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Book review: The United States of Paranoia

I have been enjoying historian Jesse Walkers’s new book, The United States of Paranoia: a Conspiracy Theory. If I had to choose just one sentence to characterize the main thesis of the book, I would choose:

In America, it is always a paranoid time.

The reference is to Richard Hofstadter’s influential article in Harper’s Magazine, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” Hofstadter suggested that belief in conspiracy theories was more prevalent on the right than on the left, and less so among the well-educated. Walker takes issue with this characterization of the conspiracy theorist, pointing out several counterexamples. His view is that belief in conspiracies is the norm in America rather than aberration and that it characterizes all social strata. His examples stretch back before the American Constitution. He also debunks some popular stories that I think most Americans (myself included) believe.

Conspiracy theories have been embraced by journalists and congressmen, and even Timothy Dwight, President of Yale University, denounced the Illuminati as a threat to chastity. If you like to know tidbits from the underbelly of American history, here you may find things of interest.

There are also a few pages about birthers towards the end.

I’m still reading, and perhaps I will update the article from time to time.

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16 Responses to Book review: The United States of Paranoia

  1. avatar
    ZixiOfIx September 23, 2013 at 2:14 am #

    The United States of Paranoia is on my reading list and I plan to finish it before the end of the year if “they” allow it 🙂

    In a similar vein, Jon Ronson’s Them: Adventures with Extremistsis a fascinating book. Ronson goes to great lengths to get to know various conspiracy minded people on a personal basis and to see what makes them tick.

    Michael Shermer’s Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time is a great book as well.

  2. avatar
    Foggy September 23, 2013 at 7:07 am #

    Y’all are conspiring to get me to read some a these books, aren’t you?

    But it won’t work ‘cuz I have no time for such things. I’m a licensed health insurance agent now, getting ready for the first enrollment period in ObamaCare. My wife and I aren’t just going to be witnesses to history this time around; we’re going to be participants. Today I’m finishing my training for the federal marketplace. See ya on the other side, kids!

  3. avatar
    Bob September 23, 2013 at 8:44 am #

    Here is a half-hour interview with the author:

    ☞LINK

  4. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy September 23, 2013 at 4:02 pm #

    I read one of his books–perhaps this one. It was quite interesting

    ZixiOfIx: In a similar vein, Jon Ronson’s Them: Adventures with Extremistsis a fascinating book. Ronson goes to great lengths to get to know various conspiracy minded people on a personal basis and to see what makes them tick.

  5. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy September 23, 2013 at 4:05 pm #

    Bless your heart. What you could do is advertise that you can sell folks a policy that exempts them from Obamacare. You can say that if they buy the policy, they don’t have to sign up for health care exchanges, and that they are exempt from the death panels.

    Foggy: Y’all are conspiring to get me to read some a these books, aren’t you?
    But it won’t work ‘cuz I have no time for such things. I’m a licensed health insurance agent now, getting ready for the first enrollment period in ObamaCare. My wife and I aren’t just going to be witnesses to history this time around; we’re going to be participants. Today I’m finishing my training for the federal marketplace. See ya on the other side, kids!

  6. avatar
    Joey September 23, 2013 at 4:42 pm #

    I wanna be on a death panel. How do you get that job!

  7. avatar
    Andrew Vrba, PmG September 23, 2013 at 6:25 pm #

    Joey:
    I wanna be on a death panel. How do you get that job!

    I’d love to see Michael J Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett be a death panel. That would totally be the death panel I would want!

  8. avatar
    justlw September 23, 2013 at 9:10 pm #

    Andrew Vrba, PmG: I’d love to see Michael J Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett be a death panel. That would totally be the death panel I would want!

    Only Kevin represented here, but:

    http://i.minus.com/ilOFdU.gif

  9. avatar
    Andrew Vrba, PmG September 24, 2013 at 12:18 am #

    Not good enough! 😉

  10. avatar
    The Magic M September 24, 2013 at 9:03 am #

    justlw: http://i.minus.com/ilOFdU.gif

    Where’s that one from? Looks fun.

  11. avatar
    Andrew Vrba, PmG September 24, 2013 at 9:50 am #

    The Magic M: Where’s that one from? Looks fun.

    I can’t remember, but the exchange begins with Joel asking Crow what he wants for Christmas.

  12. avatar
    The Magic M (not logged in) September 24, 2013 at 2:23 pm #

    I didn’t mean the episode but the series. *oops*
    But googling “Joel Crow” I found MST3K – had heard of it but never saw it before. 🙂

  13. avatar
    Kiwiwriter September 24, 2013 at 5:46 pm #

    Joey:
    I wanna be on a death panel. How do you get that job!

    Vote early and often…and remember, the people you send to death, you can vote as them in the next election!

  14. avatar
    Andrew Vrba, PmG September 24, 2013 at 8:37 pm #

    The Magic M (not logged in):
    I found MST3K – had heard of it but never saw it before.

    I…I read that post, but…It somehow seems…wrong!

  15. avatar
    justlw September 25, 2013 at 12:13 pm #

    Andrew Vrba, PmG: I…I read that post, but…It somehow seems…wrong!

    Get this man 120 min of Pumaman, stat!

  16. avatar
    Andrew Vrba, PmG September 25, 2013 at 12:17 pm #

    justlw: Get this man 120 min of Pumaman, stat!

    After we get him stabilized, we need 30ccs of Rifftrax shorts.