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Strange Days Indeed: The 1970s: The Golden Days of Paranoiaby Francis Wheen
"Wheen's anecdotes are crisply told, often terrifying, and usually amusing — as when he describes the 1974 meeting that Britain's most powerful civil servant, Sir William Armstrong, held with his underlings, where, naked, he ranted that the end of the world was nigh." Michael Moynihan, The Wilson Quarterly (Read the entire Wilson Quarterly review)
Synopses & Reviews
The 1970s were a theme park of mass paranoia. Strange Days Indeed tells the story of the decade when a distinctive paranoid style” emerged and seemed to infect all areas of both private and public life, from high politics to pop culture. The sense of paranoia that had long fuelled the conspiracy theories of fringe political groups then somehow became the norm for millions of ordinary people. And to make it even trickier, a certain amount of that paranoia was justified. Watergate showed that the governments really were doing illegal things and then trying to cover them up.
Though Nixon may have been foremost among deluded world leaders he wasnt the only one swept up in the tide of late night terrors. UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson was convinced that the security services were plotting his overthrow, while many of them were convinced he was a Soviet agent. Idi Amin and his alleged cannibalism, the CIAs role in the Chilean coup, the Jonestown cult, the Indian state of emergency from 75 to 77 and more are here turned into a delicious carnival of the deranged—and an eye-opening take on an oft-derided decade—by a brilliant writer with an acute sense of the absurd.
"The 1970s is the most deranged of decades in this rollicking, lurid retrospective. Taking Richard Nixon's paranoid persecution complex as the period's zeitgeist, Private Eye deputy editor Wheen (How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World) finds it everywhere. Along with an amusing rehash of Watergate, his panorama of '70s nuttiness encompasses conspiracy theories, Hollywood thrillers, the Baader-Meinhof gang, sci-fi novelist Philip K. Dick's letters to the FBI denouncing his literary agent as a Communist, and tawdry political intrigues in a Britain beset by strikes, power outages, IRA bombings, Trotskyist dramaturgy, and coup whisperings. Anthropomorphized, Wheen writes, the decade would be 'a meth-swilling vagrant waylaying passers-by to tell them that the Archbishop of Canterbury had planted electrodes in his brain.' Wheen thinks the period's ravings were both laughably lunatic and on to something important in a world of covert ops and oil embargoes, but his paranoia diagnosis is too pat to fully capture the politico-cultural chaos. Still, writing like Hunter S. Thompson might have had he been English and sober, Wheen offers a vivid, entertaining guide to an era of fear and loathing." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
“The author ably navigates the shattered landscape of the decade, which, for all its awfulness, has inspired a fair share of nostalgia…Literate, authentic to period detail and often entertaining.” Kirkus
“A hugely entertaining book that makes you laugh, think, and look over your shoulder — sometimes all at the same time.” Booklist
“[W]riting like Hunter S. Thompson might have had he been English and sober, Wheen offers a vivid, entertaining guide to an era of fear and loathing.” Publishers Weekly
“Wheen slathers his prose with cleverness so cheerily that you could almost forget that this was the decade of Nixon’s air war and the Khmer Rouge.” The New Republic
“[Strange Days Indeed], frames the 1970s as an era of institutional collapse, unstable officials, general irrationalism (widespread interest in UFOs, psychic phenomena, mad cults) and terror: the Irish Republican Army's bombing campaign in Britain, the Black September massacre at the Munich Olympics, the Zippy the Pinhead antics of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, and the Symbionese Liberation Army.” LA Times
A dazzling and disturbing tour of the 1970s, featuring some of the least well-balanced world leaders and would-be revolutionaries in history, told with sizzling wit and affection.
About the Author
Francis Wheen is deputy editor of Private Eye and the editor of Lord Gnomes Literary Companion, the author of the bestselling How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World and Karl Marx: A Life, and a former columnist in the London Guardian. He has contributed to Vanity Fair, the Nation, the New Yorker, LA Times, and Washington Post, and has appeared on C-SPANs Booknotes and National Public Radio.
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