From a prolific novelist and legal analyst, a bemused look at the hidden conspiracies threaded throughout American history—the companion volume to the History Channel show.
With the assistance of Ferrell (Tougher Times: A Practical Guide for Getting Through Them, 2009, etc.), Meltzer (The Fifth Assassin, 2013, etc.) begins by asserting that, although conspiracy theory can provide a shaky lens for examining our times, “someone must ask the hard questions, especially of our elected officials as well as powerful men who become members of so-called secret societies.” He thus advances an expansive acceptance regarding both controversial and obscure footnotes to various historical narratives, coupled with a keen sense of how a belief in conspiracies has become central to our political life. In discussing the role of the Freemasons in building the White House, plans for the Confederacy to rise again via hidden stashes of “rebel gold” or the possibility that D.B. Cooper was a disgruntled airline employee hiding in plain sight, Meltzer alludes to the kind of ramshackle yet potent cabals that animate pop-culture works like The Da Vinci Code or the National Treasure movies. (Yet the author often steps in to reject the wilder claims he encounters—e.g., that the good deeds of the Freemasons conceal “a secret core of leaders who control and guide the organization towards far darker goals.”) Regarding presidential assassinations, Meltzer first grabs the reader’s attention by asserting that without a DNA investigation, “we’ll never know for sure whether John Wilkes Booth died in 1865.” He regards the JFK assassination as so complex that he walks readers through 10 separate purported conspiracies within it. The prose is lively and casually amusing, peppered with asides regarding the sheer wackiness of these hidden tales (e.g., in his supposed quest for the Spear of Destiny, Hitler was “looking to steal a page from the super-villain playbook”), making these compact narratives seem breezily accessible but also less intellectually weighty.
Slick and engaging but lightweight—a good impulse read for fans of secret histories.