An insightful and entertaining look at the demons and devils that haunt the American imagination.




A compendium of conspiracy theories in America, both past and present, and those who embrace them.

“The fear of conspiracies,” writes Reason magazine books editor Walker (Rebels on the Air: An Alternative History of Radio in America, 2001), “has been a potent force across the political spectrum, from the colonial era to the present, in the establishment as well as the extremes.” In fact, in the United States, “it is always a paranoid time.” After offering a loose categorization of conspiratorial styles—Enemy Outside, Enemy Within, Enemy Above, Enemy Below, Benevolent Conspiracy—Walker goes on to show how these paranoiac archetypes have played themselves out in American history. Early white settlers feared not just Native Americans, but a vast Indian conspiracy aided and abetted by the Catholic Church. Witches did the work of the devil in colonial New England. Mormons had an army of assassins and stole the bodies and souls of women. Walker also looks at the paranoid popular culture of the 1950s, with a look at the cult-classic film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, then it’s on to McCarthyism, African-American unrest being the product of Muslims and Marxists and, always, the influence of “outside agitators.” Then on to 9/11, the mother lode of conspiracy theories, in which anything and everything could be a terrorist plot, the “birthers,” and the idea of Barack as a socialist Muslim.To his credit, Walker does not attribute conspiracy theories to any particular political tendency, and he duly covers those who believe that the modern-day tea party, backed by a couple of rich brothers, plans to destroy America. Appropriately bemused by the weird things we will believe, Walker makes clear that if polarization and deep suspicion define our current political atmosphere, well, it’s nothing new.

An insightful and entertaining look at the demons and devils that haunt the American imagination.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-213555-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2013

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A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

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A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant.

Journalist Klein, co-founder of Vox, formerly of the Washington Post, MSNBC, and Bloomberg, reminds readers that political commentators in the 1950s and ’60s denounced Republicans and Democrats as “tweedledum and tweedledee.” With liberals and conservatives in both parties, they complained, voters lacked a true choice. The author suspects that race played a role, and he capably shows us why and how. For a century after the Civil War, former Confederate states, obsessed with keeping blacks powerless, elected a congressional bloc that “kept the Democratic party less liberal than it otherwise would’ve been, the Republican Party congressionally weaker than it otherwise would’ve been, and stopped the parties from sorting themselves around the deepest political cleavage of the age.” Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many white Southern Democrats became Republicans, and the parties turned consistently liberal and conservative. Given a “true choice,” Klein maintains, voters discarded ideology in favor of “identity politics.” Americans, like all humans, cherish their “tribe” and distrust outsiders. Identity was once a preoccupation of minorities, but it has recently attracted white activists and poisoned the national discourse. The author deplores the decline of mass media (network TV, daily newspapers), which could not offend a large audience, and the rise of niche media and internet sites, which tell a small audience only what they want to hear. American observers often joke about European nations that have many parties who vote in lock step. In fact, such parties cooperate to pass legislation. America is the sole system with only two parties, both of which are convinced that the other is not only incompetent (a traditional accusation), but a danger to the nation. So far, calls for drastic action to prevent the apocalypse are confined to social media, fringe activists, and the rhetoric of Trump supporters. Fortunately—according to Klein—Trump is lazy, but future presidents may be more savvy. The author does not conclude this deeply insightful, if dispiriting, analysis by proposing a solution.

A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0032-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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


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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