History

Pre-Order The United States of Paranoia

A forthcoming book from Reason's Jesse Walker.

|

I've mentioned this in passing a couple of times already, but now that it has a proper Amazon page—and because it seems especially timely this week—I'm going to give it a full post: In August, HarperCollins will be publishing my book The United States of Paranoia. Here's what they're planning to put on the jacket flap:

They knew too much about paranoia.

* 1693: Cotton Mather suggests that the spirits attacking Salem are allied with the colony's human enemies. At "their Cheef Witch-meetings," he writes, "there has been present some French canadians, and some Indian Sagamores, to concert the methods of ruining New England."

* 1835: A gunman tries to kill Andrew Jackson. The president accuses a senator of plotting the assassination. Jackson's critics counter that the shooting was a false-flag attack arranged by the president himself to gain public support.

* 1868: An article in The New-York Tribune declares that the Democrats have engineered the capital's malaria outbreaks, pumping "the air, and the water, and the whisky of Washington full of poison."

* 1967: President Lyndon Johnson asks his cabinet if the Communists are behind the country's urban riots. When the attorney general tells him the evidence isn't there, Johnson isn't convinced.

Conspiracy theories aren't just a feature of the fringe. They've been a potent force across the political spectrum, in the center as well as the extremes, from the colonial era to the present. In The United States of Paranoia, Jesse Walker explores this rich history, arguing that conspiracy stories need to be read not just as claims to be either believed or debunked but as folklore. When a tale takes hold, it says something true about the anxieties and experiences of the people who believe and repeat the yarn, even if it says nothing true about the objects of the theory itself.

The first half of the book lays out five conspiracy narratives that keep recurring in American history, zeroing in on examples from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. The second half looks at how those primal stories have played out in the politics and popular culture of the last half-century, from Watergate to Waco to the War on Terror. With intensive research and a deadpan sense of humor, The United States of Paranoia combines the rigor of real history with the punch of pulp fiction.

And here's the cover:

Searching for a secret message, eh?

You can pre-order it from Amazon, you can pre-order it from Barnes & Noble, or you can march into your local bookstore, slam your fist on the counter, and demand that they call you the second they have it in stock.