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The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory [Kindle Edition]

Jesse Walker
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Jesse Walker’s The United States of Paranoia presents a comprehensive history of conspiracy theories in American culture and politics, from the colonial era to the War on Terror.

The fear of intrigue and subversion doesn’t exist only on the fringes of society, but has always been part of our national identity. When such tales takes hold, Walker argues, they reflect the anxieties and experiences of the people who believe them, even if they say nothing true about the objects of the theories themselves.

With intensive research and a deadpan sense of humor, Jesse Walker’s The United States of Paranoia combines the rigor of real history with the punch of pulp fiction.

This edition includes primary-source documentation in the form of archival photographs, cartoons, and film stills selected by the author.

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

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. --David Pitt


“A superb analysis of American paranoia…terrific, measured, objective.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“Prepare to be amazed.” (Jeet Heer, author of In Love with Art)

“Free-floating fear and half-baked ideas about what’s really going on have been a more significant part of American history than is generally accepted, according to Jesse Walker’s thorough, meticulously researched book.” (Vice)

“Oddly entertaining...Walker quickly demolishes [Richard Hofstadter’s “The Paranoid Style in American Politics]. It’s all too rare to come upon a writer willing to attack the sacred cows of the right and left with equal amounts of intelligence and flair.” (Los Angeles Times)

“First there was A People’s History of the United States. Now there’s a paranoid’s history, with Jesse Walker revealing that normal, sensible citizens have been conspiracy nuts ever since our nation’s beginning.” (Debbie Nathan, author of Sybil Exposed)

Product Details

  • File Size: 4249 KB
  • Print Length: 453 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0062135554
  • Publisher: Harper (August 20, 2013)
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #425,336 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not what I expected April 13, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book was not a comprehensive history and review of conspiracy in America. Obviously that is hard to do in just one book, but most of his chapters were wasted. It started off very interesting, discussing a lot of historical conspiracy theories starting from the dawn of the country. It gave the historical context concerning general paranoia about slavery and rebellions, Native Americans, various political conspiracies from the early presidents, etc.

However, a lot of the 20th century conspiracies had to do with movies and biographies of individuals. While movie production of various themes can indicate something about society in general, that's a pretty weak thesis. There was no link as to why these movies indicated something greater, but just talked about the movies as if they should stand alone as proof of country-wide paranoia. Also, it wasn't as if Walker used the movies with conspiracy themes as just one example of paranoia in the given era, but at parts, it seemed like entire chapters were just a movie reviews. Conspiracy movies are always popular, so I wasn't really sure how talking about dozens of individual movies had anything to do with the greater society that produced them.

Other parts of the book described the lives of cult leaders, the hypocrisy in their own teachings, and then strength of their movements. Cult leaders will always exist, and they will always have followings, some stronger than others. If cults in general were discussed as a sign of how a minority of people can be overcome with paranoia, then that'd be one thing. But the details of the lives of a few leaders who aren't very well known seems silly.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful short history of conspiracy-think in America August 29, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
An extraordinarily readable, fun skip through the marvelous history of conspiracy and paranoia in American life, from Puritan times to the present. The chapters on some lesser known conspiracy freaks read like something out of an alternate universe, and your eyes will be opened to some very subtle judgments that you yourself may have been making. Colored a bit by the author's libertarian outlook, he is open with his biases and recognizes his own susceptibility to paranoia. As a fan of Robert Anton Wilson, it was nice to see the grand old Discordian get his due, but the whole book is a delight.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars They Are All Out to Get Us September 17, 2013
You know about those fringe movements that think there are secret plots against Americans. The Illuminati are controlling everything, for instance, or there is a vast network of Satanic child abusers, or a hidden group of insiders devoted to keeping us from knowing the truth about President Obama's birth certificate. According to Jesse Walker, however, these are not fringe movements. Paranoia and fear of conspiracy plots are as American as apple pie. Such conspiracy beliefs "... have flourished not just in times of great division but in eras of relative comity. They have been popular not just with dissenters and nonconformists but with individuals and institutions at the center of power. They are not simply a colorful historical byway. They are at the country's core." That's the thesis of _The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory_ (Harper), in which Walker shows that such fears have been part of America even before there was an America. If you are looking to find who really shot Kennedy or how much the Masons are controlling the Congress, you won't find it here. Walker admits that some of the plots he describes are imaginary, but it isn't his aim to tell you which ones; conspiracies, after all, can always take in more unconfirmable territory, and no amount of evidence affects true believers. But he does give a historic insight into paranoid thinking and attempts to explain why so many of us have for centuries adopted it in many diverse styles.

Political paranoia is not manifest merely by fringes or minority groups, it's all over the place, and has been so from the beginning.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intellectual social commentary, not what I was expecting September 2, 2013
The book was well written, but more of an intellectual social commentary than I expected. There was no focus on the details of individual conspiracy theories - this is not the book for an in-depth appraisal of various conspiracy ideas. But as an introspective analysis of conspiracy theory and social paranoia as folklore, it is very interesting. The author also details how historical events like Watergate or the fall of the USSR shift the focus between the enemy outside to the enemy within, or vice versa. From Indians during colonial times through blacks and communists he discusses the various bogeymen our media have sometimes focused on throughout American history - and why, both from a historical and psychological perspective. Not at all what I expected, but still very good.
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23 of 32 people found the following review helpful
Jesse Walker holds a curious mirror up to us in this complex and fascinating book about conspiracy theories that daily make the headlines in the media and indicate a sustainable past history of how Americans fear secret cabals. It is an interesting and entertaining investigation of the core of paranoid thinking that has its beginnings centuries ago and persists to the present.

As Walker dissects our history he explains how we Americans have heard so many stories describing Nazis, communists and homosexuals nefariously and secretly trying to take over our government, our minds and our bodies to the extent that we began to see them everywhere. `In an earlier era, we feared murderous slaves and libidinous Native American kidnappers. And more recently: UFOs and satanic nursery schools. This is a book about America's demons. Many of those demons are imaginary, but all of them have truths to tell us. A conspiracy story that catches on becomes a form of folklore. It says something true about the anxieties and experiences of the people who believe and repeat it ...'

`Americans fear mobs: They are the dark force lurking inside "Enemy Below" conspiracy theories, a "primal myths". Over time, blacks, immigrant laborers and Jewish radicals have all been the protagonists in imagined "Enemy Below" conspiracy theories. A mythical group of black intellectuals called "The Organization" was said to be behind the 1965 Watts riots.'

Walker is willing to attack the sacred cows of the right and left with equal amounts of intelligence and flair. He is a tireless and thorough researcher.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars His ideology permeates and weakens the book
Some decent insights, but Walker tries to shove everything into a dubious pop-cult schematic (the Enemy Above, Below, Outside, and Within), which never works as well as he seems to... Read more
Published 11 days ago by Swift 36
5.0 out of 5 stars I Conspired with Myself to Like This Book
I’ve been reading on Facebook a lot from various conspiracy theorists. Some are so far out that I think what they are writing has to be satire or evidence of a serious mental... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Frank Scoblete author of Confessions of a Wayward Catholic
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Published 3 months ago by SkookinFL
5.0 out of 5 stars Deserving of High Praise
Despite all the alleged things this book doesn't do, what it does is more than fascinating and educational enough to earn it high praise. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Lawrence Ambrose
2.0 out of 5 stars Not Worth the Effort
The author too often gets lost in the historical trivia of what he perceives as conspiracy theorists. A real trudge.
Published 4 months ago by IAReader
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Very informative and a good read. At times I laughed and at other times I was stunned.
Published 5 months ago by ckatoxdoc
5.0 out of 5 stars it is excellent.
This book is a look at conspiracy theories as a phenomenon, NOT in an attempt to prove/disprove any particular theories. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Patrick
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Better than the truth, blame others
Published 7 months ago by LeeS
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 10 months ago by anne feldmann
3.0 out of 5 stars Details, details, details
This is more a cultural history that explains a bit why Americans are so obsessed as opposed to telling us the juicy details of individual conspiracies. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Ryan Terry Bohl
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More About the Author

Jesse Walker is the books editor of Reason magazine and the author of Rebels on the Air: An Alternative History of Radio in America. He lives in Baltimore with his wife and their two daughters.


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