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The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory

3.57  ·  Rating details ·  806 ratings  ·  123 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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Dan Walker introduces five broad types of conspiracy theory in Part 1 - 'enemy outside', 'enemy within', 'enemy below', and 'enemy above', as well as 'ben…moreWalker introduces five broad types of conspiracy theory in Part 1 - 'enemy outside', 'enemy within', 'enemy below', and 'enemy above', as well as 'benevolent conspiracies'. Chapter 3 describes 'enemy within' - conspiracies where people who you know and think you can otherwise trust turn out to be malicious. He uses the examples of Witches during the Salem witch trials as an example of this.(less)

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Aug 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The Deep State Is Deeper Than You Thought

I recently floated the idea that victimhood is the central part of American identity ( I now find that I am a late-comer to the party. Several others as long ago as the 1960’s had already made the point. More recently, Jesse Walker has expanded on the original hypothesis. The United States of Paranoia is the result. It is convincing, comprehensive, and scary as hell. American society seems to be imploding into its
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
Scott Rhee
May 08, 2015 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
David Beckett
Mar 16, 2014 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
Aug 19, 2013 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 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
Sep 14, 2013 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
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
Kevin Kelsey
Mar 18, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, 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.
Oct 13, 2013 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
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
Sean A.
Mar 27, 2015 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 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 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
Aug 16, 2016 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 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 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
Betsy Phillips
Sep 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Just read this and Radley Balko's book and consider yourself well-versed in American ridiculousness. ...more
Nov 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed, owned
A decent book with some unique insights which explores the history of conspiracies in America in order to put forward the argument that 'the paranoid style' is not a recent invention nor limited to the general population - but which, written as it was in 2013, can appear outdated in parts.

I read a Guardian article a few months ago called 'My months with chemtrails conspiracy theorists', with the subheading 'They prove conspiracies have gone mainstream – and aren’t just for the right wing'. I fou
Sean Owen
May 29, 2018 rated it it was ok
Paranoia in American culture is a topic worthy of a lengthy book. If one were writing such a book in the current political moment it would feel impossible to finish. You'd feel like you got to a good stopping point only to have the latest piece of paranoia pop up on the news. Unfortunately "The United States of Paranoia" isn't up to the task. Walker struggles with his early American history and reaches for little read and sometimes unpublished manuscripts in attempts to shows strains of American ...more
Stephen Melvin
Jun 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have plans for my nascent when-animals-attack research to contain an entire chapter on conspiracy narratives embedded in the genre. Thus, I've done a lot of recent reading on the topic. Out of everything I've waded through, Walker's book is currently the favored resource.

Other studies in this area are more in-depth. Karen M. Douglas and Daniel Jolley's work is unprecedented in its scope and breadth, but it suffers in that it's so academic it's nearly impenetrable. Hofstadter's seminal essay "T
Charles Berteau
Jul 13, 2014 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
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
Mar 02, 2014 rated it liked it
Halfway through, I began to think the whole book was a conspiracy itself. I hadn't heard of any of these religious fringe people or satirists and was only vaguely familiar with much of the content. Sure, its probably just a hole in my knowledge, but it began to feel inescapably like this was a book of made up facts about made up people. Or is that what the author wanted me to think?

Walker's basic premise is this: conspiracies are neither new to American culture nor confined to the right wing lun
Sep 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I'm giving this book 4 stars, but I suspect I will continue to feel the impact of this book for some time.

I love a good conspiracy theory, so the title hooked me. Unlike other conspiracy theory works this book aims to be a framework for evaluating conspiracy theories and a guide on how to approach data, stories, news, tales, etc. with increased skepticism. A wide range and history is covered here, from early American Native American conflicts and wars, the Red Scare, to Rambo movies, to the Oba
Jul 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: on-the-radio
This was okay in some parts and excellent in others.
Ryan Routh
Feb 26, 2017 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,
Jul 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
I *really* liked this book, but couldn't bring myself to give it five stars. The first half of the book does a wonderful job describing the five major types of conspiracy theories and then presenting several significant historical examples of each. This part of the book serves to establish that conspiracy theories are by no means new and actually have quite a bit of impact in American society since the very beginning. The second half of the book gets into modern (1920s-2013) conspiracy theories, ...more
Oct 03, 2013 rated it liked it
Profoundly glad to be finished with this, because it was profoundly depressing. There appears to be an endless stream of gullible, stupid people who, while totally skeptical of government, abandon that skepticism in an instant to embrace the most idiotic conspiracy theories. It's like the simultaneous belief that non-capitalist organizations are completely incompetent...and yet brilliant at coming up with evil, overarching schemes that can remain forever shadowy or hidden to all but those brilli ...more
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“When you think you’re pursuing a divine destiny, it’s not hard to find yourself watching for all the other invisible forces out there: darker, more dangerous powers who don’t want your holy mission to succeed.” 0 likes
“But it also declares that political paranoia is “the preferred style only of minority movements”—and, just to marginalize that minority some more, that it has “a greater affinity for bad causes than good.” 0 likes
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