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Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History 1st Edition
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*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
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This book is well-written, and compelling in its information, but the closer it got to the current, the harder it was to see if case of effects of conspiracy where actually as strong as his early examples. Furthermore, his case seems to be lost in the details of the conspiracies themselves and by maintaining a kind of political center that may not be entirely warranted.
• Outstandingly well-written and researched
• Peppered liberally with acerbic wit (my favorite kind)
• Near-encyclopedic coverage of about a dozen popular conspiracy theories
• Misleading sub-title
• Near-encyclopedic coverage of about a dozen popular conspiracy theories
Do buy this book if you need a thorough – and I mean THOROUGH – reference work on the following conspiracy theories:
• Protocols of the Elders of Zion
• Moscow show trials
• Pearl Harbor as an inside job
• McCarthy’s Red Scare
• JFK’s assassination
• Marilyn Monroe’s “murder”
• Princess Diana’s “murder”
• Hilda Murrell’s “murder”
• Jesus’ descendants
• 9/11 Truthers
• Dr. David Kelly’s “murder”
• Vince Foster’s “murder”
• The Birther movement
Don’t buy this book if you’re looking for an easy-to-digest overview of conspiracy theories and/or an explanation of how they have shaped modern history (as promised by the book’s sub-title). Aside from an excellent Stephen Ambrose quote on the very last page of the book, Mr. Aaronovitch barely even makes an attempt to show how conspiracy theories do anything other than inform, and perhaps beget, other conspiracy theories.
To summarize: Despite the author’s often searing humor, which I enjoyed immensely, I still had a hard time slogging through this book because of the high volume of minutia he elected to include. In the first chapter, for instance, he provides the names of, and considerable background information about, every soul who had a hand in creating, modifying, promoting, debunking, and rejecting the debunking of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Therefore, I’d recommend this book primarily as a reference work.
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, well...it'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.