Synopses & Reviews
A history of America's demons
1693: Cotton Mather suggests that the spirits attacking Salem are allied with the colony's human enemies. At their "Cheef Witch-meetings," he writes, "there has been present some French canadians, and some Indian Sagamores, to concert the methods of ruining New England."
1835: A gunman tries to kill Andrew Jackson. The president accuses a senator of plotting the assassination. Jackson's critics counter that the shooting was arranged by the president himself to gain public support.
1868: An article in the New-York Tribune declares that the Democrats have engineered malaria outbreaks in the nation's capital, pumping "the air, and the water, and the whisky of Washington full of poison."
1967: President Lyndon Johnson asks his cabinet if the Communists are behind the country's urban riots. The attorney general tells him that the evidence isn't there, but Johnson isn't convinced.
Conspiracy theories aren't just a feature of the fringe. They've been a potent force across the political spectrum, at the center as well as the extremes, from the colonial era to the present. In The United States of Paranoia, Jesse Walker explores this rich history, arguing that conspiracy stories should be read not just as claims to be either believed or debunked but also as folklore. When a tale takes hold, it reveals something true about the anxieties and experiences of those who believe and repeat it, even if the story says nothing true about the objects of the theory itself.
In a story that stretches from the seventeenth century to today, Walker lays out five conspiracy narratives that recur in American politics and popular culture. With intensive research and a deadpan sense of humor, The United States of Paranoia combines the rigor of real history with the punch of pulp fiction.
"Walker (Rebels on the Air) has clearly been taking notes as book editor for Reason magazine. Here he puts his journalistic and investigative skills to work in a superb analysis of American paranoia; fear of others and ourselves, he argues, has been a part of our national make-up since the country's very inception. Walker smartly avoids taking sides after all, 'the world is filled with plots both petty and grand.' Instead, he corrals conspiracy theories into five stables: those dealing with the perceived enemy within (e.g., militia and hate groups); the enemy outside (e.g., al-Qaeda); the enemy above (e.g., the Illuminati); and the enemy below (e.g., the Occupy movement). The fifth category relates to theories of a so-called benevolent conspiracy, which assume that someone or something is working for the betterment of humanity. In some cases these categories overlap: Native Americans and colonists, for example, each viewed the other as the enemy outside. Walker's means of attack are ingenious, and they allow him to make his points succinctly, often using popular films, like Rambo, to illustrate his points and add weight to his arguments. It all adds up to a terrific, measured, objective study of one of American culture's most loaded topics. 18 b&w illus. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Jesse Walkers The United States of Paranoia
presents a comprehensive history of conspiracy theories in American culture and politics, from the colonial era to the War on Terror.
The fear of intrigue and subversion doesnt exist only on the fringes of society, but has always been part of our national identity. When such tales takes hold, Walker argues, they reflect the anxieties and experiences of the people who believe them, even if they say nothing true about the objects of the theories themselves.
With intensive research and a deadpan sense of humor, Jesse Walkers The United States of Paranoia combines the rigor of real history with the punch of pulp fiction.
This edition includes primary-source documentation in the form of archival photographs, cartoons, and film stills selected by the author.
About the Author
Jesse Walker is the books editor of Reason magazine and the author of Rebels on the Air: An Alternative History of Radio in America. He lives in Baltimore with his wife and their two daughters.