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Publisher's Summary

Millions of Americans buy into conspiracy theories. Did you know that...

  • 81 percent of Americans believe more than one person was responsible for the assassination of John F. Kennedy?
  • 1/3 of this country thinks 9/11 was an “inside job” by the Bush administration? 
  • 21 percent believes aliens crash-landed in Roswell and are being hidden in Area 51? 
  • 7 percent are convinced that the moon landing was faked?

What causes some people to advocate these unfounded—often disproven—ideas as reality? And why is the power of conspiracies so compelling that they can motivate people to act, some even participating in acts of violence?

In this eye-opening Audible Original, Professor Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine and the host of the Science Salon podcast, takes you through some of the most prevalent conspiracy theories in history, giving you a clear understanding of how and why they came about, who was likely to believe and perpetuate them, and the reality behind these beliefs.

Whether you are looking for the truth regarding popular conspiracy theories; are fascinated by the psychology of why people buy into them; or are interested in how they shaped and were shaped by history, this course will provide you all the tools you need to better understand the pervasiveness of conspiracy theories.  

©2019 Audible Originals, LLC (P)2019 Audible Originals, LLC.

Our favorite moments from Conspiracies & Conspiracy Theories

Chapter 2, Lecture 1: The Difference between Conspiracies and Conspiracy Theories
  • Chapter 2, Lecture 1: The Difference between Conspiracies and Conspiracy Theories
Mass-killer manifesto
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Chapter 6, Lecture 7: The Conspiracy Detection Kit
  • Chapter 6, Lecture 7: The Conspiracy Detection Kit
Russia manipulates US social media.
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Chapter 11, Lecture 12: The Real X-Files: Conspiracy Theories in Myth and Reality
  • Chapter 11, Lecture 12: The Real X-Files: Conspiracy Theories in Myth and Reality
"And you greet me with bombs!"
-0.00
  • Chapter 2, Lecture 1: The Difference between Conspiracies and Conspiracy Theories
  • Mass-killer manifesto
  • Chapter 6, Lecture 7: The Conspiracy Detection Kit
  • Russia manipulates US social media.
  • Chapter 11, Lecture 12: The Real X-Files: Conspiracy Theories in Myth and Reality
  • "And you greet me with bombs!"

Publisher's Summary

Millions of Americans buy into conspiracy theories. Did you know that...

  • 81 percent of Americans believe more than one person was responsible for the assassination of John F. Kennedy?
  • 1/3 of this country thinks 9/11 was an “inside job” by the Bush administration? 
  • 21 percent believes aliens crash-landed in Roswell and are being hidden in Area 51? 
  • 7 percent are convinced that the moon landing was faked?

What causes some people to advocate these unfounded—often disproven—ideas as reality? And why is the power of conspiracies so compelling that they can motivate people to act, some even participating in acts of violence?

In this eye-opening Audible Original, Professor Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine and the host of the Science Salon podcast, takes you through some of the most prevalent conspiracy theories in history, giving you a clear understanding of how and why they came about, who was likely to believe and perpetuate them, and the reality behind these beliefs.

Whether you are looking for the truth regarding popular conspiracy theories; are fascinated by the psychology of why people buy into them; or are interested in how they shaped and were shaped by history, this course will provide you all the tools you need to better understand the pervasiveness of conspiracy theories.  

©2019 Audible Originals, LLC (P)2019 Audible Originals, LLC.
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About the Professor

Dr. Michael Shermer is the publisher of Skeptic magazine, the host of the Science Salon podcast, and a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University where he teaches Skepticism 101, a course in how to think like a scientist. For 18 years he was a monthly columnist for Scientific American. Dr. Shermer is the New York Times best-selling author of numerous books including Heavens on Earth, The Moral Arc, The Believing Brain, The Mind of the Market, Why Darwin Matters, The Science of Good and Evil, and Why People Believe Weird Things. Dr. Shermer received his BA in psychology from Pepperdine University, his MA in experimental psychology from California State University and his PhD in the history of science from Claremont Graduate University. He has been a college professor since 1979, has appeared on such shows as The Colbert Report, 20/20, and Dateline, and is a guest on such popular podcasts as The Joe Rogan Experience. Dr. Shermer was co-host and co-producer of the television series Exploring the Unknown.

What listeners say about Conspiracies & Conspiracy Theories

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  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars

Unconvincing take on conspiracies and conspiracy theories

This Audible Original course from the usually excellent The Great Courses would have better been titled 'The psychology of conspiracy theories', since that is the main focus of this course. The first handful of lectures deal with a breakdown of what makes a conspiracy theorist tick but I found the argument unconvincing. In this era where conspiracy theories have become common fodder on cable news and talk radio, fills up the shelves of our bookstores and is swamping the internet I think we have moved beyond the concept of a loony tune ranging away in a crowded room. Conspiracy Theories have almost become part of pop culture and group think than one man shouting loudly from the fringe. Unfortunetly, this premise is not explored at all even though the most popular theories - such as UFO or 911 - involve numerous people spouting theories over decades. The psychology used is solid but not related to the topic and, thus, I found it to be unconvincing. This short series of lectures was interesting but, in the end, unrewarding.

39 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars

not what I was hoping for

I was hoping for more about what makes people susceptible to this sort of thinking, and how to effectively argue against conspiracists.
The lectures touched on those, but spent far more time giving historical accounts of known conspiracies that failed, succeeded, or never were.
it might be a great series if you are more interested in the history end than the psychological one.

15 people found this helpful

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No chapter titles!!???

I find it unbelievable that Audible would make a special contract with Great Courses to provide exclusive content but get lazy about putting in chapter titles. Without chapter titles, we can’t go from chapter to chapter depending on the topic we want to read about, which is the whole point of the great courses. Please fix this failure.

110 people found this helpful

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Really good review of conspiracy theories topic

Very interesting topic with many good examples including analysis of how/ why/ who around conspiracies.

10 people found this helpful

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Not ALL conspiracies are wrong…

(As posted in GoodReads)
I personally am not one for conspiracy theories, but the question of why some people get so convinced and drawn in by some of these has long baffled me. This book both points out some of the best known and most influential conspiracy theories and the aspects that pull people in. And it makes clear that, in fact, some conspiracies are real and that evolution has a good deal to do with the development of conspiracy theories in general. I am confident that I still use enough skepticism and reality to help build my beliefs.
Some of what is pointed out in lecture 10 is particularly unnerving and disturbing, but I really like this book.

9 people found this helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars

Leftist Rant

If you are a leftist you may enjoy this book. Otherwise don't waste your time.

8 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

Persuasive discussion of the Kennedy assassination

As the author indicated, remastered HD versions of the Zapruder film do seem to show a spray of blood fanning out in a forward direction (before getting caught in the 20mph headwind) from the 3rd & fatal head shot, consistent with a shot from the rear

8 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars

Irrekevant

immorally biased, irrelevant examples, short in perspective, narrow scope, pompous introduction, poorly written and read, a waste of time and money.

7 people found this helpful

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Not what I was expecting!

I got this thinking they’d be explaining all major conspiracy theories. Instead, you get education into the minds of conspiracies and those who believe them. It’s a very interesting listen to learn about why certain theories take off and the hardcore believers of that theory very seldom waiver. Great stuff here!!

20 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars

A healthy dose of skepticism combined with a healt

Shermer's work here provides the tools needed to distinguish real conspiracies from the fraudulent.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Kevin Boone
  • 11-01-19

Doesn't mock creationists

Despite what other reviewers have said, this presentation does not mock creationists. What it does, however, is compare the kinds of mental processes that might make a person favour "conspiracist" view of world politics, with those that might make a person favour creationism. This position, it seems to me, is both well-supported by evidence, and actually fairly obvious. Conspiracist politics provides a relatively simple, overarching principle that explains at a stroke the messiness and confusion of real-world politics, while creationism attempts to apply a unifying principle to the complexities of biology. Both politics and biology suffer from being pretty-much incomprehensibly untitdy, so people who like order and regularity will be drawn to modes of thinking that attempts to simply and organize things.

If this amounts to 'mocking', then mock away, but it isn't mocking somebody to explain why he or she might think in a particular way.

Having said all that, Shermer's smug scepticism does get rather wearing. In his books, and in this presentation, I really do get the impression that he's preaching to the choir -- and preaching it good and hard. If you're sceptically inclined yourself -- and I confess that I lean in that direction -- you don't need to have the merits of science and logical thinking drummed into you. And if you're not, you're not going to be convinced by logical thinking, by definition. So we could have done with more of the facts, and less of the bombast.

Moreover, this isn't an easy listen, even if you're fascinated by the subject -- which I am. There's an awful lot of facts and figures crammed into a relatively short presentation. He frequently refers to the work of other academics -- which, of course, he should -- but you have to pay attention, which makes it hard to listen when you might be interrupted. To be honest, I think the whole thing would be better presented as a book.

12 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 06-27-20

Thought provoking and well-balanced

Thought provoking and well balanced.
Well presented, well argued and effectively deals with a lot of the questionable speculative threads that dog a lot of dubious conspiracy theories.

5 people found this helpful

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  • Dave Moody
  • 03-03-20

Commonsense navigating nonsence

A welcome calm approach to rationalise the sensationalism of today. A gentle awakening to the fact that people want you to have their version of events as your version from within and without conspiracy, actual or theoretical. Not just pointing out where bias is but why as well. Enjoyed it.

5 people found this helpful

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  • Sonya
  • 01-22-21

It is a good course indeed.

I enjoyed this book a lot, not just because the conspiracy theory phenomenon is ever-growing and, it seems, more threatening to our democracy and social order. Sure, you get all the juicy details you might want to know about QAnon, but the book is really about humans and how we operate. Recommended.

3 people found this helpful

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  • T. Yates
  • 03-22-20

.

I thought I was buying a book about conspiracy theories but it's quite a dry lecture for 80% of the book about theory rather than actual conspiracies.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Mr. Martin White
  • 09-08-21

Spoilt by blinkered views

This book contains a lot of very useful information on psychology and the tendency for the human brain to work in certain repeatable ways.

However the credibility is destroyed by the author’s evaluations of conspiracy theories. The takeaways from this book seem to me to be:

- There are some real conspiracies in history but only the ones I say you can believe
- Belief in conspiracies puts you equivalent to the subjects of the Milgram experiments where lethal electric shocks were “given” to other participants
- witnesses can only be believed if their account matches the official version
- in a nutshell, to paraphrase the well know saying: if a conspiracy doth prosper none dare call it a conspiracy

Examples: if an autopsy shows that all fatal bullets were fired from close range behind the victim, but the suspect was always 3-5 feet in front of the victim? Apparently questioning that makes me nuts.

If the police provably falsified the ballistic evidence in order to obtain a conviction? No problem- if there had been a conspiracy someone would have talked.

(All of the above are from the Robert Kennedy case)

His treatment of JFK is even worse. Apparently trained and experienced doctors were unable to distinguish the back of the head from the side of the head. Again, witnesses can only be believed if they support one version. The “magic bullet” which suddenly appeared on a stretcher unconnected to either JFK or Governor Connolly? No problem. Or the fact that the person that handed it in said that it was not the same as the bullet on show now? Who could expect a witness to recognise something they held in their hand from a photo? A bullet which had no blood on it?

An interesting book which is ruined by, despite accusing conspiracy theorists of doing exactly this, cherry picks from available evidence. Gerald Posner and Vincent Bugliosi literally wrote two of the worst and most inaccurate books on the JFK case and these are the only two this author mentions.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 08-11-21

Roswell, not sure now.

I like anything about UFOs and the section dedicated to the subject was fantastic. And there are many other subjects the book as a good look at, I thought it was a great read and the Narrator was top class.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Lauren C.
  • 06-09-21

Easy read

Great length chapters, well read, interesting and covered a lot of conspiracies and theories from a skeptic point of view

2 people found this helpful

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  • JB
  • 08-23-21

Smug

Very interesting topic. Was hoping to learn insights into if various theories held any standing. Quite relevant in this day and age. But I couldn’t get past the condescending, smug tone of the narrator.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Essex England
  • 05-04-22

Conspiracies & Theories

At first I found this book interesting! However the longer it went on it became more about debunking peoples believes then conspiracies and conspiracy theories and how they come about.

Now I’m not one to insult anyone’s intelligence but when we get to Lee Harvey Oswald was the shooter, I had to turn off!

What you believe is up to you and I will not try and persuade you otherwise why would I? But if Lee Harvey Made that shot he would have been the best of the best sniper the world had ever seen!

Now if you don’t believe me that’s fine I can live with that, but what cannot be denied is that shot came from the front of the vehicle sadly causing part of the president’s skull to explode out over the trunk!

When a bullet hits a target it makes a hole proportionate to its size then explodes out of a target, so unless you are saying that Lee Harvey Oswald was capable of firing a bullet from behind the president getting it to do a 180degree turn and then locking onto the presidents forehead all from behind the the motorcade which is in motion? Well your understanding on Newton’s Physics is better then mine! So ultimately what does this say it can only lead to one conclusion that some Conspiracies are real.

However it seems the writer wants us all to believe the opposite and the Government is this loving truth telling collection of our peers that would never lie and only ever tell you the truth, yeah right Michael this is one conspiracy that will never go away, because it is based on fact.

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  • Alison
  • 10-20-19

compulsory education for conspiratorists

Great presentation. Helped me to understand true conspiracies from false, why certain people (Inc me) are or were, more given to conspiracy theories than others and for what reasons. Dr Shermers unraveling of the 9/11 and Arch Duke Franz Ferdinands and JFK assassinations were eye opening, brilliant and conclusive. Highly recommended.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Leo K Stewart
  • 04-27-22

Quite good, interesting, politically balanced, perhaps a little assumptive at times

This was a good lecture, well written and nicely narrated. I was searching for content like this mostly to understand the psychological underpinnings of why people become interested and eventually for some, become consumed by CT.

These lectures were politically balanced and didn’t delve into right v left and pointed out how CT inflicts all sides of the political spectrum. The author provided an interesting examination of his own beliefs on the JFK CT and how his own opinions changed and how this was linked to the power of film.

A couple of assumptions I question; the author seems to draw a connection between creation science and CT, under the premise that creation science helps to explain complexities in simple terms. And while I see his point here, I’m not sure if this is true for all followers of creation science. I’m not a follower of creation science but did some studies in that space many years ago, and while it seemed to me that a sizeable proportion of creation science followers were skeptical of government and probably prone to CT train of thought, I don’t think this conclusive.

The other item I thought was assumptive was the author seems to take for granted that all scientist are really good at what they do and work under the highest level of ethical approaches. I grew up in a house of science, my father is a scientist, my wife studies science and science was probably my favourite subject. Unfortunately the entrance requirements to study science at the university level is actually not that high and the calibre of graduates, in my observations and experience, is not as good as the general public may think.

The author also makes a link that skeptics of climate change are linked to CT concepts. Again I question this for one, the term “climate change” in contemporary vernacular is arguably a political term and not a scientific or meteorological one. Does the climate change? I’m sure it does, just as my observations of four and bit decades on this earth points out that everything changes, so why should the climate be any different! The reality in this space is that we do not in any way, shape or form have data capture capability both now and retrospectively to attempt to prognosticate to any degree of certainty on a global scale. It is very much an evolving and continuing work in progress.

I had the impression the author had drawn some unnecessary conclusions in the realm of science and by not discussing some of its limitations had perhaps cheapened the importance of science in properly examining and dissecting CTs.

All in all listening to this lecture was time well spent and it would be great to attend one of these lectures In person.

I think it would be quite interesting to examine the role of religion and no-religion in CT. Sometimes when I listen to conspiracy “preaching” by people I wonder if they believe in this stuff as a replacement for religion?




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  • Jennifer Robinson
  • 04-23-22

Boring rehash (for me, anyway)

I was raised by sceptics and read Kuhn ~40 years ago. I didn't find much new in this course and constantly found myself challenging the content to alleviate boredom. His historical example set is heavy on recent events and would be much enriched by going back to the incredible shenanigans following USA's independence, and noting that conspiracies abound before and after most revolutions. His use of 'we' is insulting to those of us who are sceptical by nature.
I was hoping for better advice on how to talk to the nutters who believe in contrails and think global warming is a hoax.
Might be good for some audience...not this one.

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  • Owen Neochi
  • 12-19-21

great primer on conspiracies

in depth look at conspiracy theories and real conspiracies. An interesting insight into the mind and thought patterns of a conspiracy theorist.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Garth Sturman
  • 12-16-21

Entertaining and thought provoking

An entertaining insight into human belief systems. I found it most interesting that the author obviously has his own beliefs formed,like the rest of us, through the influence of his emotions and pre existing concepts of right and wrong. Well worth the listen.

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  • Deirdre E Siegel
  • 10-23-21

🤔 Really !?! / Really ?!? 🧐

As an adherent of the x-files I choose to believe that…
the truth IS out there,
should you want to investigate yourself, your beliefs and your world,
instead of following en-mass the ‘current’ trendsetters.
Most enjoyable listen on humanities thought / thoughtless / thoughtlessness incurring behaviour.
Interesting listen thanks Michael :-)

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  • Anonymous User
  • 10-17-21

Very enjoyable & educational - allows you to broaden a perspective of the world

One of the best great courses audiobooks I’ve listened to.

Makes you really re think how do I know I’m right

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  • John Brady
  • 09-19-21

Excellent, important, and entertaining

very useful theory and analysis, interesting examples, plus now I know who killed John F Kennedy.