A biography of Milton William Cooper (1943-2001), who inspired conspiracy cells through print publications and his radio broadcasts.
As New York magazine contributing editor Jacobson (The Lampshade: A Holocaust Detective Story from Buchenwald to New Orleans, 2010, etc.) writes, Cooper’s most widely read book, Behold a Pale Horse (1991), had existed on the edge of his consciousness for many years, as had Cooper’s radio show The Hour of the Time. Before Cooper died in a shootout with law enforcement agents at his Arizona home in 2001, Jacobson never thought to interview the conspiracist, who had developed a cult following. Eventually, though, for reasons Jacobson cannot pinpoint, he felt the call to research Cooper’s life and legacy. The author found plenty of living sources, including former wives, children, acolytes, supporters, and detractors. In addition, the author listened to hours of Cooper’s broadcasts and read millions of published words. Ultimately, given Cooper’s viewpoints and work, writing this biography must have been a difficult task; he presented as fact much that can never be proven, based to some extent on information he claims to have absorbed while in the military during the Vietnam War. Depending on the reader’s point of view on human nature, Cooper will come off as either sincere about the supposedly factual conspiracies he presented or be labeled a paranoid autodidact. What many readers will conclude: On topics from UFOs to “solving” the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Cooper reached conclusions in a fevered mind and then bent information to fit the conclusions. A temperamental man who drank heavily, assaulted at least some of his wives, lost contact with most of his children, Cooper emerges from these pages as a thoroughly unpleasant, unhappy man.
Despite Jacobson’s efforts to persuade us that Cooper’s ideas influence American politics and culture in meaningful ways, the biography seems like a lot of effort for little payoff.