An entertaining assessment of a watershed moment in American life and its lasting effect on popular culture.

BROADCAST HYSTERIA

ORSON WELLES'S WAR OF THE WORLDS AND THE ART OF FAKE NEWS

A skeptical look at the panic that might have been.

Just as literature was created the day a boy cried wolf when there was no wolf, the birth of fake news in the United States may have been Oct. 30, 1938, when a rising young radio celebrity cried Martian when there was no Martian. His name, of course, was Orson Welles (1915-1985), and he unleashed a radio production that convinced a number of people that space invaders had arrived in tiny Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, and were proceeding to burn a path of destruction along the East Coast that would shame Gen. Sherman. Listeners throughout the country fled their homes in terror—or did they? That’s the question raised in this book by Schwartz, who persuasively argues that Martian hysteria was largely a media invention. Drawing on both ratings and hundreds of archived original letters from listeners (both pro and con) addressed to the FCC and CBS, Schwartz easily dismantles the idea that Welles alarmed the nation, as most people were tuned to another station. Among actual listeners, many knew the program was fiction, either because they heard it announced as such at the beginning or because they saw through it—and loved it. Relatively few people lost their grips on reality, but the press saw them as the majority and never bothered to check if they actually were. “No journalist ever made a serious attempt to figure out how much of the country had even heard the broadcast,” writes the author, “much less how many in its audience were frightened.” Myth became hardened into fact by a popular academic study, which Schwartz reveals was largely shaped to fit an unexamined hypothesis. The author credibly shows that the problem wasn’t the fake broadcast but the fake interpretation—“a newspaper exaggeration born of haste and misunderstanding”—that chilled creative expression. Advertisers, fearful of offending audiences, wanted shows that pandered to the lowest common denominator. Welles’ first great triumph also effectively killed the golden age of radio.

An entertaining assessment of a watershed moment in American life and its lasting effect on popular culture.

Pub Date: May 5, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8090-3161-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2015

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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