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Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History

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Our age is obsessed by the idea of conspiracy. We see it everywhere - from Pearl Harbour to 9/11, from the assassination of Kennedy to the death of Diana. Bookshop shelves threaten to collapse under the weight of texts devoted to proving myriad conspiracy theories true, while even quality newspapers and serious TV channels are prepared to give them credence. For David Aaron Our age is obsessed by the idea of conspiracy. We see it everywhere - from Pearl Harbour to 9/11, from the assassination of Kennedy to the death of Diana. Bookshop shelves threaten to collapse under the weight of texts devoted to proving myriad conspiracy theories true, while even quality newspapers and serious TV channels are prepared to give them credence. For David Aaronovitch, there came a time when he started to see a pattern. These theories used similar dodgy methods with which to insinuate their claims: they linked themselves to the supposed conspiracies of the past (it happened then so it can happen now); they carefully manipulated their evidence to hide its holes; they relied on the authority of dubious academic sources. Most importantly, they elevated their believers to membership of an elite - a group of people able to see beyond lies to a higher reality. But why believe something that entails stretching the bounds of probability so far? Surely it is more likely that men did actually land on the moon in 1969 than that thousands of people were enlisted to fabricate a deception that they did. In this entertaining and enlightening book - aimed to provide ammunition for those who have found themselves at the wrong end of a conversation about moon landings or twin towers - Aaronovitch carefully probes and explodes a dozen of the major conspiracy theories. In doing so, he looks at why people believe them, and makes an argument for a true scepticism: one based on a thorough knowledge of history and a strong dose of common sense.


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Our age is obsessed by the idea of conspiracy. We see it everywhere - from Pearl Harbour to 9/11, from the assassination of Kennedy to the death of Diana. Bookshop shelves threaten to collapse under the weight of texts devoted to proving myriad conspiracy theories true, while even quality newspapers and serious TV channels are prepared to give them credence. For David Aaron Our age is obsessed by the idea of conspiracy. We see it everywhere - from Pearl Harbour to 9/11, from the assassination of Kennedy to the death of Diana. Bookshop shelves threaten to collapse under the weight of texts devoted to proving myriad conspiracy theories true, while even quality newspapers and serious TV channels are prepared to give them credence. For David Aaronovitch, there came a time when he started to see a pattern. These theories used similar dodgy methods with which to insinuate their claims: they linked themselves to the supposed conspiracies of the past (it happened then so it can happen now); they carefully manipulated their evidence to hide its holes; they relied on the authority of dubious academic sources. Most importantly, they elevated their believers to membership of an elite - a group of people able to see beyond lies to a higher reality. But why believe something that entails stretching the bounds of probability so far? Surely it is more likely that men did actually land on the moon in 1969 than that thousands of people were enlisted to fabricate a deception that they did. In this entertaining and enlightening book - aimed to provide ammunition for those who have found themselves at the wrong end of a conversation about moon landings or twin towers - Aaronovitch carefully probes and explodes a dozen of the major conspiracy theories. In doing so, he looks at why people believe them, and makes an argument for a true scepticism: one based on a thorough knowledge of history and a strong dose of common sense.

30 review for Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History

  1. 5 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    THE PROTOCOLS OF THE ELDERS OF WALMART OR, IF EVERYBODY’S IN ON IT, WHY HAVEN’T THEY ASKED ME? Our text for today is : Things only appear random because you're standing TOO CLOSE! Let's cut to the chase here. Conspiracies are real. A trade union is a conspiracy against the rat-bastard capitalist running dogs who run big business. The capitalist running dogs in turn conspire against the honest workers to screw them out of every penny and when they're coughing and flopping about from emphysema, sack e THE PROTOCOLS OF THE ELDERS OF WALMART OR, IF EVERYBODY’S IN ON IT, WHY HAVEN’T THEY ASKED ME? Our text for today is : Things only appear random because you're standing TOO CLOSE! Let's cut to the chase here. Conspiracies are real. A trade union is a conspiracy against the rat-bastard capitalist running dogs who run big business. The capitalist running dogs in turn conspire against the honest workers to screw them out of every penny and when they're coughing and flopping about from emphysema, sack em and be done with em! A political party is a public conspiracy against its rivals - or, it's the public face of a private conspiracy. Football teams sit around and watch videos of the team they're up against next and figure out where the weaknesses are - they're conspiring in secret too. So : you look at it one way, and everything's a damnable conspiracy! And that's the way I'm looking at it today! That woman across the road has some remarkable hanging baskets outside her house, but I REALISE NOW that all those peonies and dahlias are hiding cameras! They can't fool me. I call upon you all as witnesses, in case I'm found in a bag of quick drying cement on a grassy knoll somewhere. Pardon me, I have to take my tablets. David Aaronovitch's introduction spells out nicely enough why the conspiracists get my goat and my other pack animals so successfully. It's because they put me in the position of having to defend the authorities ! Yes! Me! Like I would want to do that! But that's what I'm doing when I bat away these crazy theories, which are like, you know, only a theory like gravity's a theory - we know they're really saying this is how 9/11 really went down, man . (It was Mossad!) So then I have to say no, no, you're wrong, the FBI is an organisation of great integrity and would never fabricate evidence and never perpetrate falsehoods upon the public! That's right! Of course they wouldn't! There's a word for the position these conspiracists put me in : invidious. There's a feeling I get when blustering about how the authorities are honest and trustworthy : mortified. That's the first reason why I hate these conspiracy theories. And the second is : they mess with my mind in making me think that facts aren't facts at all but received opinion. In this they are like a sharp course in practical philosophy - how do you know what you know, Descartes, what lies beyond the veil, cogito ergo vomit, how do you know you're not a brain in a tank and all that kind of stuff which is alright in theory but not when someone is ranting about the death of Robert Calvi, the CIA and the first Gulf War and the vatican and Monica Lewinsky and the protocols of the elders of Walmart. As David says elegantly : given the desire to believe, it is easy to confuse detail with thought. 9/11 : in August 2004 Zogby Opinion Research found that 2/3 of New Yorkers under the age of 30 thought that the US Government either knew the attacks were going to happen and allowed them to proceed or actively engineered them. So what? Most people living in the US and UK believe their governments are corrupt, cover up crimes routinely, steal you blind, go to war for hideous ignoble reasons and lie about them all the time, it’s the nature of government. So what? Do we think that people in former centuries thought they were blessed with their Kings and Popes? Let’s imagine that – say – America wakes up one day and says - Stone the crows!* You were right! Bush and Cheney are indeed war criminals! Let’s try ‘em! Let’s prosecute all those who sold this phoney war to us citizens and got so many soldiers killed for nothing! What then? Will future governments never make these blunders again? Will the CIA become a force for Good? Do the conspiracists dream of a world without spies? Or again: the Iraq war was according to many conspiracists “all about oil”. If oil is going to become scarce in the West in – say – 50 years time, wouldn’t it be a prudent thing for the US government to secure future supplies? And since you can’t invade a country just like that you have to find a reason, hence WMD and the non-existent threat of Saddam Hussein? Hey, you purple in the face anti-Bushers, you should be praising this great president for guaranteeing our lovely Western lifestyle for another few decades! What happens in Britain : a big controversial event takes place (death of Diana, invasion of Iraq) – official explanations are offered and routinely derided – the whole outraged nation demands a public enquiry with one voice – and they get one – 18 months later the chairman Lord Seriously-Old or Sir Dreadful Bastard announces the results – which confirm the official explanation was correct in all particulars – two thirds of the nation by then have become bored and are playing on their X-Boxes – the one third left all denounce the findings as Yet Another Whitewash. What has been accomplished? It is a kind of theatre. Everyone takes their appointed place and goes through their allotted script. VARIOUS OBSCURE PEOPLE HAVE DIED IN UNCLEAR CIRCUMSTANCES It doesn’t matter if the theorist believes in his own conspiracy theory because these theories are, like religion, a series of psychological strategies which exist to deal with the extreme perplexities of our human situation. We are meaning-seeking individuals in an apparently meaningless and very big & scary universe. Yesterday I heard an astronomer on the radio describing what you would find if you rocketed off to outer space and didn’t stop for nothing – her voice became a pleasant, relaxing drone… “then when you leave the solar system you see now that you are in an outer arm of the Milky Way galaxy which contains hundreds of billions of stars and then you see that the Milky Way itself is part of a cluster of galaxies each of which which contains hundreds of billions of stars and then you see that there are far away hundreds of billions of other galaxy clusters each of which which contains hundreds of billions of galaxies containing hundreds of billions of stars” and by this time I was seriously freaking OUT and in a burst of Tourette’s syndrome I screamed at the radio “HEY LADY, WHO KILLED BRIAN JONES?” So, for instance, the theory of the deliberate blowing-up of the levees in New Orleans in order to flood the black areas – almost endorsed by Spike Lee’s film – is an expression of the perennial feelings of people who feel oppressed. Many of the main theories propose such a vast complex conspiracy that they become truly farcical – you get quite indignant that you aren’t in on it, everyone else seems to be. So this stuff appears to me to be like the secularised, dark shadow cast by the setting sun of religion. Whereas the Christian cosmology presents an essentially benevolent universe spelled out by Jesus: Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows. GODLESS MALIGNANCY. COOL! The conspiracist sees only godless malignancy, a world of men suborning each other, killing the good, doing harm. I note that each believer, the religious and the conspiracist, denies the existence of accident, co-incidence or mistake : everything is intentional in these thought worlds. There is always a Plan. The conspiracists replace one God with many – but are they not all facets of the One in an infinite dance? No. The hundredheaded gods of the conspiracists don’t dance at all – you put a foot wrong and the CIA or the Freemasons or the Jews or the British Royal Family or the Order of the Solar Temple or the Jesuits or the Knights Templars or the Communists or the Mob will frug you to death. I realise now I have been conspiring against my own peace of mind for years! 3.5 stars. * A Nottingham expression of surprise

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jason

    Yesterday morning my neighbor directly across the street committed suicide. Well, her body was discovered yesterday; the suicide took place on July 4th. So, 40 yards from my house, and 20 yards from where my kids and I were lighting fireworks in the street, laughing, our neighbor was alone, in her car, idling a full tank of gas all the way to empty in her sealed garage. We didn’t notice any noise, no gas fumes escaping from the cracks around the door, oblivious to the world, nothing else out of Yesterday morning my neighbor directly across the street committed suicide. Well, her body was discovered yesterday; the suicide took place on July 4th. So, 40 yards from my house, and 20 yards from where my kids and I were lighting fireworks in the street, laughing, our neighbor was alone, in her car, idling a full tank of gas all the way to empty in her sealed garage. We didn’t notice any noise, no gas fumes escaping from the cracks around the door, oblivious to the world, nothing else out of the ordinary. And yet there, in the darkest, loneliest place of human existence, out of reach of humanity, she made a decision that affected hundreds of lives. I didn’t know her--had never met her, in fact. She was in the home of a man, my neighbor, who had recently divorced. They were a very introverted, ethnic family. He traveled all week, and weekends were spent away with family. The yard was minimally maintained, and over the last 4 years there was friendly, but only brief contact with neighbors. For 4 months the house has been for sale. The victim, the new girlfriend (also strangely the first ex-wife), was merely house sitting at the time. She had a 15 year old daughter. Out of respect, that’s all I have to say about the particulars. But how did I get those particulars? Like any neighborhood gossip. As the event unfolded, news spread out from, and data flowed into, a central source--my front porch. There were police cars, a fire engine with paramedics, neighbors consolidating into knots randomly in yards, friends and family of the deceased materializing into the cordoned front yard, a coroner, more friends and family, more neighbors, a bodybag. Then, horribly, the man, my neighbor, returns early from a business trip, disgorged by an airport shuttle, and is heard on both lengths of the street howling into the arms of family. Broad daylight. How personal and peculiar the unrestrained sobbing of a grown man. Earlier, my wife made friendly offers to help in any way possible; she even helped catch the small white dog that escaped from the house by the police officers. Now, she began to cry. The news went out, electrified, and inward returned all the recent, half-minute “hello’s” by every neighbor over the last 4 years, and all the past, friendly chats at curbside about the weather and the man’s travels, and all the insignificant, bijou observations made by adjacent neighbors at night through gauzy curtains, all these fragments began to coalesce into form, into a story that at first ranged wide like a fan, then homed in to a possible, a likely, a probable scenario of events, and, more importantly, the reasons behind the suicide. I don’t mean to sound insensitive or cavalier by introducing a book review by such a hurtful, private, and graphic scene, but the suicide brought the book Voodoo Histories into a focus that is stark and personal for me. The suicide had all the elements that foment theories of conspiracy. A sudden, unexpected event with many perspectives but conflicting, problematic data. A void of information into which flows a dumb putty that slowly takes a form and shape all its own. With a second ex-wife in close proximity, the girlfriend a new immigrant, a recent miscarriage, an odd divorce, broken English and foreign customs, lack of close identity with the social network of the neighborhood (such that it is), unknown motive, and several other unusual circumstances, a conspiracy theory could take inchoate hold over the neighbors caught unawares on their lawns in the middle of so many daily routines. Every person with a perspective, and yet no certainty. The human brain will manipulate that putty into as many shapes as individuals present. Lack of full disclosure is fertile ground for conspiracy theory. The autopsy will be performed. Labs. Toxicology. Homicide must be ruled out. Until then, nefariousness can creep in. And even then!--a major thoroughfare in the book--with everything refuted except suicide!, conspiracy, like leukemia, can grow slowly and ultimately consume the healthy truth. The book is good. It’s written well above a 9th grade reading level and, with a substantial amount of British sarcasm and ridicule, Mr. Aaronovitch describes--and then dismantles--several of the most well known Western conspiracy theories from the last 100 years. I merely need mention the subject and the conspiracy theory will emblazon from our collective zeitgeist: JFK assassination, Pearl Harbor, Marilyn Monroe’s overdose, 9/11 attacks, the Da Vinci Code, Jewish world order, Princess Di’s death, Senator Joe McCarthy (and some lesser known, earlier European theories, no less rigorously debated in their heyday). When you meet people who honestly, wholeheartedly, and passionately believe something like the moon landing never happened, or that the earth is flat, or that President Bush had something to do with the 9/11 attacks, when you realize that you’re the only person at the cocktail party laughing at the others, when you realize that you’re the only person at the lecture that doesn’t believe white man concocted the AIDS virus and crack cocaine and introduced them to inner city blacks, then, THEN, you feel as awkwardly naked as a seal on shore. What an out-of-body experience it is to be the only person in your book club that hasn’t been anally probed by aliens; to be the only person to feel that 5000 people--minimum--had to collude to make the World Trade towers fall, and that not a leak has occurred in almost 9 years; to be the only person to think FDR and the military-industrial complex did not have prior knowledge of the Japanese Imperial Fleet launching over 400 Zeros toward Hickam Field and Pearl Harbor; to be the only person who believes that when several possibilities exist, the least complicated, the least bizarre--Occam's Razor--is probably the most plausible pathway of events. Because the most plausible pathway is the one that, for the great grand majority of human events, it’s the one that usually proves sound. The other major theme from the book is called Cui Bono?, or ‘who benefits’? Who is more likely to benefit from the outcome of the conspiracy? Aaronovitch pries hardest with this debunking tool, like a lever with the fulcrum far to one side. Easier to think Oswald acted alone ~ or that there was a broad reaching collusion of the CIA, the Mafia, and JFK’s political rivals? Easier to consider that Jews have made great advantage of their diaspora ~ or that there is an über-Jew syndicate that has machinated among world powers without interruption for over 200 years? Easier to believe that 19 hijackers struck on 9/11 ~ or that there’s a vast cabal of neo-conservative industrialists that balanced the lives of 3000 people against 2 simultaneous wars in 2 countries for 9 years and costing 2 Trillion dollars and over 4000 military lives only to lose the 2008 Presidential election by a landslide and giving up power in the House and Senate? Easier to think Princess Diana was in an unfortunate car wreck ~ or that there was a.......well, you get the picture. Cui bono. For me, a breakthrough paragraph was this: Modern TV schedules in Britain, America, and elsewhere teem with daytime and evening talk shows, and the last two decades have seen the proliferation of twenty-four-hour news channels. This quantity of programming generates an enormous demand for items and guests, who have to be contacted and vetted by a relatively small number of hard-pressed and usually very young assistant producers and researchers. These trawl the PR handouts and publishers’ lists for stories that will divert viewers and are easy to grasp. The consequence is that conspiracy theorists, like royal biographers, security experts, or crime experts, manage to find their way onto factual TV programs, where their claims are treated with undiscriminating credulity. (p. 159) And this: Consider for a moment the repressed sadism that seems to lurk behind a lot of assassination conspiracism: the descriptions of the death, the reports from the autopsy, the photographs of the body...writes almost pornographically of “parts of JFK’s skull bouncing onto the boot of the presidential limousine.” Marilyn is injected or has medicines inserted into her anus. Whatever we might have envied in these people, we sure don’t envy them now...And if we do have such feelings, one way in which we might want to exorcise them is through constructing or accepting a version of history in which they were extinguished by something clearly “other“ than ourselves. It was not our thirst for gossip about celebrities that killed Norma Jean or England’s Rose, but the CIA. It wasn’t an ordinary Joe with a rifle who murdered the young president, but the Mafia or the FBI. “What is assassination, after all...if not the ultimate reminder of the citizen’s helplessness--or even repressed murderousness?’ Conspiracy theory may be one way of reclaiming power and disclaiming responsibility. (p. 169) A solid 4-star recommendation. New words: sedulous, hecatomb, jeremiad, gnomic, doyenne,

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kemper

    NASA landing a man on the moon was one of the biggest engineering challenges ever taken on. It involved thousands of people and billions of dollars. It was documented by countless still pictures, hours of film, warehouses full of paperwork and scientific data. And some people will tell you that it never happened. Because they use bad science and faulty assumptions to say that it’s far more likely that the U.S. pulled off the most elaborate lie in history rather than that that we actually went to NASA landing a man on the moon was one of the biggest engineering challenges ever taken on. It involved thousands of people and billions of dollars. It was documented by countless still pictures, hours of film, warehouses full of paperwork and scientific data. And some people will tell you that it never happened. Because they use bad science and faulty assumptions to say that it’s far more likely that the U.S. pulled off the most elaborate lie in history rather than that that we actually went to the moon. (And if you want to argue about it, I’ll just refer you to the Mythbusters moon hoax episode or the Bad Astronomy web site.) For some reason, people would rather believe that Princess Di was whacked in an elaborate conspiracy rather than admit that her driver was drunk and speeding recklessly to get away from paparazzi, and she wasn't wearing a seatbelt. Or that JFK was the victim of the CIA/Mafia/Soviet/Cuban/military-industrial-complex plot to kill him instead of just having bad luck that his motorcade route went by the workplace of a pathetic loser who couldn’t stand being a nobody. Or that the story behind The Da Vinci Code is real even though the French hoaxsters who duped the idiots who wrote the book that Dan Brown got the idea from confessed years ago that they made the whole thing up. Does it matter that a fair percentage of the population at any given time thinks that Marilyn Monroe was murdered or that Roosevelt let the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor to get the U.S. into World War II? Yes, it does. Why? Because once upon a time, a political allegory about Napleon III got rewritten and released as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion by a Russian at the turn of the century who claimed it was the ‘true’ plan the Jews use to wreck and control the civilization. After World War I when everyone was trying to figure out a way to avoid admitting responsibility for what they just did, it got widely distributed, and the Jews instantly got scapegoated for the war and everything else going wrong in the world. It got so much mainstream credence after World War I that legitimate newspapers discussed it and people like Henry Ford helped spread it even after it had been debunked. And Adolf Hitler believed it and he told his pals about it. They used it as a key point of their government and things ended badly for several million people. It’s still around though, especially in the Arabic world where it’s usually taught in schools. The book does a great job in showing how the conspiracy theory has become so pervasive that it’s become mainstream. There is no legitimate evidence that Bill Clinton had Vince Foster killed or that Obama wasn’t born in the U.S. or that Bush orchestrated 9/11. Yet all of these things have been treated as legitimate news items or fact because pseudo science, bad research and reckless speculation have led to a culture where people will believe almost anything except the truth.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    This is LONG & details many of the big conspiracy theories; who killed JFK, RFK, Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana & many others. Did Jesus screw up faking his own death? (I hadn't heard that one before.) Did astronauts visit us 10,000 years ago & how much truth is there to the DaVinci Code? (Actually, I read some of the true history of that one in a knock off book.) All of these questions & more are answered in painstaking detail. The one big question about them is why was there ever any doubt? No, This is LONG & details many of the big conspiracy theories; who killed JFK, RFK, Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana & many others. Did Jesus screw up faking his own death? (I hadn't heard that one before.) Did astronauts visit us 10,000 years ago & how much truth is there to the DaVinci Code? (Actually, I read some of the true history of that one in a knock off book.) All of these questions & more are answered in painstaking detail. The one big question about them is why was there ever any doubt? No, there wasn't & even though many of them still ramble on, there still isn't. Revisionist history - people believing what they want to believe, but often fame & fortune is what they're after & they can make millions. One guy involved in a Marilyn Monroe scam got caught & had to pay back $7 million! Sometimes a far darker motive can be attached, such as Hitler's belief in "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" which was proved false (much was actually copied from an obscure satire about Napoleon III) several years before. Still, to him they spoke of a higher truth & so justified his beliefs. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Prot... This is similar to the way people forgive inconsistencies in religious texts & twist them to their own extremist views. Hamas has incorporated part of it into their charter & it contains some in article 22 & 28(?). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamas_Co... Most conspiracy theories aren't quite so lucrative or evil, though. Some wind up providing a lot of entertainment like the origins of The Da Vinci Code. As came out in a copyright lawsuit almost 10 years ago, the origins went back to the mid 20th century & even spurred several documentaries through the BBC. A book was later published, after the truth was known, & it was this 'history' that Brown's wife mentioned to him that spurred his creation. While all the books earned a lot of money, the original guys didn't make much. Most contain blatant lies at their cores, yet are pushed as truth. The sheer brass of some of these people is incredible. Sometimes the details aren't very well known, so can slip by. An example is given of some old carving that the author (Van Denken?) claimed was of an elephant, but was actually a parrot. Not many had ever seen the carving, though. Other times, the details are quite well known, but are obscured by the purveyor of the scam by providing many other details & asking a lot of disturbing, leading questions, such as in the case of Princess Diana's death. If the car hadn't hit the pylon exactly as it had & if she had her seat belt on, she probably would have survived. Both of these facts cut through all the rest of the speculation & make it pretty obvious that bad thing just happen sometimes. Why do we buy into them? Aaronovitch advances some theories. We like to know what others don't & they entertain us. We like the puzzles, mystery, & drama. History is boring to most people, but this sort isn't. Still, it's strange to me. I'd dismissed most of them almost immediately because the lack logic & they are needlessly complex. The contortions that people have gone through trying to explain how Diana was killed by a conspiracy are incredible. They even included a Bond-like gadget to gas the driver at the proper time, as if being half drunk at the time wasn't enough. The hunger of the media for sensationalism is another driving force. Any off-the-wall theory that can be used to sell copy is not only fair game, but often difficult to vet properly in the time & with the staff available. Once in the public mind, there is a hunger for more. On top of that, each theory suggests others which obscure the truth, thus fueling the need for follow ups & people tend to remember the sensational so they linger. There can also be circular references that are tough for anyone except an expert to unravel. Since the experts are often in the employ of the gov't, their motives can be suspect. Again, people need to look at the complexity, though. In many cases, dozens or more would have to agree before hand & sometimes thousands would have to keep silent afterward. Even if you can swallow the first, the latter is ridiculous. He also points out that the theories are similar to memes or are fashionable depending much on the times. After Reagan & Gorbachev had their nuclear disarmament talks, nuclear conspiracy theories dropped off. He puts forth several other interesting points about our psychological quirks, both individually & as groups at the very end. As I said, it's long, though. It would probably be a great print book if you want to look up one or two conspiracies or you're really into them. Listening to all of them just got old, but I'm giving it 4 stars anyway. I do wish there was a better TOC & that the parts were broken up more so that it was easier to go back & find specific information. He concludes with some interesting warnings about how conspiracy theories have shaped our current world. One of the most obvious is Germany's acceptance of Hitler's idea that Jews were conspiring to crush them, but lists many others. Idiocies like McCarthyism didn't happen in a void & it is all too possible that we will make worse mistakes in the future. I just read one in South. Very well done & believable with disastrous consequences for thousands. The reader was good most of the time, but he used voices (tones & accents) when quoting. That was awful. Thankfully there weren't many.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Elle (ellexamines)

    Really really loving the sarcasm contained in this nonfiction book

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sesana

    I'm fascinated by conspiracy theories, in the same way that some people rubberneck at car accidents. The tortured logic, the complete divorce from reality, the assumption that anything, literally anything, even aliens, is more plausible than the simple and conventional "official" explanation. There isn't as much as I would like on the subject that covers conspiratorial thinking in a truly skeptical way, so this was right up my alley. I especially liked the inclusion of two British theories that I'm fascinated by conspiracy theories, in the same way that some people rubberneck at car accidents. The tortured logic, the complete divorce from reality, the assumption that anything, literally anything, even aliens, is more plausible than the simple and conventional "official" explanation. There isn't as much as I would like on the subject that covers conspiratorial thinking in a truly skeptical way, so this was right up my alley. I especially liked the inclusion of two British theories that I hadn't heard of before (maybe they'd never really made the translation to US circles?). I could have done with a slightly deeper and longer analysis of why people will hold these theories, even long after they're rightly exposed as the nonsense they are, but I think a general need for a story covers it. Things can't just randomly happen, it doesn't make a good story. Beautiful, famous, and successful people can't just die, it doesn't make a good story. There has to be a deeper meaning, right? But real life isn't a story, of course, and sometimes there is no meaning.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Marvin

    Nice treatise on the nature of conspiracy theories and why people believe them beyond any other reasonable explanation. The author looks at a number of past conspiracies going all the way back to the Priory of Sion, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Senator Joseph McCarthy's Commie baiting and the JFK assassination. . However it also includes more current theories like 9/11 truthers and birthers to name a few. While Aaronovitch does a good job in debunking them, this is not the main intention Nice treatise on the nature of conspiracy theories and why people believe them beyond any other reasonable explanation. The author looks at a number of past conspiracies going all the way back to the Priory of Sion, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Senator Joseph McCarthy's Commie baiting and the JFK assassination. . However it also includes more current theories like 9/11 truthers and birthers to name a few. While Aaronovitch does a good job in debunking them, this is not the main intention of his book. He is more interested in examining why we are so fascinated with the idea of conspiracies. He also want to show that an unskeptical look at these unlikely theories can actually be harmful to our society. It is a thorough and thoughtful book that is great reading for those who want to examine history and current events in a more thoughtful way. Unfortunately those who really need this book will not give it a second glance and Aaronovitch explains why that is true too.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Phil Gonzales

    A great book destroyed by a terrible recording. The narrator commits a major faux pas in non-fiction audiobook recording: he tries to do character voices. He has a great reading voice, but every time there is a quote, he throws on a voice. Problem: every Russian sounds like Boris Badenov, every French person sounds like Pepe Le Pew, every American sounds like a gangster (even FDR!) and don't get me started on the Japanese! Oh, christ! It's like an old Fu Manchu movie. Terrible. So distracting. St A great book destroyed by a terrible recording. The narrator commits a major faux pas in non-fiction audiobook recording: he tries to do character voices. He has a great reading voice, but every time there is a quote, he throws on a voice. Problem: every Russian sounds like Boris Badenov, every French person sounds like Pepe Le Pew, every American sounds like a gangster (even FDR!) and don't get me started on the Japanese! Oh, christ! It's like an old Fu Manchu movie. Terrible. So distracting. Still, a great book detailing the history of conspiracy theories from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion through today. Well researched and well documented. Recommended. Not the audio though.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Gary

    this man - like most middle class liberals - has an extreme gut prejudice against White working class people. Just be aware of this

  10. 5 out of 5

    JenniferRuth

    I guess we have all experienced a moment when someone you thought was quite a rational and sensible person suddenly espouses belief in a conspiracy theory, It might be about the 1969 moon landings or the events of 9/11 or global warming being a myth but whatever it is it nearly always implausible. If you point out the holes and impracticalities and the lack of cui bono in these theories you will often find yourself derided as being "close-minded" at best and "brain-washed" at worst. You may begi I guess we have all experienced a moment when someone you thought was quite a rational and sensible person suddenly espouses belief in a conspiracy theory, It might be about the 1969 moon landings or the events of 9/11 or global warming being a myth but whatever it is it nearly always implausible. If you point out the holes and impracticalities and the lack of cui bono in these theories you will often find yourself derided as being "close-minded" at best and "brain-washed" at worst. You may begin to wonder, what is it that makes otherwise sensible, educated people believe in the most ridiculous absurdities. If so, this book is for you. Aaronovitch does a great job of dissecting a whole range of conspiracy theories. He doesn't focus just on evidence-based scepticism to break the theories apart but also spends a considerable amount of time looking into how and why conspiracy theories arise. I felt that this was far more interesting in dismissing the theories themselves. It is pretty easy to disprove most conspiracy theories because they rely on flimsy or twisted evidence, assumptions and vague feelings of how things "might have happened" - it has always seemed to me that people believe in these theories simply because they make sense to them personally. Often people will endorse one fanciful theory whilst dismissing others as crack-pot. What makes people have the ability to think rationally about one set of theories yet buy whole-heartedly into others? Aaronovitch tackles this very question quite thoroughly. The question is, does it matter if people believe in easily falsifiable untruths? Do conspiracies have an effect on politics? Aaronovitch says yes. Specificially, he says "the belief in conspiracy theories is harmful in itself. It distorts our view of history and therefore of the present and - if widespread enough - leads to disastrous decisions." This is the core of the book and is argued very well. The only place where the book falls down is in the conclusion. In attempting to pin down why people become so attached to conspiracy theories Aaronovitch dismisses the idea that sometimes a theory may represent a distrust of authority that is not entirely misplaced. There is a theory that the American government weakened levees in predominantly black areas before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Such a conspiracy would have to include people in local, state and federal government - all of whom supposedly would be rabid racists with no conscious. Yet, it is interesting to look at why such a theory should come about. The American south does have a horrible history of racist oppression that has not entirely disappeared and institutional racism is still rife the world over. Therefore it does make some sense that there is a mistrust of officials would play a part in forming such conspiracy theories. Aaronovitch seems to dismiss this possibility and therefore almost comes across as dismissing racism itself as a conspiracy theory! I feel sure that this is not exactly what he meant but I felt that this angle deserved a deeper analysis than Aaronovitch gave it. Many other conspiracy theories are linked to a deep distrust of those in authority - sometimes with merit and sometimes not. I think another chapter (or even a book!) could be written on how we could distinguish between when a distrust has basis in reality and when it does not. I would recommend this book to anyone who is on the side of rationality and reality. It is not a difficult read and Aaronovitch is very entertaining. The only thing that this book does not provide is a deeper analysis of the underlying emotions running through society that lead to such theories being formed. However, in term of factual and historical analysis this book is informative and a breath of fresh air.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Krista

    The believer in a conspiracy theory or theories becomes, in his own mind, the one in proper communion with the underlying universe, the one who understands the true ordering of things…conspiracy theories are actually reassuring. They suggest that there is an explanation, that human agencies are powerful, and that there is order rather than chaos. This makes redemption possible. It was revealed in the newspaper this week that 14% of Canadians are considered anti-Semitic, agreeing with such sta The believer in a conspiracy theory or theories becomes, in his own mind, the one in proper communion with the underlying universe, the one who understands the true ordering of things…conspiracy theories are actually reassuring. They suggest that there is an explanation, that human agencies are powerful, and that there is order rather than chaos. This makes redemption possible. It was revealed in the newspaper this week that 14% of Canadians are considered anti-Semitic, agreeing with such statements as "Jews have too much control over global affairs" and "Jews are responsible for most of the world's wars". I have been fascinated with anti-Semitism for the longest time precisely because I don't understand it -- who are the fear-mongers that spread the idea that the Jewish people are a shadowy cabal that pull the strings behind the scenes? And when you compare the anti-Semites with the Jews, which side looks more conspiratorial? In Voodoo Histories, David Aaronovitch answers these questions and more, starting with The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and its role in launching the age of the modern conspiracy theory: That Jews had planned and caused WWI as war profiteers and to disrupt world governance. While there was undeniable proof at the time (1919) that the book was a forgery (it was originally a French satire about Napoleon's lust for power that was later edited to implicate Jews instead), the fact that it seemed to make sense of the devastating war that had left the populace feeling powerless and horrified made it irresistible. This acceptance of shadowy theories despite proof to the contrary is a recurring theme in Voodoo Histories, and here's what I found interesting about that: Although I have heard of these various conspiracy theories, I have never heard that there is definitive proof that the American Armed Forces hadn't cracked the Japanese codes during WWII (and so they couldn't have been aware of or supported the attack on Pearl Harbor); I have never heard that an expert panel (not the Warren Commission) proved that JFK could have been shot by Oswald alone; I have never heard that Princess Diana was definitely neither pregnant or engaged to Dodi Al Fayed (removing any tenuous excuse for her "assassination" by the Royal Family) -- it boggles my mind that the conspiracy side has been louder throughout the years than the plain facts; that even someone like me who doesn't go looking for conspiracies has heard the cranks but never their detractors (and honestly, I was sure that Oswald didn't act alone). Now, I've never gone looking for conspiracies, but I do have a soft spot for pseudo-history, so was surprised at the inclusion of authors like Erich von Däniken and Graham Hancock, and especially, Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln and their book Holy Blood Holy Grail -- how especially disappointing to learn that the last three knew their theories were based on a hoax even before they went to print. I admit that I have spent many happy hours reading these authors' wacky alternative history theories (the pyramids were built by the Atlanteans! Ezekiel's Wheel was an alien spaceship! Jesus' descendants await a return to the throne of France!) and I would tend to think, "I don't believe it, so what's the harm?", but Aaronovitch explains: I have now plowed through enough of these books to be able to state that, as a genre, they are badly written and, in their anxiety to establish their dubious neo-scholarly credentials, incredibly tedious. So, if we're not reading them for the prose, why are we? Why do we read bad history books that have the added distinction of not being in any way true or useful, and not buy in anything like the same numbers history books that are often far better written and much more likely to give us an understanding of who we are and where we came from? Those are good questions: I have never bought a National Enquirer in my life (or even flipped through one in the checkout line to see the real and unretouched photos of the Elvis-Sasquatch baby), so why do I pollute my mind with nonsense because it has the veneer of scholarship? And since most of us agree that the Truthers and the Birthers are all crackpots, what's the harm of letting them have their pastimes? Aaronovitch explains that there is harm: Once upon a time, the crackpots poring over The Protocols of the Elders of Zion were young men named Hitler and Himmel, and based on a forged hoax of a book, these men tried to implement the Final Solution. In our modern times, within 5 years of 9/11, over a third of New Yorkers believed that the US government was either complicit in the attack on the Twin Towers or at least were involved in a coverup. When we look at the big picture of history, past conspiracies do affect modern political agendas -- and I must assume that includes persistent anti-Semitism, and especially as it is expressed in the poll I started with. Voodoo Histories is an interesting and erudite book -- a relentless debunker of all the modern conspiracy theories -- and if I had one small complaint it would be that, as it was written by a British journalist, it includes a few scandals that I've never heard of and they were a little dull to me: Would you care if I told you your shoelaces are NSA listening devices and then disproved it in the next breath? Remember you heard it here first.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jake

    A couple of years ago, a friend of mine who is not politically astute sent me a text asking if anyone ever got arrested for that “pizza thing.” I had no idea what he was talking about so I pressed him. He said, “You know, that child sex ring.” Oh yeah. That. Granted, he sent me this text two months after some gun-bearing idiot had gone to that pizza shop looking to solve things for himself. My friend, again who is not politically conscious, was referring to the famous right-wing conspiracy that th A couple of years ago, a friend of mine who is not politically astute sent me a text asking if anyone ever got arrested for that “pizza thing.” I had no idea what he was talking about so I pressed him. He said, “You know, that child sex ring.” Oh yeah. That. Granted, he sent me this text two months after some gun-bearing idiot had gone to that pizza shop looking to solve things for himself. My friend, again who is not politically conscious, was referring to the famous right-wing conspiracy that the Clintons and the DNC were running the sex ring out of the pizza place based on an intentional misreading of leaked emails. If David Aaronovitch were ever to update this book, that would be a great example. People dig conspiracies for a variety of reasons, namely how it helps explain their world. My apolitical friend, who definitely doesn’t care for liberals like me, found it easier to believe some bs on the news to justify his worldview than actually do research for himself. As do many. What Aaronovitch does a stellar job of is showing how fringe conspiracy theories work themselves into the public consciousness. From Nazi Germany to Soviet Russia to Britain and finally, to the home front here, no empire is too powerful to resist the lure of the easy answer. Aaronovitch debunks them but he also autopsies the political circumstances that allow conspiracy theories to enter the political arena. This book definitely needs an update for the times we live in, especially since the internet has gone into hyperdrive by making everyone even more conspiracy-obsessed than before.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Arthur Schwartz

    “Occam's Razor,” a maxim that urges acceptance of the simplest and least convoluted solution to problems is often used to counter unorthodox claims. Often times it has utility and makes for good commonsense. However, the maxim is often over used. Simple explanations don't always work for the very simple reason that sometimes the reason things are the way they are is because they are not simple or ordinary. David Aaronovitch in Voodoo Histories: The role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern “Occam's Razor,” a maxim that urges acceptance of the simplest and least convoluted solution to problems is often used to counter unorthodox claims. Often times it has utility and makes for good commonsense. However, the maxim is often over used. Simple explanations don't always work for the very simple reason that sometimes the reason things are the way they are is because they are not simple or ordinary. David Aaronovitch in Voodoo Histories: The role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History seems to apply Occam's Razor to every conspiracy he examines. He consistently attempts to debunk every conspiracy, but that like a dull knife the “Razer” leaves many rough edges. It is a transparent exercise in which the author seeks to counter the conspiracy theorists in an ad hominem attack using tidbits of psychology to explain why they think as the do! In an earlier writing—my book, Ethical Empowerment, I remarked that “Aaronovitch has written a good book” before launching into my critique. However, having had the opportunity to reread Voodoo Histories I feel I was too generous. His one-sided effort—while seemingly but disingenuously opening the book with a semblance of balance—comes off more like a diatribe than an objective treatment on the subject of conspiracy theory. The most telling example of Aaronovitch's argument is his discussion of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Stalin's kangaroo trials of Trotskyites in the 1930s. The Protocols were, in fact, the work of Piotr Ivanovich Rachkovsky, head of the Russian secret service in Paris, and used Jews as scapegoats in order too distract the Russian people from the Czar's domestic problems. Similarly, tStalin's phony charges against the Trotskyites was part of the prelude to Stalin's mass murders and executions. Aaronovitch uses the Protocols and the Trotsyite trials as examples of false conspiracies and, indeed, they were. Both were entirely fabricated. However, the irony is that they were both government sanctioned conspiracies! The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was a forgery and a devastating conspiracy against worldwide Jewry. And the fabricated Trotskyite trials were a Stalinist conspiracy against political opponents and, by extension, millions of Russians. Thus, while Aaronovitch represents these as examples of false conspiracies they may well be the clearest examples that exist of governmental orchestrations of conspiracy. The McCarthy era witch hunt in the United States in the 1950s can be viewed in he same way. Aaronovitch, using Occam's razor, shows that the accusations of broad-scale treachery of American citizens on behalf of the Soviet Union was largely false, and the ruination of careers and reputations was one of the lowest and most shameful periods of American history. Indeed, the internal conspiracy against the United States did not exist. However, there was a conspiracy. And, once again, it was orchestrated by elements of the U.S. Government: the House Committee on Un-American Activities and Joseph McCarthy's Senate Committee. Here again, Aaronovitch sees the alleged conspiratorial targets largely perpetrated by governmental agencies as examples of false conspiracy. But somehow, the conspiratorial activities of the governmental organs or agencies that made the false accusations escaped the mark or stigma of conspiracy. Predicably, Aaronovitch dismisses the JFK assassination and the 9-11 conspiracy theories, and many others. The focus seems to be that there is no credible evidence, so those who harbor conspiratorial beliefs think the way they do because—for various reasons, help them cope with the stresses of modern society and culture. His categorical dismissal is, in my view, a patently weak and even reactionary attitude. I was very interested to notice that Aaronovitch does not—I believe—even mention the Vietnam War. You know the one, the war in which the “Pentagon Papers” discovered and released by Daniel Ellsberg revealed untruths and fabrications that dramatically escalated the conflict. Far more American soldiers died in Vietnam than on 9/11. It has been conclusively demonstrated that governmental orchestrations of conspiracies have occurred Regarding 9/11, I strongly encourage the reader to view 9/11 Explosive Evidence – Experts Speak Out produced by Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth. Originally broadcast on PBS, the documentary film is readily available and viewable online. Voodoo Histories is not a terrible book. It is well written and packed with a lot of information. But the psychological explanations of conspiracy significantly compromise and skew the book's objectivity.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Fitzgerald

    Kinda smug in terms of the author's voice and approach to the subject. The arguments weren't terribly solid--for instance, his main criteria for discussing any given conspiracy theory was that he could easily claim to debunk it. The huge field of JFK nonsense is given less space than the Harrodown Hill incident. Aaronovitch also doesn't always do a good job of describing and differentiating between the various conspiracy theorists and their methods, arguments, and potential motivations; however, Kinda smug in terms of the author's voice and approach to the subject. The arguments weren't terribly solid--for instance, his main criteria for discussing any given conspiracy theory was that he could easily claim to debunk it. The huge field of JFK nonsense is given less space than the Harrodown Hill incident. Aaronovitch also doesn't always do a good job of describing and differentiating between the various conspiracy theorists and their methods, arguments, and potential motivations; however, the author does take time to say nasty things about Gore Vidal whether his argument warrants them or not. In the end, this work pays very little attention given to how and why people employ conspiratorial thinking--and what is there is fairly condescending. Another gripe-- Aaronovitch frequently mixes fact and fiction. For example, in several chapters he uses Eco's novel Foucault's Pendulum as evidence against real-world conspiratorial thinking. He (sometimes rightly, sometimes spitefully) reduces most/many conspiracies to anti-Semitism, which is kind of a jerk-ass move to reinforce his argument. Overall, I found this work to be a better example of peevish sniping than of disciplined skepticism. In short, an interesting topic poorly executed.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Anita Dalton

    I liked this book but not for the reasons I purchased it. As someone who has spent a lot of time wallowing in conspiracy at different times in my life, there was little new for me in this book (though this is not to say there was not some content unfamiliar to me – there was and it was fascinating). Moreover, this book is more a debunking attempt than really a look at how conspiracy theory has shaped modern history for the average person. No one can walk away from this book and feel that any of I liked this book but not for the reasons I purchased it. As someone who has spent a lot of time wallowing in conspiracy at different times in my life, there was little new for me in this book (though this is not to say there was not some content unfamiliar to me – there was and it was fascinating). Moreover, this book is more a debunking attempt than really a look at how conspiracy theory has shaped modern history for the average person. No one can walk away from this book and feel that any of the examples of conspiracy, their formation and later belief, has affected the modern canon of history, aside from the JFK assassination. Of course people whose personal beliefs lie on the fringe of reason hold conspiracy theory close to their hearts, but I think it is overblown to seriously suggest that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the “plot” to kill Princess Diana in a random car accident with a drunk driver, or Hillary Clinton supposedly murdering Vince Foster is ever going to achieve the level of mainstream belief that will reflect these fringe beliefs as history. Read my entire review here.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Cecil

    My Conspiracy Theory: Every morning Alex Jones sticks his head up his own ass and farts delusions into his mouth. Mr. Jones then transmits his Delusional Fart Breath (DFB) into the atmosphere via dull, nonsensical, and paranoid speeches, which are spread to the general population via youtube videos and/or radiowaves. Be advised: DFB is a contagious airborn toxin which can infect anyone who sees patterns in nothing (and/or everything), and likes to think they know more than the rest of the blind My Conspiracy Theory: Every morning Alex Jones sticks his head up his own ass and farts delusions into his mouth. Mr. Jones then transmits his Delusional Fart Breath (DFB) into the atmosphere via dull, nonsensical, and paranoid speeches, which are spread to the general population via youtube videos and/or radiowaves. Be advised: DFB is a contagious airborn toxin which can infect anyone who sees patterns in nothing (and/or everything), and likes to think they know more than the rest of the blind "sheeple." Supporting Ron Paul and telling others to "wake up" are common symptoms of DFB. If you find yourself in a conversation with a patient suffering a strong case of DFB, ask them why they have not yet been murdered by whatever nefarious and omnipotent organization they are exposing. This will not cure them, but may shut them up long enough for you to change the subject, or escape.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Hayes

    It is said that there are two main theories of history: the conspiracy theory and the cock-up theory. In this book the author examines some of the conspiracy theories of the last century or so, and comprehensively debunks them. But debunking and refuting conspiracy theories is not the main purpose of the book. It rather shows that whether or not there are conspiracies, beliefs in conspiracy theories often do more to shape history than the conspiracies the theorists believe in. An example is the It is said that there are two main theories of history: the conspiracy theory and the cock-up theory. In this book the author examines some of the conspiracy theories of the last century or so, and comprehensively debunks them. But debunking and refuting conspiracy theories is not the main purpose of the book. It rather shows that whether or not there are conspiracies, beliefs in conspiracy theories often do more to shape history than the conspiracies the theorists believe in. An example is the Priory of Sion, which, according to the conspiracy theorists, is a centuries-old secret society at the centre of a conspiracy to restore the Merovingian dynasty and thus to change European and possibly world history. In fact it is a hoax, but those who were taken in by the hoax made their fortunes out of it, and influenced the beliefs of millions while doing so. Let me say at the outset that I tend to believe put more weight on the cock-up theory of history. Not that I don't believe that there are conspiracies; there are lots of them. But most real conspirators also make cock ups, like Guy Fawkes. David Aaronovitch covers most of the better-known conspiracy theories of the 20th and early 21st centuries: the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Stalin's show trials of the 1930s, the theory that US President Franklin Roosevelt deliberately provoked the Japanese into attacking Pearl Harbour, the McCarthy witch-hunts, and the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy (with side trips on the deaths of Marilyn Monrow and Princess Diana). Then there is the death of an elderly British rose grower, which a crusading MP tried to link to the sinking of the General Belgrano in the Falklands War. And the Priory of Sion gets the full treatment too -- how three British journalists fell for a hoax, hook, line and sinker, and wrote their book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail on the basis of it, and then sued Dan Brown for stealing their plot in The da Vinci code. Their suit failed, because they found themselves in an awkward dilemma. If their books were history, as they claimed, then there was nothing to prevent a novel writer from basing a novel on it. There is the 9/11 conspiracy theory, which maintains that the US government conspired to murder its own citizens (rather like the Pearl Harbour theory), by bringing down the World Trade Center in New York in a controlled demolition. One version of the theory even maintained that the aircraft that flew into the buildings were elaborate optical illusions created by holography. It is at that point that one surely needs to apply Ockham's razor, if not long before. Perhaps this illustrates something that G.K. Chesterton once said: that truth is always stranger than fiction because fiction is a product of the human mind and therefore congenial to it. Unlike most of the other events that the book describes that gave rise to conspiracy theories, I watched much of this one live on TV. And what had me gobsmacked, while watching the twin towers burn before they collapsed, was not the scale of the conspiracy, but the scale of the cock-up. Of course at that stage nothing was known about the conspiracy, though it later transpired that a conspiracy there undoubtedly was. A group of men did conspire to hijack four aircraft and to fly them into buildings. But what struck me watching the buildings burn, with hundreds of people in them, was that the United States Air Force, arguably the most powerful and well-equipped in the world, apparently made no effort at all to rescue anyone from the buildings. Yet our much smaller South African Air Force had successfully managed to rescue people from burning buildings and a sinking ship. At the time it really did seem like a monumental cock-up. In some of the earlier instances David Aaronovitch shows that the real conspirators were actually the authors and disseminators of the conspiracy theories themselves. In the case of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion the real conspiracy was not that described in the document, but those who forged and distributed the document, including Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and Henry Ford (both of whom later apologised). In the case of the Stalin show trials the real conspirators were not those wccused, convicted and subsequently executed for masterminding a Trotskyist plot, but the Stalinist government and prosecution who made the bogus accusations. Later in the book, however, this connection becomes less apparent -- the comparison between the bogus conspiracies cooked up by the conspiracy theorists and actual conspiracies. And thinking about this, I begin to wonder why. The author deals with the conspiracy theories about the the sinking of the General Belgrano in the Falklands War, but says nothing of the conspiracy of the Argentine Generals that led to the war itself -- and their regime was just as unpleasant as that of Saddam Hussein or Hosni Mubarak. And just over the Andes there was the conspiracy that toppled the elected government of Salvador Allende, and installed the unpleasant dictator Colonel Pinochet in his place. While devoting much space to the bogus conspiracy theories about the Bush Administration attacking its own citizens in the twin towers, the author says little about the WMD conspiracy that was the Bush Administration's excuse for the invasion of Iraq. Wasn't that a conspiracy? Of course the author might say that that was a real conspiracy (though to all accounts it seems that he favoured the invasion of Iraq) while the other was a bogus conspiracy. But wouldn't comparison be useful? In specularing on why people actually believe conspiracy theories, and sometimes go to great lengths to promote and propagate them, the author mentions several theories, including one about paranoia. He notes that most of the people who believe and propagate these theories are middle-class educated people. Paranoia is defined as a mental disorder charactersed by persistent delusions, and often hallucinations. Sometimes these delusions may be of persecution. But, as someone once said, just because you're paranoid it doesn't mean that they're not out to get you. There used to be psychological tests that had statements that you had to give yes or no answers to, and some of them contained statements like "My telephone is tapped." And if you answered "Yes" to it, it was scored as a symptom of paranoia, even if your telephone was tapped, as in South Africa in the 1960s-1980s it might well be. I started this book thinking that I was a firm adherent of the cock-up theory of history. Now I'm not so sure. I'm no less convinced that there are lots of bogus conspiracy theories out there, including all the ones he mentioned. But what about the real ones?

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kent Winward

    The premise of the book isn't exactly a conspiracy theory, but almost: Conspiracy theories end up impacting world history. This is the chilling power we have as humans -- we make up stories and they are or can be completely fictional. We attach meaning to them, we act on them, and we end up changing history. It is particularly glaring when Aaronovitch shows how history has been impacted and continues to be impacted by clearly false conspiracy theories, but it does set up an intriguing method for The premise of the book isn't exactly a conspiracy theory, but almost: Conspiracy theories end up impacting world history. This is the chilling power we have as humans -- we make up stories and they are or can be completely fictional. We attach meaning to them, we act on them, and we end up changing history. It is particularly glaring when Aaronovitch shows how history has been impacted and continues to be impacted by clearly false conspiracy theories, but it does set up an intriguing method for evaluating history -- how do false beliefs impact history? Howard Zinn's response was to counteract the historical narrative with a narrative of the people, but even that represents an attempt to change the belief structure of the people reading the histories. And this is where it gets tricky. We are social creatures, bound up in societies. Religious and political beliefs, for example, have propelled groups forward and into action, often to the detriment of the world. That impact is easier to see in the extreme conspiracy theories, but harder to discern when we get into shades of gray, but that doesn't diminish the need to understand how a group's beliefs can create history.

  19. 4 out of 5

    C. Varn

    This was an interesting book and one that Aaronovich can write compellingly, but elements of it seemed lost in defending a political centrism that itself maybe ahistorical and other elements didn't convince one that the conspiracy theories involved actually shaped modern history that much. His early cases about the Stalinist purges, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and McCarthy hunts are interesting. His dismissal of people like Flynn seems unfair and implications that many were antisemites, This was an interesting book and one that Aaronovich can write compellingly, but elements of it seemed lost in defending a political centrism that itself maybe ahistorical and other elements didn't convince one that the conspiracy theories involved actually shaped modern history that much. His early cases about the Stalinist purges, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and McCarthy hunts are interesting. His dismissal of people like Flynn seems unfair and implications that many were antisemites, which is true, seems to also be aimed at people who weren't/ Aaronovich's tracking of interlocking conspiracies are actually quite interesting and informative, and many of the same names come up over and over again. Aaronovich's political commentary weaken the book and his discussion of the human tendency to seek not only patterns but patterns confirming prior bias would have been better addressed early on. This book is well-written, and compelling in its information, but the closer it got to the current, the harder it was to see if case of effects of conspiracy where actually as strong as his early examples. Furthermore, his case seems to be lost in the details of the conspiracies themselves and by maintaining a kind of political center that may not be entirely warranted.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Temaris

    I'm nearly at the end of the book -- some three pages in fact, having just looked -- and ... I don't know. The author clearly has a very strong sense of Fact and Not!Fact. He spends a lot of time reviewing how Not!Facts get treated as facts, and diagramming the way conspiracy theories develop, interlock, and support each others lies -- the same names over and over. And yet. If he does it in the last three pages, then it's more than I'm expecting. I'll do him the credit of assuming he wants you to I'm nearly at the end of the book -- some three pages in fact, having just looked -- and ... I don't know. The author clearly has a very strong sense of Fact and Not!Fact. He spends a lot of time reviewing how Not!Facts get treated as facts, and diagramming the way conspiracy theories develop, interlock, and support each others lies -- the same names over and over. And yet. If he does it in the last three pages, then it's more than I'm expecting. I'll do him the credit of assuming he wants you to draw your own conclusions. And so: human beings crave the illusion of order and narrative structure. The first thing we do out of any event is turn it into a narrative -- beginning, middle, end. Conspiracy theories save us from the terrible fear that there is no one in charge. We're all just making it up as we go along. Control is an illusion. Shit happens because we don't stop it in time,a nd we're not perfect. It struck me very much, and I don't know how much of this was Aaronovitch's framing, that conspiracy theories are a way of letting yourself believe someone's in charge; there *is* a plan; you *can* fight against the things you fear. Of course, it's a lie. Life doesn't come in narratives; people do things that make no sense. No one is omniscient and endowed with precognition. That hindsight is always 20/20. it's much easier to pick out the significant stuff once it's all over and you can decide which bits *were* the significant stuff. It falls in closely with something that I've taken from Pratchett, on Pan Narrans -- the storytelling ape. We construct stories to make reality look manageable. They are lies, and we implicitly understand they are lies: incomplete and inaccurate. And as long as we remember that they are lies that are based on facts, and not lies based on lies, they are a useful shorthand. Right up until someone takes a French satire about Napoleon III and turns it into the Protocols of Zion, and causes untold grief, pain and death thereby. It made fascinating reading, but the author didn't take the book where I expected him to. A little heavy going, repetitive in places, and his anecdotes re heavyhanded and unnecessary (possibly since I buy the basic premise that bright people can be gullible and credulous, given the right topic), and he starts losing his grip on his contempt every now and again. But interesting. And of course, one is free to draw ones own conclusions. ETA: The last three pages *did* go into the tendency of the human mind to see patterns and construct narrative. I still think he'd have done better to pull the thread out sooner, and thereby strengthen the premise by illustrating his point rather than lining up all the illustrations and going: see what I mean?

  21. 4 out of 5

    Nicola

    I had a friend go off the deep end with his conspiracy theories. He would spend half the night following hyperlinks, say that he couldn't even tell me about all the things he knows, point out all the unmarked cars in our small town, build his bunker in the woods, and worry about all the people photographing him. This wouldn't have necessarily ended our friendship completely--there was room for fascination--but because he was so pretentious about all the conspiracies he was privy to, it was reall I had a friend go off the deep end with his conspiracy theories. He would spend half the night following hyperlinks, say that he couldn't even tell me about all the things he knows, point out all the unmarked cars in our small town, build his bunker in the woods, and worry about all the people photographing him. This wouldn't have necessarily ended our friendship completely--there was room for fascination--but because he was so pretentious about all the conspiracies he was privy to, it was really hard to be around him. Needless to say, our friendship couldn't and didn't survive. I enjoyed Aaronovitch's book, though, ultimately, I wanted more on the psychology behind my friend's behavior than the minutiae of each conspiracy theory. I definitely learned more about the theories out there--I had no idea that Clinton was thought a murderer. It also seems ironic that so many conpiracy theories are conspiracies in themselves--for example, the fear of the Jews as conspirators escalated into the persecution of the Jews or the alleged conspiracy of the communists lead to the real conspiracy of McCarthyism. The idea that part of the motivation for the rise of conspiracy theorists and for some people's paranoia in general relates to an underlying fear of indifference or unimportance rang true for me. As Aaronovitch quoted from Susan Sontag, "I envy paranoids; they actually feel that people are paying attention to them."

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    This book looks at a series of modern conspiracy theories, from pre-Nazi anti-Semitic rumors and Stalinist show trials to 9/11 Truthers. Aaronovitch's take is frequently ironic in tone--when I noticed that the chapter on Dan Brown-style Grail/Catholic conspiracy theories was called 'Holy Blood, Holy Grail, Holy Shit,' I knew I was going to like it. If you have a pet conspiracy, you'll probably hate it, but if you're willing to look at rumors with a healthy dose of skepticism, it's a pleasure to This book looks at a series of modern conspiracy theories, from pre-Nazi anti-Semitic rumors and Stalinist show trials to 9/11 Truthers. Aaronovitch's take is frequently ironic in tone--when I noticed that the chapter on Dan Brown-style Grail/Catholic conspiracy theories was called 'Holy Blood, Holy Grail, Holy Shit,' I knew I was going to like it. If you have a pet conspiracy, you'll probably hate it, but if you're willing to look at rumors with a healthy dose of skepticism, it's a pleasure to see myths exploding left and right. If I had a complaint, it was that I wished he'd spent more time on conspiracy theories in minority communities--as is evidenced in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, not to mention the rumors abounding after Hurricane Katrina, marginalized views of history can have a profound impact on minorities' lives and the way they perceive the world. This is something of which historians, scholars in general, and the wider public need a greater understanding, if we're to heal some of the wounds in our society.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sonja Reid

    An interesting take on conspiracy theories, this book meanders through quite a few of them: the deaths of Diana and JFK and Marilyn Monroe , 9/11, Pearl Harbor...the list goes on. I found the chapter about "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" to be particularly well-done. Unfortunately, Aaronovitch can't resist the lure of the occasional snarky comment, which doesn't actually build his case. And in a section about the murder of an elderly anti-nuclear activist, he clearly thinks that rape is an An interesting take on conspiracy theories, this book meanders through quite a few of them: the deaths of Diana and JFK and Marilyn Monroe , 9/11, Pearl Harbor...the list goes on. I found the chapter about "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" to be particularly well-done. Unfortunately, Aaronovitch can't resist the lure of the occasional snarky comment, which doesn't actually build his case. And in a section about the murder of an elderly anti-nuclear activist, he clearly thinks that rape is an act motivated by attraction which is a complete crock. Other than that I certainly didn't feel as though I was wasting my time, but I feel as though there are probably better books out there on the topic. The main point that I take away from this book is that we all have a tendency to find facts that build our own viewpoints, and to ignore or discount ones that do not, and that's worth keeping an eye on.

  24. 4 out of 5

    John Martindale

    Fascinating book, Aaronovitch starts off by showing how a widespread adherence to an extremely far-fetched conspiracy theory laid the ground work for the holocaust and how humanities propensity to buy into crack-pot conspiracies lead to the USSR's reign of terror. The rest of the book then sought to show how ridiculous many popular conspiracy theories are, though the consequences of people believing in them were never as severe as in the first two cases. This is a much needed book, I am sure Ale Fascinating book, Aaronovitch starts off by showing how a widespread adherence to an extremely far-fetched conspiracy theory laid the ground work for the holocaust and how humanities propensity to buy into crack-pot conspiracies lead to the USSR's reign of terror. The rest of the book then sought to show how ridiculous many popular conspiracy theories are, though the consequences of people believing in them were never as severe as in the first two cases. This is a much needed book, I am sure Alex Jones is sure that the book itself is part of a conspiracy and was produced by the Bilderbergs in order to deceive and muddle simple people like me.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Mallory

    I enjoyed the author's methodical dissection of multiple conspiracy theories, if only because I find conspiracists ridiculous, and so does the author. The epilogue also contained a thoughtful and interesting speculation on why conspiracy theories have so much appeal. If someone in your life is bedeviling you with ridiculous conspiracy theories, this is the book for you. I enjoyed the author's methodical dissection of multiple conspiracy theories, if only because I find conspiracists ridiculous, and so does the author. The epilogue also contained a thoughtful and interesting speculation on why conspiracy theories have so much appeal. If someone in your life is bedeviling you with ridiculous conspiracy theories, this is the book for you.

  26. 4 out of 5

    ERIN SCHMIDT

    David Aaronovitch is a British journalist. The central theme of his book is that conspiracy theories often come about when a large group of people has suffered an emotional loss. The conspiracy theory provides a narrative that makes the loss more palatable, more understandable. While Aaronovitch sympathizes with the psychological aspects of conspiracy theorizing, he also emphasizes the real-life consequences when large groups believe things that are factually inaccurate. The chapters of his book David Aaronovitch is a British journalist. The central theme of his book is that conspiracy theories often come about when a large group of people has suffered an emotional loss. The conspiracy theory provides a narrative that makes the loss more palatable, more understandable. While Aaronovitch sympathizes with the psychological aspects of conspiracy theorizing, he also emphasizes the real-life consequences when large groups believe things that are factually inaccurate. The chapters of his book provide several historical examples of this. The most dramatic may be how the demonstrable fraud of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion influenced a century of virulent anti-Semitism, including the Holocaust. When conspiracy theory is linked with scapegoating, there's a good possibility that people will die as a result. Please note that Aaronovitch's analysis of conspiracy theories has neither a liberal nor a conservative bias. In his historical survey, what he sees is that neither side of the political spectrum is more prone than the other to believing in dark forces at work behind the scenes. What matters more is not the political bent of the theorizer but whether they feel disempowered and at a loss at the historical moment of the theorizing. For example, the liberal/progressive side of the United States felt it was under attack and at a loss with the assassination of John Kennedy in 1963. As of the writing of this book, approximately half of Americans believed in some kind of conspiracy theory regarding the president's assassination. Aaronovitch brought up a historical fact rarely mentioned in Kennedy conspiracy circles: That Lee Harvey Oswald had tried to assassinate another politician previously, although his shot missed and no one was hurt. The note Oswald wrote to his wife Marina confessing this deed, in case he didn't return home, is still extant. Since this fact is inconvenient to "Oswald was framed" theories, it's rarely brought up in conspiracy circles. Omitting inconvenient facts is a common characteristic of conspiracy theories, Aaronovitch argues. He mentions the glaring inconsistencies and outright untruths in the popular documentary Loose Change, which alleges U.S. government conspiracy in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Another popular conspiracy theory in which popular narratives bend and twist the facts to fit the narrative is the suicide of Clinton White House aide Vincent Foster. Conspiracists, Aaronovitch demonstrates, take off-hand, non-professional, and uninformed statements made by those loosely attached to the incident, such as statements made by first responders, as if they were gospel truth. This is called the Historian's Fallacy: The tendency to believe that a witness, having experienced an event that later turned out to have historical significance, must experience the event in the way that a historian would describe it. In reality, by definition, the witness can only know what they experienced at the time. They can't have foreknowledge of facts that will only become widely known after the event has been studied and investigations conducted. To expect a witness's offhand statement to be 100% accurate at the moment the witness is involved in an ongoing event is to fight the nature of reality itself. And yet we see this all the time on YouTube. A tragic event such as a mass shooting (unfortunately common in the U.S.) happens and a witness, who may be a first responder, a child, or a person with no formal training in law enforcement, ballistics, etc. makes an offhand remark about the number of shooters, the number of gunshots, etc., and the conspiracy-minded YouTube video creator takes this statement as if it must be accurate. This is then conflated into the theory that there must be a cover-up of the "real" version of events that "they" don't want you to know. If you've spent any time on YouTube at all, you probably know how common, and often disturbing, this is. It has led to lawsuits, in fact. Grieving relatives don't like being called liars or having non-experts with no connection to the event claiming that their dead relative is, in fact, a "crisis actor" who only pretended to be murdered so that Group X could try to get Law Z passed. The fact is, for human societies to operate properly, there has to be a certain amount of agreement on what does and what does not constitute reality. Facts must be properly vetted and opinions must be grounded in facts that can withstand rigorous scrutiny. Otherwise we each live in our own fantasy worlds and none of those fantasies are compatible with each other. This book was published in 2008, but even though it's a decade old, a thoughtful reader could easily apply what Aaronovitch lays out in his book to the U.S. election of 2016. In fact, he addresses the loss of power experienced by white American males as they perceive their world being threatened by advances made by women and by men of color. An antidote to the harmful scapegoating effect, Aaronovitch suggests, is for these men to gain the emotional literacy they would need to deal with their feelings as feelings, rather than externalizing them in a way that can have devastating consequences for the lives of the groups they see as the enemy.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Fox

    This is definitely one of the best books on the topic of conspiracy theories that I have yet read. Although several years old now, having come out in 2010, it remains as relevant today as it was then. Chapter by chapter, theory by theory, this book examines the history of the big hitters. JFK, Princess Diana, Madonna, the bloodline of Jesus, the Birther movement, and the Clinton deaths. All of that and more. Rather than simply going into what the conspiracy theories are, it also goes into why we This is definitely one of the best books on the topic of conspiracy theories that I have yet read. Although several years old now, having come out in 2010, it remains as relevant today as it was then. Chapter by chapter, theory by theory, this book examines the history of the big hitters. JFK, Princess Diana, Madonna, the bloodline of Jesus, the Birther movement, and the Clinton deaths. All of that and more. Rather than simply going into what the conspiracy theories are, it also goes into why we believe them. This all leads to the biggest, and most recent and relevant theory to most of the reader's lives. The 9/11 Truther movement. The 9/11 chapter is likely the longest one in the book, only with the possible exception of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion chapter. The book ends on the 9/11 conspiracy for a reason. All the chapters prior are leading up to what constitutes conspiracy thought, and 9/11 draws upon most of these traditions. Ultimately the conclusion drawn is the same that Jon Ronson reaches in the brilliant Them: Adventures with Extremists. Conspiracies are ultimately a comfort to us, as they imply that the world is under some sort of control rather than simply predicated upon random chance. Conspiracies allow us the knowledge that, perhaps, some could figure this out and work for good. Conspiracies tell us a lot about how people think, what they believe, and their stations in life. They're an interesting topic, for sure, but a very, very dangerous one.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Etmelisande

    A great introduction to the importance of conspiracy theory as an historical phenomenon. Aaronovitch gives a useful taxonomy in the introduction, although it is unclear if he is arguing that all conspiracy theories must exhibit the characteristics he lists, or that they are common features exhibited by some but not all. Aaronovitch takes the position that conspiracy theories, although real conspiracies do occur, are dangerous and should be considered with caution. This is in contrast to an autho A great introduction to the importance of conspiracy theory as an historical phenomenon. Aaronovitch gives a useful taxonomy in the introduction, although it is unclear if he is arguing that all conspiracy theories must exhibit the characteristics he lists, or that they are common features exhibited by some but not all. Aaronovitch takes the position that conspiracy theories, although real conspiracies do occur, are dangerous and should be considered with caution. This is in contrast to an author like Lance DeHaven-Smith, who argues that the term "conspiracy theory/ist" is used to dismiss viable suspicions of our government. Indeed, Aaronovitch defines "conspiracy theory," as "the attribution of secret action to one party that might far more reasonably be explained as the less covert and less complicated action of another." Yet, what defines something being "reasonable," versus "unreasonable"? Rather than focusing on the philosophical/epistemological problems with conspiracy theories in general, however, Aaronovitch focuses on specific historical case studies of conspiracy theories and their impact--and this is where his book really shines. He tackles the anti-Semitic forged document The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which had an impact on the ideology of some members of the Nazi party, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the death of Princess Diana, and the 9/11 Truth movement, among many others. He bookmarks the book, in the introduction and conclusion, with anecdotes about conspiracy theorists he has met in real life. Aaronovitch's focus on specific conspiracy theorists strengthens his book and his argument--overall this is a very informative book for those with a passing interest in conspiracy theories and why people believe them.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Gina

    Sometimes frustrating but generally entertaining. It held my attention more with the conspiracy theories I was familiar with, but the variety of theories covered you get a good range of how and why it builds. I not only learned a lot from it, but I feel like I want to return to it in a few years, and it will be better. The thing that surprised me the most was that Gore Vidal bought into so many conspiracy theories - I feel like that is relevant to his status as an intellectual. The other big surpr Sometimes frustrating but generally entertaining. It held my attention more with the conspiracy theories I was familiar with, but the variety of theories covered you get a good range of how and why it builds. I not only learned a lot from it, but I feel like I want to return to it in a few years, and it will be better. The thing that surprised me the most was that Gore Vidal bought into so many conspiracy theories - I feel like that is relevant to his status as an intellectual. The other big surprise - besides the frequency of presidential assassination plots - was that Lee Harvey Oswald had previously attempted another assassination with the same gun. I had never thought it was anyone else, but I was unaware of how many reasons there were to believe it was him. (Reasons that often get ignored, I know.)

  30. 4 out of 5

    Alex O'Connor

    Disappointing. I thought I would enjoy this far more than I did. While very well researched and even vaguely humorous, I found the book to be exceedingly dry and hard to get through. I would still recommend it as a resource for people who are looking to get a more balanced view on the Clinton kill count, 9/11 truthers, and other major conspiracies.

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