Monsters in America: Our Historical Obsession with the Hideous and the Haunting
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Monsters in America: Our Historical Obsession with the Hideous and the Haunting

3.73 of 5 stars 3.73  ·  rating details  ·  110 ratings  ·  28 reviews
Salem witches, frontier wilderness beasts, freak show oddities, alien invasions, Freddie Krueger. From our colonial past to the present, the monster in all its various forms has been a staple of American culture. A masterful survey of our grim and often disturbing past, Monsters in America uniquely brings together history and culture studies to expose the dark obsessions t...more
Hardcover, 295 pages
Published December 15th 2011 by Baylor University Press (first published April 25th 2011)
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Andrew Bishop
An excellent history of the American obsession with monsters, Poole analyzes our religious and nationalist beliefs to see how we have dealt with the Other in our long, horrifying existence as a nation. Everything from Communists, feminists, and foreigners to Candyman, Dracula, and The Exorcist are examined for the social attitudes to evil that they illuminate (and that we may believe, consciously or subconsciously). This isn’t a book for the squeamish as Poole details how a horror film like Cand...more
Patrick Sprunger
I've had a question for a long time. When social conservatives oppose something, like - say - gay marriage, it is often on the premise that expanding liberty will somehow take something away from those currently entitled to those liberties. There isn't a clear explanation behind the complaint that the traditional institution of marriage will collapse if we allow people of the same sex to marry, but the "argument" persists.

The answer, of course, is that social issues - ranging from the culture wa...more
Sherry
Through the two and a half weeks I took with this book, I have been citing it in conversation. I found it informative, fascinating, thought-provoking and well-written. Whether your interest is literature, American history, popular culture, race and ethnicity, women's studies, or religion, you would be happy reading this book.
Sistermagpie
Pretty enjoyable read, but there was no big revelations. I think the problem was just that it covered such a lot of time--it was really just an overview, so it was impossible to really dig into different ideas. Each type of fear/monster could have been its own book (racism, slavery, war, dis-figuration, Roe vs. Wade, social upheaval etc.). In fact at times I found myself thinking about books referred to in the text that I'd read and thought how they spoke about things in more interesting ways.

I'...more
Mankey
I hated this book. It was just way too "all over the place" for me. In some ways, this felt more like a book about racism and sexism on celluloid and in politics than a book about "Monsters." I wasn't ready for the overtly sociological approach of the book, and was expecting a history, as alluded to in the title of the book. I had trouble finding a consistent narrative in a book that talked about sea monsters, Bigfoot, Universal Movie Monsters, Freak-shows, and several other topics, and never sp...more
Renee
My boyfriend handed me this book knowing I am very interested in monsters, serial killers and ghosts.

From a historic point of view this was good and well written, I enjoyed going through history of what people feared and that causing the creation of monsters from that time. He also seems to really love what he is writing about which is awesome. I do think some of his monsters are jumps, I am not convinced all monsters are just people turning their social fears of those who are "different" into s...more
Michelle
What makes a monster a monster? More importantly, what is the definition of a monster? In Monsters in America, Scott Poole asks these thought-provoking questions while traveling through American history following the evolution of the monster over time.

Separated by significant eras in American history, a reader gets a clear picture of how the definition of a monster changes depending on the cultural and political events of an era. Poole presents his findings methodically through well-documented f...more
Kristin Norton
I want to start out by saying that I absolutely love the notion behind this book. I am fiercely passionate about two things: History and Monsters. For me, there are intertwined. I love ghost stories and folklore because they reveal an aspect of history and popular thinking in an entertaining way. I was thrilled to find a book that went with that mindset.

It is hard to express what I feel upon reading this book. I wanted to like it so badly that I tried several times to read it over the course of...more
Jason Danely
Wonderful details on monsters in American media throughout our history but focusing mostly on the late 19th to 20th century. The organization is not entirely chronological, which is sometimes difficult to adjust to. It also makes it seem to be less cohesive and more a collection of several mini-analyses. Although Poole brings up and critiques several theories of monsters in the introductory chapters, I had a hard time locating an original general argument that was carried throughout the book. I...more
Ian
Reasonable survey of the "monster" in American culture. But overall, lacking in any kind of depth, and seriously flawed by the author's refusal to define the "monster," and subsequent inability to take that refusal and make it meaningful or worthy. The book covers everything from sea serpents to Elvira, and there's suggestions of deeper themes worthy of study, and most of the author's energy seems to be devoted to demonstrating extremely broad social trends (more or less organized chronologicall...more
Jessica
I want to use this book to teach a gothic American Literature class---it's that good. I connected strongly with the author's view on the creation of the American monster genre in written literature and in modern media. Well worth the read.
Anne
I used this as a textbook for a themed English course: Monsters, Myths, and Magic. The book is rich in history, pop culture references, and analysis. I found it to be a perfect model for critical thinking about the social representations of various popular monsters, and the book led to wonderful class discussions. I was pretty fascinated through this whole book. It's organized well also: a chapter on one specific type of monster and era makes for a really focused and easy to digest historical ex...more
Dan
If you view everything that has happened in the last ten thousand years as an atrocity committed by (American) White Anglo-Saxon Protestant men against the wide-eyed, helpless, innocent (and rather stupid) non-male/non-white world in a concerted race (or gender where convenient) war and stolidly ignore all contrary evidence, the world is full of monsters.

Unfortunately for W. Scott Poole, this view of history only really flies for kids and dull-witted adults.
Ryan
Jul 30, 2013 Ryan added it
A really fun journey through American history and various era's ghost and monster stories people told themselves. Linking supernatural beliefs and fears to particular social movements and historical upheavals is a clever conceit. Sometimes it feels a bit like he's reaching, or the scholarship is thin, but I didn't care. I really enjoyed this. It appealed to my horror-lover and history-lover's sides.
Maria
I think it was a well written book but I just wasn't in the right mood for it. truthfully I was just looking for a quick easy indulgent read and this book wasn't what I was looking for.So unfortunately it ended up feeling like a chore to read.Again I feel this was a book I would have appreciated had I been in the right state of mind for it.
Alexandra
The pop cultural monster (Dracula, Bigfoot, Buffy's critters, etc) as viewed through a specifically American lens. While sometimes vague, the book digs deep into cultural perceptions, and dedicates much of its narrative to 18th and 19th century views on the monstrous, and how those views have filtered into the modern world. Recommended.
James Jr.
Dec 06, 2013 James Jr. marked it as didnt-finish
I have chosen to not assign a star rating to this book because I don't feel qualified to rate it appropriately. I never finished it. I liked the idea of examining monsters in American culture (warts and all). However, the content was much more politically charged than I expected. In the end, it did not hold my interest.
Darchildre
This was actually pretty fascinating and I enjoyed what I read of it. However, I got distracted halfway through and didn't come back to it before it was due back at the library. I'll have to check it out again sometime.
Anne
Super interesting book. Overall I wish it had gone a little deeper into these issues, but looking at what kind of monster stories were popular at different times in American history is a really fascinating topic.
Leah Lucci
The premise of this book seemed really cool, but the book doesn't explain what makes American monsters that different from international monsters. Monsters seem more universal than he seems to believe.
Jessica
A very interesting look into American monster mythology. The text was occasionally a bit dry, but the subject was fascinating. Well worth a read, especially for horror, true crime, and religion buffs!
Sarah Marie
I love history, but I'm not an American History fan. This is not only one of the best American History books I have ever read, but one of the best history books I have read. Absolutely amazing!
Sean
Absolutely illuminating. I had no idea how deep the roots of horror went, or how horrifying the history of America truly was.

Required reading for horror or American history fans.
Dawn
Informative and engrossing. Couldn't put it down.
Chris Pederson
I cannot recommend this book enough.
Michaela
Michaela marked it as to-read
Jul 24, 2014
Sasha
Sasha marked it as to-read
Jul 24, 2014
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“American cold war culture represented an age of anxiety. The anxiety was so severe that it sought relief in an insistent, assertive optimism. Much of American popular culture aided this quest for apathetic security. The expanding white middle class sought to escape their worries in the burgeoning consumer culture. Driving on the new highway system in gigantic showboat cars to malls and shopping centers that accepted a new form of payment known as credit cards, Americans could forget about Jim Crow, communism, and the possibility of Armageddon. At night in their suburban homes, television allowed middle class families to enjoy light domestic comedies like The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best, and Leave It to Beaver. Somnolently they watched representations of settled family life, stories where lost baseball gloves and dinnertime hijinks represented the only conflicts. In the glow of a new Zenith television, it became easy to believe that the American dream had been fully realized by the sacrifice and hard work of the war generation.

American monsters in pop culture came to the aid of this great American sleep. Although a handful of science fiction films made explicit political messages that unsettled an apathetic America, the vast majority of 'creature features' proffered parables of American righteousness and power. These narratives ended, not with world apocalypse, but with a full restoration of a secure, consumer-oriented status quo. Invaders in flying saucers, radioactive mutations, and giant creatures born of the atomic age wreaked havoc but were soon destroyed by brainy teams of civilian scientists in cooperation with the American military. These films encouraged a certain degree of paranoia but also offered quick and easy relief to this anxiety... Such films did not so much teach Americans to 'stop worrying and love the bomb' as to 'keep worrying and love the state.”
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“All the creatures of folklore and popular culture raise unanswered questions about the bodies we inhabit. The walking corpse horrifies because our bodies will bear a real resemblance to them someday, sans the perambulation. Medical oddities are distburbing because they remind that the boundaries of the human body are inherently instable... Other members of the monstrous fraternity, even the sultry vampire, threaten to puncture, rend, and ultimately destroy our bodies. We fear the monster perhaps because we fear the death and dissolution of our temporal selves.” 1 likes
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