Our age is obsessed by the idea of conspiracy. We see it everywhere - from Pearl Harbor to 9/11, from the assassination of Kennedy to the death of Diana. In this age of terrorism we live in, the role of conspiracy is a serious one - one that can fuel radical or fringe elements to violence.
For award-winning journalist David Aaronovitch, there came a time when he started to see a pattern among these inflammatory theories. He found that these theories used similarly murky 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; and they relied on the authority of dubious academic sources. Most important, 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 an elaborate hoax.
In this entertaining and enlightening book - aimed at providing ammunition for those who have found themselves at the wrong end of a conversation about moon landings or the twin towers - Aaronovitch carefully probes and explodes a dozen of the major conspiracy theories. In doing so, he examines why people believe them and makes an argument for a true skepticism - one based on a thorough knowledge of history and a strong dose of common sense.
©2009 David Aaronovitch (P)2010 Audible Ltd
"Leaves us in no doubt that arriving at the truth is a vital matter – at times a matter of life and death." (Financial Times)
"Deconstructs a dizzying array of conspiracy theories in this pages with unsparing logic common sense and at times exasperated wit." (Michiko Kakutani, New York Times)
On Audible since the late 1990s, mostly science fiction, fantasy, history & science. I rarely review 1-2 star books that I can't get through
This is an excellent, thoughtful, and very listenable book on conspiracy theories from the most skeptical of viewpoints. The book delves deeply into the deaths of JFK, Marilyn Monroe, and Princess Diana, as well as the show trials of Stalinist Russia, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, 9/11 conspiracies, and even the recent "birther" conspiracies. Each conspiracy is completely rejected, though the level of detail devoted to each debunking varies. If you are of an "anti-conspiratorial" bent, this book will appeal to you greatly, and the analysis at the end about the nature of conspiracy theories is thoughtful and well-articulated.
A couple of flaws prevent this from being a five star review. First, the book suffers a bit from the eternal problem of debunkers, to fight crazy conspiracies, you need to stoop to their level a bit, which can occasionally seem either petty, or overly drawn out. The book also drags a bit in the middle, as it covers a lot of ground, and moving from JFK to Marilyn to RFK to Princess Diana, topics that, for me at least, weren't as interesting. Finally, the reader is odd - the main narrative is great, but he does various "voices" for people like FDR or the Queen, which are not quite imitations, and thus are a bit jarring.
And, as an additional note, if you believe in any of the above conspiracies, this book will likely make your blood boil. Take that how you will.
Overall, however, this is an excellent, reasonably quick and generally entertaining tour of conspiracy debunking.
The book did drag in some places, but seemed to get better as it went on. David Aaronovitch discusses commonalities found in conspiracy theories and the reasons people are attracted to them. The phenomenon is more complex than I had thought. The book begins and ends by underscoring that conspiracy theories can do serious harm.
Apparently though, they will always be with us because people love interesting stories and some people have a lot to gain by propagating them. Even journalists and scholars can't always resist them. And the most outlandish tale spreaders often begin with the disclaimer, "I'm not one to believe in conspiracy theories but . . . . "
The narrator, James Langton, was excellent.
I know that there are those who believe that what Aronovitch shows and documents goes contrary to what they believe. What they don't "get" is that what Aronovitch is putting forth is absolutely valid and (as they say when describing the scientific method) reproducible.
If this was required reading for a logic or civics course that would be required in high schools across the country (and maybe Western Europe), or of all college freshmen, we'd all be a lot better off. We'd elect officials based on qualifications. We'd stop wasting our time trying to prove the unprovable and erroneous and get a lot more done.
Read (or listen to) this book. Pay attention.
There are a couple of quibbles with exact dates, etc. that prevent me from giving this a 5star, but then my standards, in that area are fairly high.
This is an interesting book, both reading as a communication researcher and someone regularly working with history. As history reads go, this is one of my favorites for a few years.
Sometimes reminds me of Jon Ronson's writings on conspiracy theorists, etc. except instead of the gonzo journalist voice, this is more snarky and opinionated, sometimes disdainfully shooting down completely legitimate academic traditions like poststructural relativism.
I was annoyed whenever the narrator "did a voice" when citing a female writer or source. All "female voices" sounded alike - a slightly carricatured image of softness with notes of naivité.
This is a very entertaining audiobook. It is read by a superb fellow who does great accents and the content is even better. If you have been pestered by a conspiracy theorist trying to get you to watch/read anything about the 9/11 conspiracy, this book is for you. He pulls apart the ridiculous jumps in logic that conspiracy theorists make.
While the cover shows Marilyn Monroe, JFK, and 9-11, the bulk of the book is devoted to historically important but generally dull conspiracy theories of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The first part of the book seems legit, as it tries to demonstrate that conspiracy theories have been around forever. But soon it bogs down in the long, drawn-out discussions of ones we've never heard of, while the well-known 20th century ones seem to get passing discussion.
Good if you want history, not so good if you want the curiosity which is modern conspiracy theories. Perhaps the author is out to get us....... ;)
Want to be an official skeptic? Say "Occam's Razor" and cite the most ridiculous parts of the most ridiculous "conspiracy theory" - the Protocols of Zion - and you can dismiss more credible theories because that one is so justifiably stupid. And remember: you're the intellectual. Full disclosure - I'm only a half-hour in, but so far this is Bill Nye by-the-numbers skepticism. To dismiss Dr. David Griffin's work because he overstated his credentials somewhere, or to say there is no credible reason to question the murder of MLK despite what Dr. William Pepper might say is par for the course. Maybe it will get better.
Maybe if it was free
This book had no coherent timeline. The author bounced from one secret society to another in different points in time with no reference to a change in time.
I was couldn't really appreciate the performance, due to the horrible writing
There are no real characters in this book, as it is supposed to an alternative history, rather than a story.
The author lost any possible hopes of convincing me of his alternative histories, due to the fact that he couldn't write one chapter that stayed in one time. This book appears to be the vomit of his mind landing on pages with no rhyme or reason.
"Better in author's voice"
I heard david narrate some chapters of this book at a 'Skeptics in the Pub' event. He did it 'off the cuff' without notes. The material was engaing and very interesting. He signed my copy I hastily bought from the organisers of the event. I spoke to him at length and found him warm, open and very well researched in his subject areas, much like the book. Yes, I accept that the narration here can be a bit 'off-putting' but do not let it stop you from getting this title. It would have earned 5 stars if David had read it himself as he has a very good presentation style, and you can hear the mischevious humour beyond the straight line he is giving. VooDoo histories earns 5 stars, this version is slightly below par.
"Educational and plausible"
Thoroughly interesting and educational - and you can?t help but think the author has done his research. Narration was pleasant except for the frightful French, German, Russian.... accents. Please - only do accents if you are any good - it was so lame and partly spoiled the book. It would have been 4 stars but for the accents.
This audiobook is totally marred by bad narration. There are so many quotes in this book that the narrator has to change his voice to fake American, fake Churchill, fake Jewish Rabbi, fake French etc on every page, and the thing is while he's a good reader, he is clearly not good at doing character voices. Not even someone who is good at this would make it, there are just too many quotes. The producers of this audio book should have just stuck to a single commanding voice.
The book itself is interesting but I can't even continue through it because of this problem.
"Those funny accents"
I am obviously not the only one who was shocked by the accents. It started badly with the Russian and French, and then got very scary when he did Japanese and Marilyn Monroe! The book itself is remarkably un-analytical, in that there is are reams of descriptions of past events with little comment and context. A disappointment.
While I've heard some of this before, particularly the material on Dan Brown which Tony Robinson has had such fun with. However, other parts, particularly the Marilyn Munroe material, was new to me and both fascinating and stupifying. How people come come up with and believe some of this stuff is beyond imagination.
Well worth the time and very interesting.
"Try to get past the narrator's self indulgence"
First, the narrator. When he is reading without reaching for his repetoire of comedy voices he is easy to listen to and aids the listener in following the arguments and counter arguments that are explained in this book. However, when trying to add 'colour' to his quotations (and there are alot of them) the whole thing sounds like an audition piece for a voice talent agency. I wouldnt mind but they are often wildly inaccurate. Take, for example, Tam Dalyell. Or, Sir Thomas Dalyell Loch, 11th Baronet of the Binns; educated Edinburgh Academy and Eton. He is somewhow portrayed as a cross between a Glasgow Dockworker and Billy Connolly! (Who actually was a Glasgow Dockworker, come to think of it. Pick another Glasgow Dockworker) The less said about the Monroe impression the better.
If you can get past this irritation, however, it's a hugely enlightening and entertaining listen. Clearly the nature of the book means it will appeal to those who have little truck with conspiracy theories. If you are a 'truther' or a 'birther' you will learn little that will excite you and you will just get a bit angry with it all. If, on the other hand, you regard conspiracy theorists as generally irrelevant, though occasionally dangerous, then this book will provide all the dinner party ammnunition you need to shoot down the most ardent conspiracy fantasist. Would have been 4 stars without the distracting voice irritant.
Excellent factual read for anyone fed up up with their credulous friends "armchair detective" beliefs in absurd conspiracies and good fun.
"Not what I wanted"
What I expected was a review of weird conspiracy theories and then an analysis of why people want to believe in such theories and what characteristics a conspiracy theory must have to win followers. i.e. I was looking for a book about human psychology, not a history book. Well, I should have paid attention to the clearly stated subtitle, as I got what it says on the cover. History. Except, it is history that never even happened, footnotes to history, as the mainstream moves on a forgets the hot-button fantasies of their Grandparents. The first conspiracy - that of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion - was the most interesting. Based originally on a satirical French pamphlet, used in fiction and then repackaged and presented (in the early 20th Century) as the actual Zionist plot to take over the world, that is an impressive story. After that, frankly, I just couldn't get excited. Roosevelt plotted to get the Japanese to mount the Pearl Harbour attack? It is not amazing or very important now that certain isolationist Americans believed that. Perhaps the interesting message is that demagogical politicians can use false theories to motivate crowds? I think I already knew that.
"Magnificent debunking of conspiracist mentalities"
What a fantastic book! To my mind utterly convincing, not only in its deconstruction of some of the most notable conspiracies of recent (and not so recent) history, but in its analysis of why so many believe so much nonsense and the damage it frequently does.
"Intellectual Integrity - our only real protection"
This is a really impressive collecting together of the most important stories that sit under news and current affairs and stubbornly point to an alternative history hidden to all but the enlightened. The prism of focus shifts from Left to Right and in each case there is an unofficial ranking based on how far the assumptions which support these glimpses of the real truth are congruent with the individual?s personal world view, which then serves as the coagulant through which the conspiracy grows.
David Aaronovitch does a real service here in undertaking an examination which has the method and rigour which the case studies that he refers to lack and then gives a cogent and coherent conclusion which draws all of the threads together to an enormously satisfying close. What has been produced should be applauded since it is a real model of hard-working, clear thinking intellectualism of the highest order of merit and integrity....the section on Hilda Murrell in particular displays Aaronovitch?s writing and critical method at its very best.
Or does it.....?
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