Customer Reviews: Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History
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on June 24, 2010
After reading several of the negative reviews, I thought a more pointed one was needed in response to clear a few things up for those who have not read the book.

First off, the book is very well written and in a fast-paced, easy to read styles. It's not boring (regardless of agreeing with the author or not), nor is it overly long.

That being said, it brings me to my main point: this is not a scholarly, historically exhaustive work of research; it is an investigative look into how conspiracies begin and the people who latch on to them. Does that mean that it's not researched? No, there is a fairly extensive bibliography, and he has clearly documented his sources. However, it is not done in the way a historical textbook would do so -- but there again, it's not written from that point of view.

The key to remember here -- and this is for those negative reviewers who so adamantly want to hold on to their theories -- is the theme of how these theories get started, and why they become popular. This is of special interest to me because it is clear that there has to be a motivation for believing in most conspiracy theories; one has to *want* them to be true at some level for them to get off the ground, otherwise they wouldn't due to the incredible lack of factual support.

But here we come to the famous rebuttal offered up (which I have seen in the reviews here): "We are just asking questions. That's why it's a 'theory' and it's not perfect. But you have to admit that ____ and ____ don't add up!" This statement -- or a similar form -- is offered up every time a conspiracy theorist is confronted with hard facts. And this book addresses that exact issue, rather than going down the road of saying "here's this reference, and this one, and this one, and this one..." The fact is, any story in history, if viewed long enough and from enough angles (if I stand on my head and close one eye) can be a questionable occurence that looks "suspicious." I think if one investigated hard enough, they could probably find evidence suggesting that the NFL is fixed, politicians are really aliens, the military is spying on cats, that Jews are actually Chinese and that your own Mom is not who she says she is.

For those of us who have actually held a security clearance and worked in government, however, this book is quite refreshing and right on the money -- as much as we would like everyone to believe that we can pull off some grand conspiracy and keep huge secrets, we're just not that capable. Really, I wish it were different.

And to answer the question of why I gave it four stars instead of five,'s not that it wasn't good, I just save the five-star rating for something that really sets my hair on fire. If I throw those things out with every book I like, it hurts the credibility of the rating system. That's how I roll.
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VINE VOICEon December 4, 2010
The author, a journalist, recounts a number of leading conspiracy theories, rebuts them, and exposes their common themes. With respect to some conspriacies -- such as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (the alleged Jewish conspiracy for world domination) -- he absolutely obliterates them with great panache. Others -- such as the Kennedy Assassination theories -- he rebuts in a more cursory fashion. What unites the conspiracy theories is part resentment of shadowy elites, part desire to explain the failure of one's own political movement to succeed, and part a desire to impose some rational explanation on random acts of evil or misfortune.

Conspiracy theories show staying power by defining some event as logically impossible -- for example the magic bullet that hit Kennedy and Connolly or the inability of Marilyn Monroe's body to absorb the amount of barbituates found in her or the lack of wreckage resembling an airplane by the Pentagon on 9/11. Such an impossible fact justifies conspiracy proponents to reject the conventional explantion and to propose all sorts of wild alternative theories. Such theories are resistant even to an attack on the core -- such as evidence showing that Oswald did not have to be a particularly great shot to hit Kennedy and that the path of the bullet does have a rational explanation. Such attacks involve too many details and complexities, thereby allowing the conspiracy proponent to refuse to see their truth.

This is interesting as far as it goes. But instead of exploring the reasons in human nature, politics, and history for such conspiracy theories, Aaronovitch just keeps jumping to new conspiracies and saying the same thing. Thus, the book does become a bit tiresome after a while.
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on September 22, 2013
The book does pretty much what it sets out to do: It first highlight how a conspiracy theory works, the "experts" that are not, the heavily edited blurbs from other sources, and way they quote other like-minded authors in a "you scratch mine I will scratch yours" way, and the provocative language choices. More over how theorists fell they are in a special club with insights that are too "powerful" or "large" for us lessers. It mentions some attempted conspiracies that failed utterly..Watergate and Iran/Contra, and asks the logical question: If these smaller scale attempts does one create a world spanning conspiracy? It than delves into some of the most widely circulated myths and theories. If you read the poor reviews you notice EXACTLY what I listed it is a propaganda book by "them" to keep you from seeing "THE TRUTH"..Its great that people want to feel powerful and special and different and in the know..and conspiracy theory lets people do it without actually having to LEARN anything, or face reality. Its a good read for anyone that wants to think like a grown up, and look past slick words and stapled together facts
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I bought this review primarily on the basis of the review by "H.Josson". No-one in their right mind could write a review along the lines of the book being "delusional [and] lazy" (it simply isn't). The reviewer's hysterical reaction to what is a well-written and thought-provoking (if very depressing) book simply doesn't stack up. Why would a reviewer buy an early copy of this book - write a review which is borderline out-of-control and put their rantings up on Amazon UK and US? Could it be that Mr Aaronovitch has written this review himself? It has all the hallmarks of what he himself describes: ignore facts and focus on specious rumour, "no-one understands the secret mysteries as I do because I have special insights", throw mud at objective analysis to distract attention from the reviewer's own fantasies and, of course, the throw-away line "as crooked as a banker". This resonates with the anti-semitism described in Chapter One of the book, where the Jews were blamed for all the evils of the world. (I'm not defending the bankers here, but "crooked as a banker" is just so tacky!) If H.Josson is David Aaronovitch, it makes a very good conspiracy - unfortunately seen through rather quickly by the raft of comments on the review on Amazon UK.

The book is well-documented and the sources are of real writers, not, as in the case of the usual conspiracy-revealers, all referring to other "famous conspiracy experts".

My own view is that it is an extremely thoughtful explanation of why the gullible lock on to secret mysteries, conspiracies and insights and avoid any historical analysis, belying any familiarity with reality and current affairs or historical occurrences. The twelve selected conspiracies are all cogently explained and the psychological analysis of why the sad/gullible choose conspiracy over the most likely explanation (Ockham's razor) is depressingly rational. There are no shortage of people in the world who would rather believe fantasy over reality and, I suppose, for that reason alone I gave the book four stars. It presents a very sad, but convincing truth.

If you want to understand why people believe complete eyewash, this book is a very good place to start.
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on April 4, 2013
I've been investigating belief in things like urban legends and various types of folklore for a number of years. When I read through this book, a lot of things I'd been working on coalesced into a more coherent theory. Aaronovitch's assertion that people accept conspiracies because they can't accept randomness, or that the actions of someone like a lone gunman (i.e. the Kennedy assassination) could take down a beloved public figure. Instead, they need an "Agency," a rational actor of some type, as explanation. For many people, it's far easier to believe in an organized, underground movement with rational (albeit often evil) goals than to accept that many events happen spontaneously, or are orchestrated by a small number of very committed people without being part of a larger, overarching "master plan."

The author presents solid research, well documented example cases, and copious references supporting his thesis. This isn't an academic work, but is entertaining and extremely readable.

Aaronovitch is also dead correct that conspiracy buffs are highly selective (I'm being kind: were I not, I'd simply call them dishonest) when it comes to evidence. If something supports their belief, it's valid. If it does not, it's either "part of the conspiracy" or is hailed as proof of how pervasive and successful the conspiracy has been. Conspiracies are, in this respect, "self sealing." They are proof against contradictory evidence, because the believer simply dismisses anything they don't like.

I suspect the low reviews are primarily from those whose worldview is challenged by books like this, and who cannot stomach rational research that fails to support their existing confirmation biases. Or they simply haven't read the book, which is evident by some of the false assertions these reviewers make.

This is the real deal. Read it and enjoy.
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on August 28, 2012
"I have written this book because I believe that conspiracies aren't powerful. It is instead the idea of conspiracies that has power." This comes at the end of this superb and reality-grounded book about various conspiracy theories over the past century. The author demonstrates something that will surprise many readers: some of the wackiest conspiracy theories are not circulated by toothless hicks holed up in a log cabin, but often by well-educated types who ought to know better. The classic case: in the 1930s it was the German intelligentsia, much more than the average people, who bought into the Jewish conspiracy theories that fed the Nazi movement. In our own day are the 9/11 "Truthers," a group that has enlisted numerous celebrities. Then there are the types who can't quite believe that The Da Vinci Code is just a novel, but that there really was a conspiracy to cover up the "real" Jesus. Gore Vidal, who died recently, was an immensely talented writer, yet he never met a conspiracy theory he didn't love--how ironic that this outspoken atheist who hated the Christians' "superstition" was prey to every loopy conspiracy theory in the world.

And what is the attraction of a conspiracy theory? Boosting one's self-esteem, mainly. The believer in a conspiracy sees what most people miss, reads the secret meanings in things--or so he believes. Put another way, they impose meaning and order on a world that often seems random and messy and unexplainable. As one example, when any celebrity dies young, some nut group will be certain to say it was due to a conspiracy--consider JFK, Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana, etc. And speaking of JFK, the author reminds us that a common feature of presidential assassination (and attempts) is one wacky gun-man acting alone--Lee Harvey Oswald, John Wilkes Booth, John Hinckley, Squeaky Frome, etc. JFK was assassinated by Communist cuckoo Oswald, yet thousands, maybe even millions of people are certain there had to be sinister forces at work, pulling string behind the scenes and setting up Oswald as the fall guy. Reality is messy and full of unsolved puzzles--conspiracy theories help to make sense out of a jumble of unrelated data.

I would heartily recommend this book to any poor deluded soul who is hooked on The Protocol of the Elders of Zion or who is sure Princess Diana was killed due to a royal plot. I doubt those people would read something that so thoroughly demolishes their fantasies. For those of us who are not into conspiracy theories, it is a very entertaining look at how seemingly intelligent people can let themselves be sucked into a whirlpool of irrationality. By the time you finish this, you will probably have very little respect for "public opinion."
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on June 6, 2016
“Occam's Razor,” a maxim that urges acceptance of the simplest and least convoluted solution to problems is often used to counter unorthodox claims. Often times it has utility and makes for good commonsense. However, the maxim is often over used. Simple explanations don't always work for the very simple reason that sometimes the reason things are the way they are is because they are not simple or ordinary. David Aaronovitch in Voodoo Histories: The role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History seems to apply Occam's Razor to every conspiracy he examines. He consistently attempts to debunk every conspiracy, but that like a dull knife the “Razor” leaves many rough edges. It is a transparent exercise in which the author seeks to counter the conspiracy theorists in an ad hominem attack using tidbits of psychology to explain why they think as the do! In an earlier writing—my book, Ethical Empowerment: Virtue Beyond the Paradigms, I remarked that “Aaronovitch has written a good book” before launching into my critique. However, having had the opportunity to reread Voodoo Histories I feel I was too generous. His one-sided effort—while seemingly but disingenuously opening the book with a semblance of balance—comes off more like a diatribe than an objective treatment on the subject of conspiracy theory.

The most telling example of Aaronovitch's argument is his discussion of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Stalin's kangaroo trials of Trotskyites in the 1930s. The Protocols were, in fact, the work of Piotr Ivanovich Rachkovsky, head of the Russian secret service in Paris, and used Jews as scapegoats in order too distract the Russian people from the Czar's domestic problems. Similarly, Stalin's phony charges against the Trotskyites was part of the prelude to Stalin's mass murders and executions. Aaronovitch uses the Protocols and the Trotsyite trials as examples of false conspiracies and, indeed, they were. Both were entirely fabricated. However, the irony is that they were both government sanctioned conspiracies! The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was a forgery and a devastating conspiracy against worldwide Jewry. And the fabricated Trotskyite trials were a Stalinist conspiracy against political opponents and, by extension, millions of Russians. Thus, while Aaronovitch represents these as examples of false conspiracies they may well be the clearest examples that exist of governmental orchestrations of conspiracy.

The McCarthy era witch hunt in the United States in the 1950s can be viewed in he same way. Aaronovitch, using Occam's razor, shows that the accusations of broad-scale treachery of American citizens on behalf of the Soviet Union was largely false, and the ruination of careers and reputations was one of the lowest and most shameful periods of American history. Indeed, the internal conspiracy against the United States did not exist. However, there was a conspiracy. And, once again, it was orchestrated by elements of the U.S. Government: the House Committee on Un-American Activities and Joseph McCarthy's Senate Committee. Here again, Aaronovitch sees the alleged conspiratorial targets largely perpetrated by governmental agencies as examples of false conspiracy. But somehow, the conspiratorial activities of the governmental organs or agencies that made the false accusations escaped the mark or stigma of conspiracy.

Predicably, Aaronovitch dismisses the JFK assassination and the 9-11 conspiracy theories, and many others. The focus seems to be that there is no credible evidence, so those who harbor conspiratorial beliefs think the way they do because—for various reasons, help them cope with the stresses of modern society and culture. His categorical dismissal is, in my view, a patently weak and even reactionary attitude. I was very interested to notice that Aaronovitch does not—I believe—even mention the Vietnam War. You know the one, the war in which the “Pentagon Papers” discovered and released by Daniel Ellsberg revealed untruths and fabrications that dramatically escalated the conflict. Far more American soldiers died in Vietnam than on 9/11. It has been conclusively demonstrated that governmental orchestrations of conspiracies have occurred. Regarding 9/11, I strongly encourage the reader to view 9/11 Explosive Evidence – Experts Speak Out produced by Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth. Originally broadcast on PBS, the documentary film is readily available and viewable online.

Voodoo Histories is not a terrible book. It is well written and packed with a lot of information. But the psychological explanations of conspiracy theorists significantly compromise and skew the book's objectivity.
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on February 8, 2010
Ignore the reviewers who gave this book one star - they're conspiracy kooks who have not read the book. I have and it's brilliant.

A fabulous book that exposes the uproarious and troubling lapses of reason that bedevil American political culture. This is a lively look at conspiracy theories from Pearl Harbor to 9/11, from the assassination of Kennedy to the death of Diana.

Essential Reading.
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on June 3, 2012
There are those who believe in conspiracy theories and those, like me, who do not. As a non-believer I see something enviable in the ability to believe that events can be so easily controlled, in the sunny optimism of those who think the world would be going their way were in not for those darn conspirators mucking things up for everyone. More often I just long to tell the believer to please, shut up. At last, we non-believers have a book that is one long "Shut Up!"

David Aaronovitch's Voodoo Histories tackles everything from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion to Who Killed Diana to 9/11 "truth" seekers. He is thorough, rationale and witty in examining, explaining and demolishing conspiracy theories past and present.

Many is the time, usually trapped in a limo to the airport, when I have wondered how anyone (namely the driver of said limo) could believe, for example, that the legendary island of Atlantis is submerged in the Hudson River and that this is why New York City is the capital of the world. Aaronovitch's theory is that belief in conspiracy theories offers two benefits: 1) the believer knows something the rest of the world does not and is therefore superior; and 2) the theories offer a comforting explanation for the occurrence of something they wish hadn't happened. Not unlike a three year old claiming their imaginary friend knocked over the glass of milk. So whether it's one side claiming an election was stolen (how else to explain people voting for a candidate you don't like?) or another side claiming the elected candidate isn't actually a citizen (he's not a candidate, he's a conspiracy!), these theories offer a weird comfort against unpleasant reality.

The chapters on the Protocols and the Moscow Trials are solid but perhaps a bit slow if you aren't a history buff. Stay the course, because Aaronovitch really hits his stride in his chapter-long take-down of Holy Blood, Holy Grail. Truly laugh out loud funny and informative. Learning that the Priory of Sion, like NY gubernatorial candidate Jimmy McMillan, were motivated by a conviction that the "rent is too damn high" has made my year.

The book covers the all four basic categories of conspiracies: 1) Things that were planned in advance for profit (Both World Wars, most terrorist attacks); 2) Groups that are planning to take over the world but can't keep a secret (the Da Vinci code, the Elders of Zion, the Super Clan); 3) People who were killed because they interfered with or knew about 1 or 2 (JFK, Hilda Murrell, Diana); 4) Aliens are responsible.

Aaronovitch's book reveals the lie of the claims that by belief in conspiracies takes courage. It doesn't take courage to believe the worst about people/groups you don't like. An entertaining, informative book. Highly recommended.
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on December 31, 2014
While I find most of this information credible the delivery is labored at best. One interminable chapter about conspiracy theories in the Soviet Union never really seems to culminate. Introductory remarks and conclusions would help, but the book drones on at a steady pace with no high points that I could see. There are better books out there and I'd advise passing this one up.
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