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The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things Paperback – March 16, 2000

3.7 out of 5 stars 205 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Americans are afraid of many things that shouldn't frighten them, writes Barry Glassner in this book devoted to exploding conventional wisdom. Thanks to opportunistic politicians, single-minded advocacy groups, and unscrupulous TV "newsmagazines," people must unlearn their many misperceptions about the world around them. The youth homicide rate, for instance, has dropped by as much as 30 percent in recent years, says Glassner--and up to three times as many people are struck dead by lightening than die by violence in schools. "False and overdrawn fears only cause hardship," he writes. In fact, one study shows that daughters of women with breast cancer are actually less likely to conduct self-examinations--probably because the campaign to increase awareness of the ailment also inadvertently heightens fears.

Although some sections are stronger than others, The Culture of Fear's examination of many nonproblems--such as "road rage," "Internet addiction," and airline safety--is very good. Glassner also has a sharp eye for what causes unnecessary goose bumps: "The use of poignant anecdotes in place of scientific evidence, the christening of isolated incidents as trends, depictions of entire categories of people as innately dangerous," and unknown scholars who masquerade as "experts." Although Glassner rejects the notion that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, he certainly shows we have much less to fear than we think. And isn't that sort of scary? --John J. Miller --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In this oddly comforting audiobook, Glassner (Derailing Democracy) deconstructs many commonly held beliefs about the threats of the modern world and aims to expose the media's role in keeping citizens fearful. Frightened citizens, he posits, make better consumers and more easily swayed voters. In a methodical fashion, he raises a series of public safety threats—the prevalence of road rage, middle-class heroin addiction and husband abuse, to name just a few—and then systematically tries to strike them down with statistics. More provocative are later chapters when he attempts to debunk such modern phenomena as Gulf War Syndrome and illnesses caused by breast implants. Glassner's delivery is serious but not emotionless; he keeps an even keel most of the time, but emotion does seep into his voice, most notably when talking about gun control. His reading style stands in sharp contrast to filmmaker Michael Moore, whose apparently improvised introduction is passionate and compelling; in fact, Glassner, who was featured in Moore's film Bowling for Columbine, sounds a bit dull coming right after Moore. But he is clearly a man on a mission, and even though many listeners might disregard some of his explanations as oversimplifications, virtually everyone will leave this book with a more realistic, guardedly optimistic world view.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; English Language edition (March 16, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465014909
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465014903
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.4 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (205 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #706,740 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Glassner took 5 years off from teaching sociology at USC to write "Culture of Fear." It certainly shows. This book is a meticulously-footnoted indictment of mass media's distortion of reality. Among the things that Glassner skewers is the media's portrayal of teen moms & young black men as destroyers of American society, road rage, plane crashes, & health woes related to breast implants. The basic premises that Glassner covers are these:
1) Mass media creates panics & hysterias from a few isolated incidents. 2) Anecdotal evidence takes the place of hard scientific proof. 3) The experts that the media trots out to make comments really don't have the credentials to be considered an expert. 4) Entire categories of people are christened as "innately dangerous" (like the aforementioned teen moms and young black men)
Sometimes Glassner's tone towards media is very snide, which may turn the reader off. Nonetheless, I came away with a new distrust of nightly news magazines, the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, and others. Glassner goes for breadth rather than depth; many of the topics that he covered could be books in their own right. If you lean towards the Christian Conservative side, you won't like this book. Same goes for 2nd Amendment proponents, some Republicans and Libertarians.
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Format: Hardcover
In the course of reading Barry Glassner's "The Culture of Fear," I was surprised that Glassner took a more balanced view than I had at first expected. After being featured in left-wing muckracker, Michael Moore's latest film, "Bowling for Columbine," I had assumed Glassner, too, had produced a one-sided liberal rant about the corporate-controlled media interests. I was wrong.
While some of Glassner's conclusions may be questionable, like his statements without clear evidence that the availability of guns are almost entirely to blame for the nation's violence, much of his book is filled with example-after-example of familiar media-propagated scares of the 1990s along with well-researched statistics to debunk the myths. After reading the book, the pattern became clear of how the media spins its stories to make them deliberately misleading in order to sell fear and keep viewers and readers plugged in. I believe this educational experience has made me a more savvy and skeptical consumer of the news.
While Glassner's primary target in "The Culture of Fear" is the media, other groups are also shamed along the way (and they aren't all conservatives, either!) For instance, he spends a fair amount of time accusing feminists of propagating the silicone breast implant scares for symbolic gains even as study-after-study, some very large, involving tens of thousands of women showed no increased evidence of medical problems due to the implants.
One trend that I found amusing in many of the scares is that genuine experts are often ignored in the propagation of the fears. When genuine experts are consulted and disagree with the media's spin, their rational hard-facts explanations are often dismissed with a brush of the hand from the interviewer and followed by a, "but what about all the children?
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Format: Paperback
"We have the resources to feed, house, educate, insure, and disarm our communities if we resolve to do so....We can choose to redirect some...funds to combate serious dangers that threaten large numbers of people. At election time, we can choose candidates that proffer programs rather than scares." (p. 210)

With these concluding words, sociologist Barry Glassner underscores the basic premise of his book---Americans live in a culture in which extreme irrational fears are stoked while more serious (but less sexy) concerns are downplayed or ignored. Over the course of nine chapters, each focusing on a different "genre" of fear-mongering, Glassner dissects the most widely discussed terrors du jour (e.g., moral panics, violent crime, terrorism, infectious diseases like SARS, airplane crashes, etc.) and asks why it is that we tend to ignore serious, chronic, systemic problems like homelessness and malnutrition among American children in favor of flashy "threats" like West Nile Virus and school shootings.

His answer, such as it is, is that this culture of fear results from the intersection of political ideology, mass media pandering, and monomaniacal advocacy. So, for example, the obvious denominator common to all gun crimes, the relative ease with which guns can be acquired, is ignored or written-off in favor of moral or psychological explanations. That most child abuse, kidnapping, and murder occurs within the family unit gets less press than "don't talk to strangers," perhaps because we collectively fear what the examination of the "family" recommended by this data would reveal.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I knew that the media exaggerated certain situations in the news but I had no idea how far off statistically these concerns are from the truth. What this book does is not only show what the problem isn't, but what the true problems are that we need to address. The real problems are getting lost because they are more complicated than what can be said in scary sound bites and harder to solve. This book helps to put all the, supposedly, scary things into perspective. I consider myself a skeptic but I watch alot of media and some of it got by me this book helped me to sort it out.
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