free Time," and "Resignation."
Like much of the writing that comes out of the Frankfurt School, this is heavily influenced by Marxism, especially their idea (Horkheimer collaborated with Adorno in writing some of the more important essays in this collection) that mass consumer culture has become commodified, reified, and fetishized. The "culture industry" refers to the processes of standardization, marketing, and distribution which become a part of objects themselves, and therefore indistinguishable from them. Everything has been subsumed under the logic of the mass market, which creates what Adorno and Horkheimer term "false needs" - those needs that capitalism invents, and that capitalism can uniquely satisfy.
What I found of particular interest with the idea of the culture industry was the resonance that it has with so many other critical thinkers like Baudrillard, Debord, Lyotard, and Marcuse, yet being written several years before the most important work of these thinkers (Baudrillard's "Simulacra and Simulation" didn't come out until 1981, Debord's "The Society of the Spectacle" until 1967, and Lyotard's "The Postmodern Condition" until 1979). Some of the essays in the second half of the book - "How to Look at Television" and "Transparencies on Film," especially - reminded me explicitly of the best writing on media of Harold Innis, Marshall McLuhan, and Raymond Williams.
While I credit Adorno for being an innovative, insightful social critic, the orthodox Marxism can become a little laborious and grating after a few essays. The best of his thought isn't a result of his Marxism at all, but rather his sociological and psychological observations, as is the case with most of the media criticism here. Whether it is the translation or the original writing, the style is at its worst overly turgid and obfuscating, which makes it only digestible in small doses, but Adorno seems like he is always worth the effort. I will probably come back to this again and again in an attempt to inform my readings of later Frankfurt School members, especially Fromm, Lowenthal, and Habermas.