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

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  220 Ratings  ·  39 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, 277 pages
Published October 15th 2011 by Baylor University Press (first published April 25th 2011)
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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
Kristin Norton
Sep 01, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Rachel
Sep 11, 2017 rated it liked it
The book made a few strong points, but ultimately it was a mediocre read. Its cohesive, cursory, and has a smattering of typos. It felt more like I was reading a college midterm (not even open book), and less like strong literary criticism. I feel like three stars is generous for a book that did not bring me any new insights, but it was neither especially good nor especially bad.
Andrew Bishop
Jun 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Katherine Bishop
Jun 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book is quite well researched, makes a few interesting connections, and is very accessible. If you're looking for an introductory book to the subject, it's a great resource. However, at times the overt political messages can be more aggressive than effective, the book frequently covers more breadth than depth, and I was left without a clear sense of how monsters in America (US, presumably, rather than hemispheric) differed from those in international nightmares--or how the globalization of ...more
Dan
Oct 21, 2011 rated it did not like it
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.
Sherry
Oct 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
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.
Dean
Jul 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I have read Mr. Poole's work before, so I knew I was in for a treat and I was right. "Monsters in America" is a work that touches on the many facets of Horror in America. It is not just about film and fiction, but the cultural events that mirrored the works on the screen and in our nightmares.
Lovecraft, Elvira, Vampira, The Scooby Gang, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorn, UFO's all make guest appearances.
This book was thoroughly enjoyable, and I will, of course, own it
...more
Terri
May 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is an amazing book. The author explores American History and how people's fears and reactions to changes in society both affected and were affected by monsters in print and film.
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
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
Mankey
Nov 01, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Jackie
Oct 27, 2016 rated it did not like it
Used buzz words like gendered without backing it up, only once that I can remember was there an example or time gendered was used properly and not just used.
He also used racism too much as what stories meant or where they came from. Not everything is or was about race. Even when it could have been the examples or stories made little sense, like he was trying to hard to make it happen.
The writer of Psycho (don't know his name right off) wrote it without knowing about Ed Gein, the author states
...more
Jason Danely
Sep 04, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Jun 12, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Sistermagpie
Jul 10, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
April A. Taylor-Nader
This is one of the most fascinating examinations of monsters and their connection to American history that I've ever encountered. Some of the history that is touched on from America's early days is not easy to read, but that makes it even more important to analyze.

There are a couple of typos and mistakes in this book (surely the author meant to say "San Diego Comic Con" instead of Los Angeles and Wes Craven's New Nightmare was the 7th installment in the series), but they are easily overlooked w
...more
Michael
Apr 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
Two quotes that summed up the book, "In essence, every historical period decides what its monster(s)will be and creates the monster it needs." Also in "A Note On Sources", this quote comes to mind, "Twilight may well be the only work discussed that I consider so ideologically and aesthetically repugnant that I see no value in it. If I have a quarrel with King Kong or The Bride of Frankenstein it is most assuredly a lover's quarrel." If these quotes get you interested in this book, read it right ...more
Anne
Jan 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Ryan
Jul 15, 2013 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.
James Jr.
Jan 24, 2013 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.
Maria
Feb 28, 2012 rated it it was ok
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.
Jessica
Jun 29, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
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!
Jessica
Apr 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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.
darchildre
Dec 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
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.
Leah Lucci
Oct 20, 2011 rated it it was ok
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.
Anne
Jan 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.
Dawn
Nov 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
Informative and engrossing. Couldn't put it down.
Chris Pederson
Apr 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I cannot recommend this book enough.
Daniel DeLappe
Feb 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic book. Wish it could have gone deeper on some of he subjects. Crisply written and nicely paced. This is one of those can not put down until I am done books
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“The monster in American history is not simply that which destroys. It is a being that must be destroyed. ...There can be no simple border wars in America's conflicts. Every battle is a mythic battle, a struggle against savagery, whether it be a Native American war, the search for a sea monster, or a war on terror.” 3 likes
“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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