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VOODOO HISTORIES: THE ROLE OF THE CONSPIRACY THEORY IN SHAPING MODERN HISTORY Hardcover – Import, 2009

3.4 out of 5 stars 82 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Like Michael Shermer in Why People Believe Weird Things (1997), or Damian Thompson in Counterknowledge (2008), Aaronovitch tackles the intriguing question of why people accept as factual things that are patently (and provably) untrue. Most of the popular conspiracy theories are here: 9/11 as an inside job; the faked moon landings; the secret Zionist world empire; the Priory of Scion’s mission to safeguard the bloodline of Jesus; the murder of Vince Foster; the noncitizenship of Barack Obama. Aaronovitch demonstrates where the theories go off the rails (the Priory of Scion was a hoax concocted in the mid-1950s, for instance), and he examines the reasons why elaborate conspiracy theories, despite being so implausibly complex, capture the imaginations of so many people. It’s due to a mixture of credulity, a lack of critical reasoning, a need for an underlying explanation for the inexplicable, and—perhaps most important—an inability to distinguish between the possible and the wildly implausible (for example, which is more likely: that astronauts actually went to the moon, or that thousands of people, including the astronauts themselves, perpetrated, and are still perpetrating, a mammoth hoax?). The author also examines the role the Internet now plays in disseminating, and lending apparent validity to, crackpot theories. The book is an evenhanded, lively, and fascinating look not just at the people who believe these theories but also at the people who promote them: the evidence manipulators, the liars, the con artists, and the almost pathetically gullible and uninformed. --David Pitt --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"Terrifying, hilarious, irreverent and addictively compelling, Voodoo Histories is an instant classic that should be read by everyone—a brilliant, witty and devastating analysis of, and guide to, the big lies of modern history by our most brilliant commentator" – Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of Young Stalin and Stalin: The Court Of The Red Tsar "A brilliant, sparkling and witty demolition of numerous conspiracy theories—not only dotty but sometimes, as in the case of the fabricated Protocols of the Elders of Zion—highly dangerous and an analysis of why otherwise intelligent people are so ready to believe in them" – Ian Kershaw, author of Hitler
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: JONATHAN CAPE; First Edition edition (2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224074709
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224074704
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,862,765 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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...
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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback
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 fail..how 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 above..how 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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Format: Hardcover
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.
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