Grady's Reviews > The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory

The United States of Paranoia by Jesse Walker
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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 have heard so many stories describing Nazis, communists and homosexuals nefariously and secretly trying to take over our government, our minds and our bodies to the extent that we began to see them everywhere. ‘In an earlier era, we feared murderous slaves and libidinous Native American kidnappers. And more recently: UFOs and satanic nursery schools. This is a book about America's demons. Many of those demons are imaginary, but all of them have truths to tell us. A conspiracy story that catches on becomes a form of folklore. It says something true about the anxieties and experiences of the people who believe and repeat it …’

‘Americans fear mobs: They are the dark force lurking inside "Enemy Below" conspiracy theories, a "primal myths". Over time, blacks, immigrant laborers and Jewish radicals have all been the protagonists in imagined "Enemy Below" conspiracy theories. A mythical group of black intellectuals called "The Organization" was said to be behind the 1965 Watts riots.’

Walker is willing to attack the sacred cows of the right and left with equal amounts of intelligence and flair. He is a tireless and thorough researcher. He takes on subjects as disparate as the hysteria that followed Orson Welles’ radio broadcast ‘The War of the Worlds’, the controversy of the Kennedy assassination, the findings when Osama Ben Laden was captured, etc. He also states an obvious fact many skeptics are unwilling to accept: Behind just about every conspiracy theory there is also, more often than not, a grain of truth. As a writer Walker is erudite yet immensely readable. He quotes such phrases as ‘semiotically aroused’: ‘To be "semiotically aroused" is to fall under the influence of signs and symbols. A few weeks after the 9/11 attacks, the constant broadcast of images of Islamic extremists caused such a spell to overcome several otherwise rational people in Tyler, Texas. An object made with wires and duct tape was found in a mailbox. Believing it was a weapon of mass destruction, the authorities called in the bomb squad. An entire neighborhood was evacuated. The object turned out to be an 8-year-old boy's homemade flashlight, built for his science class.’

This book proves to be both provocative and entertaining, and the manner in which the reader absorbs it depends on the intellectual and emotional construct of each reader. It is a fascinating new work.

Grady Harp
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
August 19, 2013 – Shelved

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