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)
Audible listener since the late 1990s. I mostly listen to science fiction, fantasy, history, and science.
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.
Semi retired / worked mostly Nonprofits. Lv Blues into Rock & Roll Lv mysteries (mstly Pol procs) Lv Baseball / Played til 55 - umpd til 63
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 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.
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