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The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory

3.54  ·  Rating Details ·  560 Ratings  ·  100 Reviews
Jesse Walker’s The United States of Paranoia presents a comprehensive history of conspiracy theories in American culture and politics, from the colonial era to the War on Terror.

The fear of intrigue and subversion doesn’t exist only on the fringes of society, but has always been part of our national identity. When such tales takes hold, Walker argues, they reflect the anxi
ebook, 464 pages
Published August 20th 2013 by Harper (first published August 20th 2012)
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In 1964, Richard Hofstadter penned the essay, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics" on the origins and spread of conspiracy theories in response to the rise of the Goldwater faction of Republicans and the John Birth Society. He viewed it largely as part of an apocalyptic minority among extreme right-wingers, who construct ostentatious fantasies about their majority opponents, often in times of economic crisis. Sound familiar?

Walker explicitly states that Hofstadter did not go far enough. His
Scott Rhee
May 08, 2015 Scott Rhee rated it it was amazing
Conspiracy (n) 1.the act of conspiring. 2. an evil, unlawful, treacherous, or surreptitious plan formulated in secret by two or more persons; plot. 3. a combination of persons for a secret, unlawful, or evil purpose 4. Law. an agreement by two or more persons to commit a crime, fraud, or other wrongful act. 5. any concurrence in action; combination in bringing about a given result. (

Paranoia (n) 1. Psychiatry. a mental disorder characterized by systematized delusions and the proj
Joshua Buhs
Not bad.

I was slow to pick up this book for two reasons. One, the cover is butt-ugly. Two, Jesse Walker is associated with that wretched hive of villainy and scum, Reason magazine.

Walker should feel good about writing the book. It was interesting. Overly long, theoretically flabby, confusingly organized, poorly laid out, and ultimately serving a political agenda, but worth a look-see.

Walker begins where he has to: with Richard Hofstadter's "The Paranoid Style in American Politics." On the surfac
David Beckett
Mar 16, 2014 David Beckett rated it it was amazing
I’ve never met Jesse Walker; I did not receive a free review copy of this book from the author, from Harper-Collins, from the Tri-Lateral Commission, or from anyone. I became aware of Walker in his station as plenipotentiary at REASON, the ardently libertarian publication (and foundation) espousing “Free Minds and Free Markets.” Even those, and there are many, who disagree with Reason’s philosophical principles call it one of the most intelligent and best-researched political magazines available ...more
Sep 14, 2013 Rob rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Overall, this is a very good book. Its strength lies in its demonstration that the conspiracy theory is not a modern paranoia, but a constant throughout American history (and, presumably, human history, though that is beyond the scope of the book), and further demonstrates that those paranoias are just as often held by elites and not just common folks. It is an excellent catalog of paranoias throughout American history, but too often it just mentions insights about these paranoias in passing and ...more
Pavol Hardos
Nov 23, 2014 Pavol Hardos rated it it was amazing
Excellent. A history of United States as told through its tales of fear and paranoia. Often unnerving, occasionally hilarious, always fascinating, Walker takes us on a sweeping ride through the history - from the Indian wars to the Birther movement. One main takeaway from the book is that conspiratorial ideation is much more prevalent then we might think and Walker does a great job of explaining and categorizing various forms of paranoid thinking. He makes a forceful case for recognizing that pa ...more
Aug 19, 2013 Grady rated it it was amazing
Examining the American obsession with conspiracy theories

Jesse Walker holds a curious mirror up to us in this complex and fascinating book about conspiracy theories that daily make the headlines in the media and indicate a sustainable past history of how Americans fear secret cabals. It is an interesting and entertaining investigation of the core of paranoid thinking that has its beginnings centuries ago and persists to the present.

As Walker dissects our history he explains how we Americans hav
Byron Edgington
Sep 14, 2013 Byron Edgington rated it really liked it
Here we have a book that appears to be about conspiracies, cabals, mysterious omens, prestidigitation and the uniquely American tendency to attach evil, exotic and/or nefarious meanings to every event. I say seems to discuss this, because upon finishing this book a reader may have one of two reactions, depending on one's political, religious, spiritual or existential bent. One, the book is a historical treatise on the aforementioned sinister forces that weave their way through American life, and ...more
Oct 13, 2013 Mike rated it it was ok
DISCLAIMER: I'm only halfway through this book. I would have finished it already, but I'm having difficulty motivating myself to turn the pages.
Needless to say, I'm having a hard time with this book. It's not that the information the author presents isn't interesting, because it really is. It's not that I have a hard time with history. On the contrary, I love history. Mostly it's because the writing is amateurish and formulaic. I have no doubt that the author is an excellent academic, but I'm no
Peter Mcloughlin
Jesse Walker a writer for the Libertarian skeptic magazine Reason has put together a book on political paranoia in American politics. Unlike Richard Hofstadter "the Paranoid Style in American Politics" Walker doesn't merely focus on paranoia as a phenomenon of the fringe but instead practiced by the centrist mainstream as well throughout American history. He outlines the five forms conspiracy theories take (enemy from outside, enemy as neighbor, enemy from below, enemy from above, and benign con ...more
Sean A.
Mar 27, 2015 Sean A. rated it really liked it
Compulsively readable, thoroughly documented history of the universal motivations for the most far out conspiracy theories. The mainstream is not rational and the fringe is not so extreme after all.
There's a little conspiracy theorist in all of us.
Todd Stockslager
Feb 21, 2017 Todd Stockslager rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Review title: "They're coming to get you, Barbara."

That classic line delivered in a desolate hilltop Western Pennsylvania cemetery leads into one of the most important movies of the 20th century. The sudden twist from cruel joke to the twisted reality of flesh-eating zombies signals a dystopian world where paranoia is not just normal, it is necessary for survival. In today's world, President Trump's "alternative facts" and the Internet's fake news have brought the paranoia indoors before we eve
Jul 24, 2013 Lynn rated it it was amazing
Today’s Nonfiction post is on The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory by Jesse Walker. It is 418 pages long including 75 pages of intense notes. The publisher is HarperCollins Publishing. The cover has words like White Water, Ku Klux Klan, Flying Saucers, and more on it; black text on white background with the title in a blue box, the subtitle in a yellow box and the author’s name in an orange box. The intended reader is someone who likes conspiracy theories and is an adult. There is ...more
Amy Sturgis
Full disclosure: I read and commented on a portion of this book while it was a work in progress, and I'm kindly credited in the acknowledgements.

I'll be using this as a required text in my "Witch Hunts, Conspiracy Theories, and U.S. Society" university course.

In a tale that stretches from the 17th century to the present, Jesse Walker proposes that five major conspiracy narratives recur not just on the fringes but also in the mainstream of U.S. politics and popular culture. They are the followin
The American Conservative
"The United States of Paranoia is based on historical sources, not interviews, and Walker is far less interested in the inner lives of the conspiracy theorists he profiles than in showing how their seemingly disconnected fantasies fuse together into one grand American paranoid pastiche.

Describing this pastiche is an ambitious intellectual project. But at times, Walker’s approach seems overly reductionist. As the author describes it, “paranoia” is a broad label that can be applied to just about a
Aug 16, 2016 Kathleen rated it really liked it
Now this was a fun book to read.

The United States of Paranoia is basically a history of conspiracy theories and the American identity, and it is fascinating. Walker lays out five different kinds of conspiracy theories-- from below, from above, from outside, from inside, and the benevolent kind-- and argues that these theories have always been a part of American society, from the Salem witch trials and the Native Americans lurking in the underbrush to the Red Scares and the conspiracy theories su
May 24, 2015 Kelvin rated it really liked it

this is a great book. it isn't necessarily about particular theories but about how they wind their way into our collective imagination. the author divides them into the categories of the enemy outside, the enemy inside, the enemy above, the enemy below and the benevolent conspiracy. the author gives examples of how some of our past paranoias fit into these categories.

but, above all, the best part of this book is how the author follows the evolution of some of our current fears and shows us how
Brock Rhodes
Nov 11, 2013 Brock Rhodes rated it it was amazing
Intelligent and noble effort notable for its intellectual honesty which is usually dreadfully absent for a book covering this type of material - usually realized in something like the pro-censorship, anti-intellectual "Among the Truthers" by Jonathon Kay for example. I feel the book pulls some punches and is a little blind to current happenings, but in this case that isn't a detriment. What Walker delivers is well worth reading and it should definitely appeal to mainstream audiences. I can't wai ...more
Kevin Kelsey
Mar 18, 2015 Kevin Kelsey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2015
An excellent examination of the lifecycle and evolution of conspiracies--real or imagined--throughout United States history. It illustrates how our paranoias and favorite conspiracies often say much more about ourselves than we realize.
Betsy Phillips
Sep 21, 2013 Betsy Phillips rated it it was amazing
Just read this and Radley Balko's book and consider yourself well-versed in American ridiculousness.
Jan 24, 2014 Jollyroger15 rated it did not like it
Lots of historical events are covered but no solid evidence of conspiracy theory. Did not like this book
Jun 06, 2017 Mike rated it really liked it
I enjoyed reading it. Miller documents the many ways that ideas of secret enemies and conspiracies are woven throughout American history. Even though conspiracy theories are often dismissed as something exclusive to the lunatic fringe, Miller shows them to be part and parcel of America's political and social landscape going back to the earliest New England colonists.
Megan Stupi
Dec 09, 2016 Megan Stupi rated it it was ok
A decent historical approach to conspiracy theories in America. I would have rated it higher but I felt that the examples used to prove Walker's thesis were not always very enjoyable to read and some seemed like a bit of a stretch.
Laura Gurrin
Oct 12, 2013 Laura Gurrin rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2013
After about a chapter, I was generally planning on giving this book three stars, and thinking of the various criticisms I had of the way it was organized and framed. Clearly not a good sign, but that was before I had to give up on the book altogether because it was making me crazy. Author conspiracy? We shall see!

Walker starts his book by laying out his nominal premises: conspiracies fall into five categories (the Enemy Outside, Within, Above, Below, and the benevolent conspiracy). He's not here
Ryan Routh
Feb 26, 2017 Ryan Routh rated it really liked it
There were certain aspects of this book that I loved, and other aspects that were less impressive.

On the one hand, to have so many excellent conspiracy theories set forth in one book! The stories about alleged poisonings in Washington DC by the "Slave Power" in the 1850s alongside Dischordians alongside Illuminati -- it's great fun to have all of these conspiracies cogently explained in one book. That alone makes it at least a 4-star book in my world.

I had 3 main complaints with the book. First,
Charles Berteau
Jul 13, 2014 Charles Berteau rated it liked it
I liked the idea behind this book, and some of the stories shared in it, a lot. It speaks to the fact that paranoia - and the conspiracy theories that accompany it - have been a constant in the United States since colonial times (King Philip's War, the Salem witch trials). Everywhere else in the world too, no doubt, but the book focuses on the US, from colonial times to the present.

Most striking to me were two points:
- Conspiracy theories are not the exclusive habit of the right, or the left, or
Mar 26, 2014 John rated it did not like it
Jesse Walker—for my taste—appears a little documentation heavy. But for some readers oodles of footnotes and sections of quotes may add value. I guess the problem laid in expectations. I am not a movie buff but large sections of one chapter is how conspiracy theories worked their way into movie scripts and novels.

I enjoyed reading his understanding of U.S. history were it touched upon the subject at hand. Who killed JFK, for example. Or his explanation of Ruby Ridge, etc. (What little there was
Sarah Beth
I received an Advance Reader Copy from HarperCollins.

Jesse Walker's non-fiction account of the history of conspiracy theories in America gives a great overview of paranoia that has shaped both popular culture and politics in American history. In the first half of the book, five conspiracy narratives are explored including the Enemy Outside, the Enemy Within, the Enemy Below, the Enemy Above, and the Benevolent Conspiracy. These five narratives are grounded in historical examples from the sevent
Jan 31, 2014 Ben rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Excellent example of the type of book I would have put down after 100 pages if it weren't for my desire to secure those pages into Goodreads. The first half is a perfect example of "should have been a magazine article," breaking down four main ways we perceive enemies and paranoia in historical America--enemies within us, outside us, above us, and below us. The framing is good, the listing of the things doesn't really add much to anything, since it's a bunch of obscure stories or ones we already ...more
Read this for the anecdotes; the grand unified theory behind them will make you crazy.

This could have been a terrific book, but it ironically suffers from the same problem as the tendency it documents -- the tendency to overreach, think in grand schemes, see connections that just aren't there. Walker's thesis is that many instances in U.S. history that could be described as "paranoid" (not that the term is ever defined) all actually flow from the same cultural source, one that links Salem witch
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