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

The United States of Paranoia by Jesse Walker
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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 have since pre-colonial days--The Salem Witch Trials, secret societies and early paranoid groups. Two, that the state of American education, then and now, is sadly lacking in its ability to simply teach people to think for themselves. Mr. Walker, to his credit, avoids critique of the various conspiracy theories. He cites them as arriving either from above, below, within or without, but backs away from open criticism of the ongoing motivations of their adherents. His pursuit is almost journalistic in its reporting on and unpacking the various conspiracies and their originators. For anyone interested in the genesis and plausible reason for longevity of everything from the aforementioned Witch Trials, to the never-ending Kennedy Assassination theories, this book is for you. From Macarthyism, to 9/11 and subsequent anthrax scares, Ruby Ridge, Waco and on and on, Americans seem to demand some alternate explanation for what happens to us, a perplexing obsession with hidden meanings and opaque 'truth.' And those diversions into mystery often take us places where truth, for the seeker, becomes exactly the opposite of what was first reported, thus conjuring a new, more attractive plot. The book's only shortcoming may be that the author failed to include the one truly plausible reason many of those conspiracy buffs and purveyors promoted their crackpot theories, and that is the other oh so American habit of commodifying everything for monetary gain. If one is so inclined, there may well be evil lurking in the $$$ sign as well, but if a theory fills one's pockets, then it's worth promoting. Nonetheless, The U.S. of Paranoia is a satisfying study of why people choose to believe the sinister over the apparent, and why paranoia seems to be a national sport.
Byron Edgington, author of The Sky Behind Me, a Memoir of Flying and Life
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
September 11, 2013 – Finished Reading
September 14, 2013 – Shelved

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