by Jesse Walker

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Review

In The United States of Paranoia, Jesse Walker argues that American conspiracy theories do not necessarily define us as a culture, but the fact that we believe in conspiracy theories does define us as a culture.  Therefore, Walker suggests, conspiracy theories should be embraced as American folklore.

Walker's scope is impressive, and the range of theories he examines is quite surprising.  He includes well-known conspiracy theories, such as the assassination of former President Kennedy, describing not only their origin but also how they grow and morph, at times over the span of decades.  Additionally, and more importantly, Walker includes what I found were little known conspiracy theories, dating back to the first settlers and their interactions with Native Americans.  He presents an even-handed approach to even the most outlandish propositions, and avoids placing judgment on even the most bizarre suggestions.

What I appreciated most about Walker's undertaking was that he provides one comprehensive volume on American conspiracy theories.  With the recent anniversary of the JFK assassination, interest in conspiracy theories has surfaced and I was happy to find a spot where I could get an overview of the primary ones.  However, as is to be expected with such a large amount of information, the work at times became a bit dry, and--since the theories often overlapped significantly--a bit hard to follow in places.  Still, this clearly informed work is on a number of best-of lists for good reason, and I encourage history buffs and trivia enthusiasts to check it out.

 

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