Voodoo Histories by David Aaronovitch
An absorbing, probing look at the conspiracy theories that operate on the sidelines of history and the reasons they continue to play such a seditious role, from an award-winning journalist.
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 David Aaronovitch, there came a time when he started to see a pattern among these inflammatory theories. 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; 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.
Recommendations are wonderful, but sometimes you can’t beat stumbling across a book while aimlessly browsing. When I saw Voodoo Histories on the new nonfiction shelf at the library, I decided to look into it. After all, conspiracy theories are fascinating. My grasp on twentieth century American history is decidedly loose, so I might be a bit blind to when it comes to certain theories, but, nonetheless, this sounds like a good way to acquainted with both the “logic” behind conspiracy theories and the conspiracy theories themselves.
Michiko Kakutani, writing for The New York Times, enjoyed Aaronovitch’s voice and logic-based decimation of these theories. Rafael Behr, writing for The Guardian, liked the systematic breakdown of each theory, but found Aaronovitch’s tone too acid and superior. Ethan Clow, writing for Skeptic North, quite enjoyed it. Samantha Nelson, writing for The A. V. Club, enjoyed how Aaronovitch disarms these theories with logic, but also notes that his tone is very contemptuous.
Voodoo Histories was published on May 7, 2009, in the UK, and on February 4, 2010, in the US.