- File Size: 1186 KB
- Print Length: 429 pages
- Publisher: Random House (September 5, 2017)
- Publication Date: September 5, 2017
- Sold by: Random House LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B004J4WNJE
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Not Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #33,416 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
|Print List Price:||$18.00|
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Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History Kindle Edition
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“A frighteningly convincing and sometimes uproarious picture of a country in steep, perhaps terminal decline that would have the founding fathers weeping into their beards.”—The Guardian
“A spirited, often entertaining rant against things as they are.”—Kirkus Reviews
“A provocative new study of America’s cultural history . . . In this absorbing, must-read polemic, Andersen exhaustively chronicles a development eating away at the very foundation of Americanism.”—Newsday
“Andersen exhaustively explores with wit and extensive research.”—HuffPost
“A staggering amount of research that’s both compelling and totally unnerving.”—The Village Voice
“A stunning, sweeping explanation of how we got to Trump . . . the most important book that I have read this year.”—Lawrence O’Donnell, MSNBC
“This is a blockbuster of a book. Kurt Andersen is a dazzling writer and a perceptive student of the many layers of American life. Take a deep breath and dive in.”—Tom Brokaw
“This is an important book—the indispensable book—for understanding America in the age of Trump. It’s an eye-opening history filled with brilliant insights, a saga of how we were always susceptible to fantasy, from the Puritan fanatics to the talk-radio and Internet wackos who mix show business, hucksterism, and conspiracy theories. Even the parts you think you know already are put into an eye-opening context.”—Walter Isaacson, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Leonardo da Vinci
“Kurt Andersen is America’s voice of reason. What is he—Canadian? The people who should read this book won’t—because it’s a book—but reality-based citizens will still get a kick out of this winning romp through centuries of American delusion.”—Sarah Vowell
“Fantasyland presents the very best kind of idea—one that, in retrospect, seems obvious, but that took a seer like Kurt Andersen to piece together. The thinking and the writing are both dazzling; it is at once a history lesson and an oh-so-modern cri de coeur; it’s an absolute joy to read and will leave your brain dancing with excitement long after you’re done.”—Stephen Dubner
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Fantasyland is, as the subtitle says, a 500-year history of the United States, recounted through a particular prism, and I find the thesis convincing and compelling. Andersen's premise is that from colonial days on, America, unlike Europe, has been shaped by people who have been divorced from reality, whether through religious fanaticism (think the Puritans) or prospects of riches (think the Roanoke colony or Jamestown settlers). And that tenacious grip on fantasy over fact has largely guided our nation's history, with new examples emerging in every era. In the aggregate, this elevation of the impossible, the absurd and the unsubstantiated, has repeatedly destroyed lives and gotten us to the sorry place we are today, where the holder of the highest office in the land routinely lies and gets away with it.
Fantasyland won't sit well with people who are deeply religious, as some of the other reviews suggest. Andersen takes repeated and precise aim at mainstream religion, as well as fringe sects like Mormonism and Scientology, He traces how various extreme elements and beliefs have come to influence politics, culture and education, among others. And he doesn't cut New Agey sorts any slack, either. But for those of us who reside mainly in the reality-based community, who believe in science and empirical evidence and view religious documents like the Bible as metaphorical, not literal, it is an important and valuable analysis of how we have come to the current pass.
Andersen is a gifted writer, and the book is often entertaining, although also alarming, especially as the narrative creeps up on the current disaster-in-chief and those who continue to support him, against all evidence. It is also a bit scholarly, in that he documents his sources, and sometimes gives more detail than you might want on certain topics.
But if you care about America and wonder how we've reached the point where intelligent, educated people nonetheless willfully ignore evidence and the weight of science, then Fantasyland will likely shed some light.
Five stars because it's a well-written and important book.
Seemingly every wacky episode in American history is included in Mr. Andersen's book. You'll find the Salem witch hunts of old, and the modern witch hunts accusing day care workers of ritual Satanic child abuse. Explorers looking for gold, and modern investors falling for get-rich schemes are in here. Gun rights advocates who fantasize about everyday citizens blowing criminals and terrorists to kingdom-come get a chapter. The beliefs of religious systems are a constant underlying theme of the book, and politicians and their antics are fully examined under the author's microscope. "Squishies, cynics and believers," the author calls us.
For the most part, the author takes a neutral tone as he examines his fellow Americans (although his disdain for people of faith becomes tiresome). But toward the end of the book, he starts to insert himself into the narrative. Bringing up Jodi Dean, a political scientist and professor at Hobart and William Smith, he calls out her "enthusiasm for untruths and her contempt for reason." "Dean celebrates practically every attitude and approach that appalls me," he writes. From then on, I noticed more of a judgmental attitude on the part of Mr. Andersen. I'm fine with him getting all judgy; it's just something I noticed. And I fully agree with his observation -- by examining the adult population that is besotted by Disney World -- that American adults have become increasingly infantalized, with their penchant for Halloween dress-up and their preference for created worlds rather than the real thing. (My spouse and I once took family members to England, and as we walked the streets of Castle Combe, surrounded on all sides by ancient, thatched-roof cottages, half-timbered houses and pretty English gardens, they exclaimed, "It's just like Epcot!" Sigh.)
In structure, the book is like 46 condensed theses strung together into book form. That's not a bad thing. It makes it easy to read and to consider the thoughts of each brief chapter. And, fortunately, the author is a much breezier writer than your standard issue academic. His prose is direct and easy to read, and he quotes other writers, philosophers, theologians and politicians extensively, which brings a breadth to his narrative that I appreciated. So, my fellow Americans, dig in and enjoy your whirlwind tour through Fantasyland!
Top international reviews
Kurt's book is an entertaining, wonderfully-written exploration of this thesis. He makes the case that this attitude is the core of what it is to be American. Is it?
America is, by far, the most "Christian" nation on Earth. Christianity is the ultimate conspiracy theory whose heroes are lionized precisely because they challenge "the establishment". They find their own truth. They know it's true because of "faith", not facts. By nature of its internal logic, it tends to become "establishment", then endlessly spin-off "anti-establishment" clones of itself, each "crazier than thou". Ultimately, we wind up with Mormonism, Scientology, and President Donald Trump.
The account makes sense as far as it goes, but, in the interests of keeping to his theme, perhaps Anderson is guilty of a bit of cherry picking. By his own statistics, belief in crazy religion and politics is strongly correlated with being white and uneducated. Religion of any kind, let alone he kooky versions, are not appealing to young college graduates. It is more accurate to speak of polarization than a hopeless slide into fantasy. Right now, the lunatics have taken over the asylum, but there are powerful counter-trends that deserve a book of their own.
The dark influence of kooky religions is the rule rather than the exception around the world. Viewed from a historical perspective, there is little to chose between Christianity, Islam, and Judaism as depicted in the Old Testament. One is tempted to think that magical, counter-factual thinking is the natural state of mankind. Paying attention to the actual facts is difficult and often unpleasant. It is hard to find a place or period in history when "fake news" did not have a powerful effect on public opinion. Napoleon, for example, was famous for ensuring his own version of the facts were the ones that became common knowledge and, ultimately, history.
I'm also reminded of The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone which documents the fact that we over-estimate what we really "know" about the world, whether we are hard-core "realists" or babbling charismatics. Anderson takes for granted that the vast majority of Americans (or any human beings) have access to some kind of objective reality. In fact, the dreadful American educational system guarantees that the average American has no idea of what a "fact" would look like. It is certainly worth asking if America's terrifying slide off the rails is due to its inability to think clearly as it is to its obsession with entertainment. Anderson ignores the fact that the Internet has also become a fire-hose of actual, factual information as well as a siren call for lazy people seeking confirmation bias. It's too early to say whether the Internet is a cancer or a cure.
All this is not to say that Anderson's book is not worth reading. America does have a case to answer for its deliberate, active and often enthusiastic attack on those whose professional careers depend on adding to our store of objective truth. To cite one small example: all candidates for the Republican presidential nomination either denied evolution or allowed belief to be optional - a matter of opinion. From this denial flows denial of biology, chemistry, geology, astronomy, and physics. In fact, all of science. It is a claim that each of us is entitled to his own facts.
What Anderson seems to miss is that Trump and the Republicans are a laughing stock in the rest of the world and an embarrassment to the majority of Americans. There is nothing inevitable about America's current slide into the morass of "alternate facts".