From Publishers Weekly
From death and disaster to dangerous technologies, the number of things out there to fear is countless, argues British historian Bourke (An Intimate History of Killing
), who surveys a pitted landscape of dread and panic over the past two centuries in this imaginative social, psychological and cultural history. She traces how what we fear changes over time as a function of broader social anxieties and stresses. In the hierarchical Britain of the early 20th century, for instance, a lower-class accent was regarded with unparalleled horror; today, no one cares. The Victorians were terrified of sudden, natural death; today, at a time when people worry about "the excessive prolongation of life after all pleasure has been removed," being killed instantly and without warning is for many the preferred way to go. For us, the most feared thing of all is the terrorist, the "equivalent to the plague of earlier times or the Satan of religion." Though Bourke performs sterling service, painstakingly picking over usually bypassed sources and materials for hidden clues as to what scares us, she indulges the fashionable fallacy that because some fears—of terrorism, for example, since 9/11—have been exaggerated and even occasionally exploited, there is therefore nothing at all to fear but, presumably, fear itself. (June)
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"ÝBourke raises a wry, cool eyebrow at the hyperbole of hysteria. She assesses risk rather than quavers before it. She puts fear in its proper place--as part of our pattern of life. . . . This is a journey full of wit and scholarship, an enthralling read that makes you inspect your own psyche. . . . Turn inwards and you may never be quite so afraid again."