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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Often fascinating attempt to look at monsters through the lens of American history
I suppose history could be read into just about any object. Suppose someone wanted to trace American history through the common coffee cup. What would be made of the differences of the heavy, utilitarian coffee cups of the 1940s compared to the cups featuring Gary Larson cartoons so popular in the 1990s? What could we extrapolate on the ways we lived and what we believed...
Published on November 1, 2011 by W. V. Buckley

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3 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Simplistic and not incredibly thoughtful, but useful for my purposes
In a nutshell, monsters for Poole are metaphors / stand-ins for whoever is loathed or feared in a certain historical context. IE- minorities = what we are anxious about / obsessed with = the monstrous = monsters. While I appreciate and agree with his argument that monsters are "real" because their effects on history / on people's lives have been real, I dislike...
Published on November 24, 2012 by Amazon Customer


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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Often fascinating attempt to look at monsters through the lens of American history, November 1, 2011
By 
W. V. Buckley (Kansas City, MO) - See all my reviews
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I suppose history could be read into just about any object. Suppose someone wanted to trace American history through the common coffee cup. What would be made of the differences of the heavy, utilitarian coffee cups of the 1940s compared to the cups featuring Gary Larson cartoons so popular in the 1990s? What could we extrapolate on the ways we lived and what we believed during each era?

In a way, that's the task W. Scott Poole sets for himself in Monsters in America: Our Historical Obsession with the Hideous and the Haunting when he deconstructs what scares us by looking at what was happening at a specific time in our history that hid beneath the particular monster du jour. The early portions of the book - those starting with Colonial America and running through the 19th century - are especially fascinating. Maybe that's because we are further removed from the subjects of sea monsters, witches and Native American curses. But that doesn't mean theses subjects didn't scare our forefathers. Poole deftly draws lines connecting Colonial boogymen to hotbutton issues of the day like slavery, the removal and eradication of indigenous populations, and religious conflicts. Poole's scholarship allows readers to view history from new perspectives.

Where Monsters in American isn't quite as successful is in conjuring up 20th century monsters. The ideas in later chapters seem less thought-out; almost as if they were either not fully formed or had to be made to fit within the author's framework. Or possibly that monsters have been such frequent products of the modern mass media. A frequent subject in Monsters in America is the religious right. Poole defines a number of his late 20th century monsters in relation to religious conservatives of the Reagan years. Take, for example, the cultural battles over sexual and gender issues. Poole seems to think that it was during this era that right wing fears of these issues and gays and lesbians in particular produced new types of monsters. Though he cites the 1935 Universal Studios production The Bride of Frankenstein in numerous places, he fails to note its rather obvious homosexual subtext. Did he not pick up on the subtext of "homosexual as monster" in the character of Dr. Praetorius? Or did he chose to disregard it because it didn't fit his timeline?

Obviously, writing a history of this sort - whether about monsters or coffee cups - will be highly subjective. Poole has at least provided us with a fascinating starting point for looking at history through a "monstrous" lens. He's also written a book that is as understandable for academics and social scientists as it is for the causual reader. (Well, to be accurate, he does toss around words like "metanarrative" and "posthuman" in the epilogue.) For the most part I enjoyed Poole's scholarship and the conclusions he reached, even if I had to stop and scratch my head in a few places.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scarey and Meaningful for these times, April 15, 2012
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This review is from: Monsters in America: Our Historical Obsession with the Hideous and the Haunting (Hardcover)
I heard the author on Coast to Coast, and even though he had that dry, flat Midwestern accent (sort of like Margaret Hamilton in "The Wizard of Oz") I knew I had to get the book. What is it that rumbles in the American unconscious that relates to the figures we see on the screen. In his comments on the 1931 "Frankenstein" W. Scott Poole, relates that the idea of the "abnormal brain" that Fritz grabs for Henry Frankenstein being the cause of the monster's murderous mentality being a reflection of the "scientific rascism" of the day. Just about all the scarey things that crawl into popular media hail from the leaf-littered shadowy forests that haunt the American mind. The kind of monsters depends on the era. Frankenstein (1931) happens when somebody tries to make a more perfect human. Dracula (1931) is based on the fear of foreigners and disease. Newer movies like "Terminator," shows what happens when we place our trust in machines. And I don't have to mention the meaning of all the zombie movies.

This book is great if you want a good read that sorts out all the socialogical issues springing forth like new shoots under the mold of old horror movies (and like a good metaphor). It's also an easy and informative read for anybody having to to a paper on the history of race and racism and how it's reflected in the popular culture. Poole is brutally honest about the horrors of our past and how it been softened by the big (and little) screen. The book also (maybe unintentionally) has insights for every aspiring horror filmmaker.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Here Be Monsters, October 14, 2012
By 
Joseph Gagne (Sudbury, Ont, Canada) - See all my reviews
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Poole offers an insight on America's fascination with monsters. The author radically departs from the notion that monsters are a metaphor for our fears through the ages. Instead of representing the "us vs them" mentality, monsters are much closer so home: they are us. They are manifestations of our society. More than mere metaphors, they are creations of human fears and human ignorance.
Taking a rather more historical and anthropological approach to the subject matter, this book is not at all a collection of accounts of sightings. From monster movies to witch hunts, from serial killers to fossil hunting Washington, this book tries to broaden our understanding and appreciation of the very term "monster". Wonderfully engaging, Poole masterfully pushes the analysis of monsters in our society beyond the often uni-dimensional theses other authors have set. Instead of leaning on a single interpretation (such as Freudian psychology, for example), he explores a plethora of underlying sources to these monster myths and realities.
Do seek out this book in your nearest bookstore!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Will be returning to again and again, May 15, 2014
By 
Tom (Scottsdale, Arizona USA) - See all my reviews
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Poole walks readers through the American history of monsters, matching horror trends to American epochs, where it turns out our sociopolitical climate influences the monsters we laud and follow in fiction, film, and the media. His footnotes have left me with a massive pile of additional books to read. Highly recommended for horror or monster fans with an interest in American history; slightly less so for American history buffs with a hobby in monster entertainments. I took copious notes in the margins, and will be using this book frequently as I continue to work on my own YA horror fiction (e.g. "Sick," published by Abrams/Amulet).

The last chapter struck me as slightly rushed, but the content is good and conclusions solid throughout. Poole refuses to define the term "monster" from the beginning, and only in its last pages does his reason become clear. By then, readers will have been treated to a thoughtful examination of monsters in the U.S., and why and how they matter in our history. Excellent work. I would love to take one of Poole's classes.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, June 30, 2014
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This review is from: Monsters in America: Our Historical Obsession with the Hideous and the Haunting (Hardcover)
Fascinating topic!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Monsters, monsters, everywhere!, April 5, 2014
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An amazing book for anyone interested in monsters, American history, or both. Poole's theory that we create our monsters based on cultural and sociological fears and that monsters absorb meaning is highly interesting and well proved.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An Interesting Read, June 1, 2013
By 
Elaine (Silver City, NM USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Monsters in America: Our Historical Obsession with the Hideous and the Haunting (Hardcover)
This was a good book on an odd topic. It was a bit thin -- particularly on early historical events -- but very enjoyable. The author tended to repeat himself somewhat.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, November 4, 2014
This review is from: Monsters in America: Our Historical Obsession with the Hideous and the Haunting (Hardcover)
Fast and what i was expecting. Thank you!
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars W. Scott Poole and Monsters in America, September 7, 2013
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This review is from: Monsters in America: Our Historical Obsession with the Hideous and the Haunting (Hardcover)
W. Scott Poole creates a fascinating book revolving around an extremely interesting subject. He has a unique understanding of what grabs the attention and imagination of the reader. I look forward to reading his work in the future.
E. G. N. Murray
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3 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Simplistic and not incredibly thoughtful, but useful for my purposes, November 24, 2012
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This review is from: Monsters in America: Our Historical Obsession with the Hideous and the Haunting (Hardcover)
In a nutshell, monsters for Poole are metaphors / stand-ins for whoever is loathed or feared in a certain historical context. IE- minorities = what we are anxious about / obsessed with = the monstrous = monsters. While I appreciate and agree with his argument that monsters are "real" because their effects on history / on people's lives have been real, I dislike his assumption that people in the past were the obvious victims of prejudice and misplaced fear and that they were not insightful or intelligent enough to realize what they were truly afraid of. But then, I dislike any historical book that loses its sense of historical relativity as well as any book about phenomena that automatically assumes a phenomenon is false and therefore ripe for being disproved and easily rationalized away. Call me crazy, but I don't think a historian's role ought to be the reaffirmation of modern feelings of superiority over everyone else who has ever lived. (And as someone who lives with a history PhD and who briefly pursued graduate studies in history myself, I like to believe that I know from whence I speak.) That being said, however, if you are a teacher who needs to get a class full of barely literate college freshmen to understand what it means to read / think about things in historical context, Poole's introduction, "The Bloody chords of Memory," is readable and accessible even for a group of resistant and vaguely engaged (at best) 18 year olds.
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