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The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory Hardcover – August 20, 2013


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (August 20, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062135554
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062135551
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #408,905 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

Review

“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)

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.

Customer Reviews

Obviously that is hard to do in just one book, but most of his chapters were wasted.
Heyyou1203
The most dangerous conspiracy theories are held by those who also hold the reins of government and the will to exercise that power.
Dave Parks
There is a whole chapter here called "Conspiracies of Angels," about sometimes elaborate schemes to do us all good.
R. Hardy

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Heyyou1203 on 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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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful By D.S. Cahr on 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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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on September 17, 2013
Format: Hardcover
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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22 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 20, 2013
Format: Hardcover
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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