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Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  7,495 ratings  ·  1,232 reviews
In this sweeping, eloquent history of America, Kurt Andersen shows that what's happening in our country today--this post-factual, "fake news" moment we're all living through--is not something new, but rather the ultimate expression of our national character. America was founded by wishful dreamers, magical thinkers, and true believers, by hucksters and their suckers. Fanta ...more
Kindle Edition, 429 pages
Published September 5th 2017 by Random House
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Chris Plenty. The fantasy on the part of white Europeans that viewed Native Americans as ungodly savages, if not “Satan’s soldiers,” started a three-centuri…morePlenty. The fantasy on the part of white Europeans that viewed Native Americans as ungodly savages, if not “Satan’s soldiers,” started a three-centuries-long campaign of genocide against them. Similar religion-based fantasies were used to justify the enslavement and brutal treatment of millions of Africans. The level of the atrocities committed against non-whites in this country could have only been motivated by beliefs just as twisted or "extreme" as those motivating more familiar contemporary examples.(less)

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On Faithful Truthiness

Umberto Eco spotted it first in the 1980’s: The United States exists in a condition of hyperreality, within which the authentic cannot be distinguished easily from the fake (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1...). In fact the fake is preferred to the authentic: it costs less, it’s more accessible, and its easier to clean. But Alexis de Tocqueville sensed it as a possibility 150 years earlier in his experience of the enthusiastic insincerity (or insincere enthusiasm; its
David Rush
Sep 16, 2017 rated it it was ok
Whooo! That was 442 pages of one angry guy venting.

The first half has some pretty cool history anecdotes and when he makes value judgments I almost always agree with him at least in the beginning. But the whole thing is like a really long rambling talk with thousands of historical and cultural references. Kind of like if Dennis Miller was funny or smart or not a conservative stooge, you know if he was somebody completely different..then he would be like this guy if he wrote a book. (Well that w
Diane S ☔
Sep 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
It seems like a great many of American citizens are living in a Fantasyland, a land where we can fool ourselves that those like minded people, people who share our beliefs, are n fact correct, truth telling. Seriously, how did we manage to get here, to a world and with a leader, who has taken his fantasies to a new level? The author shows us how this refusal to see other view points, often taking this to extreme levels, has always existed.

He takes us back 500 years to the Puritans, a group of Ub
Always Pouting
Jul 29, 2020 rated it liked it
I think the premise of the book is an interesting one but I'm actually not sure how much I bought into the argument put forth. I'm sure plenty of us who live in the United States question why we differ so much from other countries that are supposedly comparable.

I feel like the book did a lot of describing of various phenomenon that are examples of Fantsyland thinking in America but there wasn't as much exploration of explanation of what would bring about those things. That isn't necessarily a ne
Stephanie *Eff your feelings*
I was born in the mid sixties, and I don’t recall anyone being overly religious. I don’t remember any of my classmates talking about Jesus, unless it was in reference to baby Jesus and we were doing a school Christmas play.

Our founding fathers were almost entirely atheist, hence the separation of church and state that they made damn sure to put in the constitution. They experienced religion mixed with government first hand and knew it was a craptastic idea.

Recently, Jeffery Beauregard Sessions,
Sep 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It's been a long time since I've tried to purposely read a book more slowly than I otherwise would because I just did not want it to end. This book was so riveting and interesting that I made myself savor it over a week instead of devouring it all at once, which is what I usually do. Yet I recommend it with a lot of trepidation because he demolishes every faith and every belief. Nothing is sacred--not even the word itself, which he believes is a troubling concept. There is a lot to disagree with ...more
Remember when 'viral' was a bad thing, referring only to the spread of disease? Same goes for what you read and watch and believe.

Andersen traces 500 years of cultural history that lead us to this moment where logic and rational thought are downplayed, where opinion equals fact, and where many choose to live in a complete "fantasyland". It's a trenchant analysis, and a very convincing one too.

Andersen notes that from the very beginnings - the Protestant Reformation, the European migration to No
Jun 16, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I first became suspicious when I saw this book does not contain a bibliography of any kind.

If you're writing a book about our current era of "fake news" and "alternative facts," and how we became a society who tolerated that kind of thinking, don't you think you should cite some sources to back up your own claims? Otherwise, the reader has to take it on faith that what you're saying is true, that you're quoting things accurately, and that there's actually facts behind your claims.

The book starts
Aug 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a very interesting, and, I think, valuable book to have come out at this time and place. Surveys he cites show that one fifth of Americans think the 9/11 attacks were an inside job by American government agents, and four fifths believe that the Bible is factual history right down to the creation story. Only a third of us believe that the current climate changes are human caused. Various religious sects believe all the others are heretic. The author states that between the 60s anything go ...more
Gary  Beauregard Bottomley
I am in the minority regarding this book. I found it tedious, shallow and worst of all familiar. The author is out of his depth in his overall story that he’s trying to tell when he connects all of his facts about the past. He has a lot of facts that he presents about how Americans have (almost) always been willing to suspend disbelief and fail to use sufficient reason proportional to the credulity of the belief under consideration.

Evolution is a fact. The theory of evolution by natural selecti
Mikey B.
I have been to the U.S. several times in my life and have to admit that I haven’t experienced it like this book, although I did see gun stores and many churches in the Southwest. But traveling is selective; I love visiting museums and National Parks where one does not encounter the ideas and people in Kurt Andersen’s “Fantasyland”.

Kurt Andersen, like many politicians and pundits, stipulates that the U.S. indeed is an “exceptional country”. But by “exceptional” he really means “idiotic”.

The theme
Ross Blocher
Nov 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Fantasyland is a sweeping, masterful explanation of America’s fascination with unreality. By examining our history and singular makeup (from an expansive 500-year vantage point), Kurt Andersen seeks to explain how we arrived in a post-truth, alternative facts, fake news culture with Donald Trump as president. Andersen can claim some prescience, as this book was well into its formation before Trump became a “serious” candidate and proved the premise. The phrase “Fantasyland”, a nod to Walt Disney ...more
Sep 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
If you're one of those people who believes that the current insanity we're living through in America is a new infection, Andersen makes a convincing case that it's a virus America's had for quite some time. In fact, he asserts that it's part of our DNA and the outbreaks have cropped up in different forms over time since our "discovery" back in the 15th century. Europe sent over their best and the world's never been the same since.

His case is particularly solid when describing the post-war Boomer
Todd N
Sep 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Well, this has got to be the longest Spy Magazine article I have ever read. It’s too bad the book jacket doesn’t have a Photoshopped picture of Hillary and Trump on it. Come to think of it, there must be several good ones in the Spy archives left over from the 80s and 90s.

The “Fantasyland” of the title is America, of course — the place where reality has a well-known liberal bias. The place where Republicans think it is ridiculous Russia could have interfered in the latest election, while at the
Robert Gustavo
Oct 22, 2017 rated it it was ok
I don’t know what I expected, given the title, but the author is basically an asshole speaking to the converted.

The premise is fairly straightforward — Protestantism makes each person the ultimate authority on The Truth, and that founding America on Protestantism has led to an America where facts and figures are a matter of opinion. And, there is probably a decent argument to be made along those lines.

But, Kurt Andersen doesn’t make that argument well, because he’s more interested in scoring po
My impression of Fantasyland ended up being a lot like my impression of Hillbilly Elegy.  Overall, I liked it. I even enjoyed it, but it was about 80% solid research/fact and 20% political rhetoric.  That's a bit of a turn off for me, even when I agree with him (and I do).  Andersen's basic premise is that from the very beginning America is built upon a foundation of self delusion and a profound lack of awareness and perspective regarding history. From the Pilgrims to the Populists and Progressi ...more
Kressel Housman
I've been a fan of Kurt Andersen's radio show "Studio 360" for years, especially his "American Icons" series, so when I heard him promoting this book, I ordered it from my library immediately. What I did not realize, though, was that it was the perfect follow-up to the book I'd just finished because it picks up where that one was set: in the Puritan colonies. Roger Williams gets only two mentions in this book, but it's all about the down side of his legacy of "soul liberty." If everyone is allow ...more
Leo Walsh
Nov 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
A fun romp through "post-truth" America, where people make millions off of Americans' gullibility. Where Karl Rove, a White House official, can quip that "what we call the 'reality-based community,' where people believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." have it wrong. Because, according to Rove, "That's not the way the world really works anymore."

In this America, people believe in easily-debunked fact-and-logic-free nonsense — like UFO's, the Illuminati cr
I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I think Kurt Andersen has important things to say about current events in the US, and the way our past has led to this moment. His thesis--that our current alternative-facts world is an understandable outcome for a country founded on the idea of escape and the possibility of illimitable riches and freedom--suggests both a way of understanding the modern era and a hope of a more reasoned, and reasonable, future.

On the other hand, any nonfict
Andy Klein
Oct 19, 2017 rated it did not like it
This work would have made a decent article in the New Yorker. But expanded into a long book, we are left with the author shoehorning every conceivable--and many inconceivable and some patently ludicrous--examples of fantasies to fill out a book and try to make his point. There are explanations about how we arrived at Donald Trump and why so many people were taken in by him, but Anderson doesn't have the intellectual firepower to unearth and explain them. A book will be written that explains how ...more
Dennis Diehl
Oct 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Unfortunately, those with the most to gain from Fantasyland are those most likely to never read it.
Sep 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
I slowly read the first half of Fantasyland (from 1500 to 1982) before I had to return it to the library. It is a stunning look at the type of people that initially made the leap to leave Europe and settle in America. These consisted of religious sects which were being persecuted and excommunicated from established religions. As these extremists arrived in America, they brought their belief systems with them and practiced without restraint, believing that this new world was an opportunity to do ...more
Nov 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I’m a big fan of NBA basketball. Earlier this year a seemingly thoughtful star athlete on the Cleveland Cavaliers named Kyrie Irving (who briefly attended the prestigious Duke University), made waves at a press conference after a game. Somehow the conversation had turned to science and Irving, to the astonishment of those in attendance claimed because he had traveled all around the world multiple times he could say that the world is flat, not round.
This triggered a string of tweets by other N
Heidi Ward
(Trigger warning for fundamentalists, cosplayers, climate change deniers, Reiki practitioners, anti-vaxxers, humorless socialists, Scientologists, and Trump true believers.)

This book couldn't have hit shelves at a more perfect, pertinent time. Andersen traces the lineage of American super-credulity all the way back to its founding folly: "America" as we know it was seeded with the hopes dreams of an extreme religious sect, with a fervent belief in not just God, but their right to worship their o
Anita Pomerantz
Apr 26, 2019 rated it it was ok
If ever there was a book I should have DNF'd early on, this was it. Anderson's hypothesis, if you will, is that the United States was birthed in fantasy (the gold rush) and over time, our populace has become so enamored with fantasy that we ended up with Donald Trump as our president.

And his "proof" is anecdote after anecdote (described in a historical context) about the uniquely (ok, sure) American love of fantasy. Well, yeah, if you conflate every form of entertainment and pleasure seeking wit
Mal Warwick
Oct 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
You will be amazed. In Kurt Andersen's shocking 500-year survey of US history, Fantasyland, you'll learn just how truly exceptional America is—and not in a good way.

Who is responsible for "fake news?"

If you think only Donald Trump, Fox News, anonymous online pundits, and Russian hackers have a monopoly on "fake news," guess again. Andersen relates countless incidents of purportedly true accounts of satanic cults, multiple personality disorder, recovered memory, vaccines causing autism, and other
Todd Martin
Oct 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: culture-politics
Paranormal Beliefs

We all do no end of feeling, and we mistake it for thinking.
- Mark Twain

You’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving … our press secretary gave alternative facts.
- Kellyanne Conway

In his 1963 book Anti-intellectualism in American Life Richard Hofstadter noted that, unique among the developed world, U.S. citizens were particularly impervious to factual information. A half century later, despite the prevalence of technology that places a world of information at our fingertips, conditions hav
Nov 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History by Kurt Andersen

“Fantasyland” is a provocative book that describes how being being free to believe anything in America has metastasized out of control. Bestselling author, contributor to Vanity Fair and The New York Times, and radio show host Kurt Andersen provides compelling arguments from many angles that America in essence has mutated into Fantasyland and has led to the presidency of Donald J. Trump. This stimulating book includes 46 c
65th book for 2017.

Andersen's book, by taking an almost encyclopedic view of all that has been crazy in America since it's foundation, offers a very useful frame to understand contemporary events in the United States.

Although it could be described a breezy romp through 500 years of delusion, it's breadth is very useful in understanding how comprehensive the rot is, and its lightness of touch offers the necessary sugar-coating to swallow the bitter red pill he offers.

The book is refreshingly ha
Nov 16, 2017 rated it it was ok
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Kurt Andersen is the author of the novels Turn of the Century, Heyday, and True Believers, and and, with Alec Baldwin of You Can't Spell America Without Me. His non-fiction books include Fantasyland, Reset and The Real Thing.

He is also host of the Peabody Award-winning weekly public radio program Studio 360,.

Previously, Kurt was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of the satirical magazine Spy, edito

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  Summer Reading is sponsored by Lifetime’s Book to Screen Movies. We love bookish celebrities, entrepreneurs, and others who consistently...
175 likes · 69 comments
“mix epic individualism with extreme religion; mix show business with everything else; let all that steep and simmer for a few centuries; run it through the anything-goes 1960s and the Internet age; the result is the America we inhabit today, where reality and fantasy are weirdly and dangerously blurred and commingled.” 13 likes
“You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” 8 likes
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