Reviews for United States of Paranoia : A Conspiracy Theory

Booklist Reviews 2013 July #1
This is a remarkably comprehensive, wide-ranging look at the way American culture, politics, religion, and social structure have been affected by conspiracy stories. Here you'll find tales of Mormon conspiracies, the Salem witch trials, the Illuminati, satanists, the 1980s rash of bogus claims of child molestation (especially the famous McMartin case), the Church of the SubGenius, and, oh, so many more. Author Walker's intent is neither to ridicule nor debunk but simply to explore: How does an idea take hold, grow, permeate the culture? Sometimes it happens by accident: Illuminatus!, a satiric trilogy of novels published in the mid-1970s, led to a surge in interest in the (supposedly) real ­Illuminati--what was essentially a joke led to the spread of a very serious conspiracy theory. Sometimes, of course, an idea spreads because people want it to spread: John Todd, whose own story would make a fascinating book all by itself, spent his life aggressively promoting an elaborate conspiracy theory (which involved, among other elements, Ayn Rand and Charles Manson as puppets of the Illuminati). A lively, extremely interesting, and occasionally more than slightly scary book. Copyright 2013 Booklist Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2013 July #1
A compendium of conspiracy theories in America, both past and present, and those who embrace them. "The fear of conspiracies," writes Reason magazine books editor Walker (Rebels on the Air: An Alternative History of Radio in America, 2001), "has been a potent force across the political spectrum, from the colonial era to the present, in the establishment as well as the extremes." In fact, in the United States, "it is always a paranoid time." After offering a loose categorization of conspiratorial styles--Enemy Outside, Enemy Within, Enemy Above, Enemy Below, Benevolent Conspiracy--Walker goes on to show how these paranoiac archetypes have played themselves out in American history. Early white settlers feared not just Native Americans, but a vast Indian conspiracy aided and abetted by the Catholic Church. Witches did the work of the devil in colonial New England. Mormons had an army of assassins and stole the bodies and souls of women. Walker also looks at the paranoid popular culture of the 1950s, with a look at the cult-classic film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, then it's on to McCarthyism, African-American unrest being the product of Muslims and Marxists and, always, the influence of "outside agitators." Then on to 9/11, the mother lode of conspiracy theories, in which anything and everything could be be a terrorist plot, the "birthers," and the idea of Barack as a socialist Muslim.To his credit, Walker does not attribute conspiracy theories to any particular political tendency, and he duly covers those who believe that the modern-day tea party, backed by a couple of rich brothers, plans to destroy America. Appropriately bemused by the weird things we will believe, Walker makes clear that if polarization and deep suspicion define our current political atmosphere, well, it's nothing new. An insightful and entertaining look at the demons and devils that haunt the American imagination. Copyright Kirkus 2013 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2013 June #4

Walker (Rebels on the Air) has clearly been taking notes as book editor for Reason magazine. Here he puts his journalistic and investigative skills to work in a superb analysis of American paranoia; fear of others and ourselves, he argues, has been a part of our national make-up since the country's very inception. Walker smartly avoids taking sides--after all, "the world is filled with plots both petty and grand." Instead, he corrals conspiracy theories into five stables: those dealing with the perceived enemy within (e.g., militia and hate groups); the enemy outside (e.g., al-Qaeda); the enemy above (e.g., the Illuminati); and the enemy below (e.g., the Occupy movement). The fifth category relates to theories of a so-called benevolent conspiracy, which assume that someone or something is working for the betterment of humanity. In some cases these categories overlap: Native Americans and colonists, for example, each viewed the other as the enemy outside. Walker's means of attack are ingenious, and they allow him to make his points succinctly, often using popular films, like Rambo, to illustrate his points and add weight to his arguments. It all adds up to a terrific, measured, objective study of one of American culture's most loaded topics. 18 b&w illus. (Sept.)

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