on 3 April 2011
I read Jon Ronson's book in an abridged Swedish edition. I expected the book to be comic relief, and it's certainly marketed that way. Instead, I found the book to be disturbing, tragic and (at best) tragicomic. Sometimes, it made me sympathize with the extremists!
The Muslim fundamentalist Omar Bakri may have been a clown, but his antics are less entertaining today, after the London metro bombings (something Ronson also acknowledges in a foreword to the Swedish edition). The attacks on David Icke in Canada raise the question who is more insane: Icke or the people harassing him? As for Randy and Vicki Weaver, they were obviously the victims of a set up, to put it mildly. The paranoid crypto-Nazis who chase the Bilderbergers are disturbing, but so are the Bilderbergers themselves. One of the Bilderbergers, Dennis Healy, doesn't understand what on earth the fuzz is all about when interviewed by Ronson: "Sure we have secret meetings. So what? That's how it works. That's how thing are done".
So that makes it alright, then?
The high point of "Them" is Ronson's successful infiltration of the Bohemian Grove, where he manages to watch the secret ritual and mock sacrifice to the owl god. The "ritual" turns out to be a ridiculous, pseudo-Masonic college fraternity stunt. The thing looks more pathetic than menacing. Indeed, somebody suggests to Ronson that the Bilderbergers might actually *like* all the conspiracy theories about them. It boosts their egos. Today, nobody controls anything anymore.
Perhaps the full-length original version of "Them" is more entertaining. Or perhaps the Swedish translation is to blame?
I don't know, but I walked away from this book more convinced than before that the extremism of the conspiracy theorists is fuelled by the insanity of the real world...
on 20 July 2004
After hearing the media's over-hyped version of things, it was great to read something that puts it all into context. Ronson does the impossible and manages to take a really funny look at conspiracy theories and Islamic fanticism (the bit about the controversial cleric and the choc-ice still makes me laugh).
My only problem with the book is that it storms off brilliantly, moving from one set of extremists to another, but this does not continue throughout the book. Therefore, it's only let down is that the start is so good, that the last half cannot possibly keep the same pace and quality of laughs.
I went straight onto 'Them' having torn through Ronson's brilliant 'The Psychopath Test' and I wish, in a way, I'd read them in the opposite order. This is without doubt a really interesting, and funny book - but it doesn't have the same gut impact of the other title.
Don't get me wrong, Ronson manages once again to portray remarkable people with the same kind of slightly suspect innocence that Louis Theroux uses on TV - so we meet everyone from an Islamic extremist to Ian Paisley, via David Icke - but the writing simply isn't knit together quite as beautifully.
Perhaps part of the problem is that the central theme here is slightly more flaky. What links all these people (and others) is the belief that a 'World Order' of important people meet up and shape all our destinies. The central focus of these beliefs seem to be primarily the Bilderberg Group and a strange American gathering involving giant owls that is more reminiscent of an extended Fraternity party than anything sinister.
Yes, these groups do bring together very important people for networking, but hardly for setting the whole world's agenda - apart from anything else, these groups only meet once a year, hardly enough to run things from day to day. Even so, Ronson's attempts to penetrate these gatherings is itself both funny in its mild incompetence and rather scary.
A good book then, very readable, and a real incite into the way that so many of these fringe people are inspired by the same conspiracy paranoia - but not quite Ronson's best.
on 29 December 2003
This book was funny, chilling and informative. Without excusing the State from its crass and at times brutal behaviour, it acts as a timely antidote to the various conspiracy theories circulating nowadays. Everyone should read it.
“It was us versus them, and it was clear who them was. Today, we are not so sure who they are, but we know they’re there.” (George W. Bush, January 21, 2000.)
This author was recommended to me by a colleague, so I hunted out this book to start with. The author, a journalist, decides to investigate what those who are called ‘extremists’ are actually doing, and what their aims are. One of the common themes he found was that many of these groups believed that the world was ruled by the Bilderberg Group, a small group of powerful men and women who met every year in a different hotel location and determined the course of world events.
Over the course of a few years, Jon Ronson spends time with various people and groups who would be called ‘extremists’ by media organisations, and by many other people in the community – Omar Bakri Mohammed, the survivors of the Ruby Ridge incident – and other shadowy people and groups – Mr Ru Ru at an auction of Ceausescu’s belongings, Ian Paisley, David Icke, members of the Anti-Defamation League, and the Ku Klux Klan. The experiences he has with these people are at times rather funny, but at other times you feel you ought to be horrified rather than amused by what goes on in some people’s worlds. It’s true enough you never know what’s going on in other people’s lives and how other people are thinking, if this book is anything to judge by. Sometimes it’s hard to know whether conspiracy theorists or the so-called ‘normal’ people of the world are really the nutty ones.
I enjoyed this read, and found it interesting and informative, and at times funny in a rather ghastly kind of way. I found the section on the Ku Klux Klan was a bit misplaced in this book, where almost all of the other groups and people Ronson spoke with were focused more on the Bilderberg Group and the elite apparent rulers of the world. I’d be more than happy to read more by the author.
This book is about people who hold views which most of us would consider to be extreme, to say the least. The author met and spent time with people who believe the strangest things. From David Icke, the former sports reporter who believes that the world is ruled by giant lizards, to Omar Bakri, who proclaimed himself as Bin Laden's man in England, though the various leaders of the branches of the Klu Klux Klan, who disagree with each other about how extreme to be, to businessmen buying up memento's of communist dictators, this book is full of people who hold outlandish and often repugnant views, but who of course believe themselves to be utterly and completely right.
All this makes for fascinating reading, and the sheer ordinariness of some of the scariest people who seek to share their particular brands of paranoia gives pause for thought. If anything though the ordinariness conveyed in these pages worried me slightly - many of these people are a potential danger to others through their spread of paranoia and their hatred of liberalism. A bit like listening to Himmler discussing his breakfast preferences...
Enjoyable reading about people on the margins who believe themselves to be utterly right.
Reading this book is a bit like having the TV series on DVD; there's a lot more extras, and the commentary is a lot more in-depth.
This book is all about Jon Ronson (a cross between Woody Allen and Louie Theroux) and his travails as he interviews the world's leading conspiracy theorists. Like Louie Theroux he tends to sit back, play innocent and let his subjects talk themselves into a position of absurdity, but in the book we get more of a chance to read what it would be like to be in the company of these people.
It's amusing, and it's interesting to see how the underlying atmosphere of paranoia starts to get Ronson considering the possibility of even the more absurd thoeries going round.
I do feel that there is a growing streak of journalism in Britain that seeks to make their interviewer's reputations by taking advantage of the vulnerability of their subjects. Louie Theroux does this to some extent and so has Martin Bashir. I feel that there's an element of this here, but there is a real 'scoop' in this book - to get into the Bilderberg meeting was an exceptional achievement, and worth reading the book for on it's own.
The KKK Grand Wizard who was trying to become a moderate was very entertaining too!
on 19 April 2001
This is a great book. Anyone who has followed Jon Ronsen's work in the Guardian newspaper will know already that he asks the kind of questions that you would ask of people you would never dare ask them of. So in this volume he writes about time spent with Ian Paisley and David Icke amongst others. However frightening this prospect is, it is his time spent amongst anti-Jewish fundamentalists (such as the Klan) which is most interesting. Especially since he is himself Jewish. His writing on the New World Order provides a welcome other take on conspiracy theorists. Whilst not becoming one he explores in some detail the contradictions of being paranoid you are being watched whilst in fact you are being watched. The notion of who the good guys are is much more muddled than in much previous writing of this sort (on both sides).
So read it. You will laugh out loud and come away feeling you have broadened your horizons. What more could you want?
on 3 May 2011
I have been a little hesitant in reviewing the Kindle version of 'Them' as Amazon will, frustratingly, include this review with all versions of the item. I also own the 2002 paperback edition, and found it replicated none of the errors I cross-referenced from the Kindle version. The book itself was a really enjoyable read, mixing investigative journalism with a great deal of humour.
The Kindle version, however, is rather disappointing. I noticed a large number of typing and formatting errors, particularly words pushed together without spaces between them. An accent symbol on a person's name, repeated many times in chapter 11, is presented as (what appears to be) an image rather than actual text. This causes lines containing this name to have huge gaps above and below. Frustratingly, this Amazon review will also not correctly display the accented character! However, I typed the word - with the accent - into a personal document, which I have subsequently viewed as plain text on my Kindle without any problems. It is definitely a character recognised by the Kindle so I have no idea why the publisher has chosen to present the work in this way.
I would not want to imply that the errors in the Kindle edition render it entirely unreadable. However, it does not do justice to Ronson's writing, and I would advise against rewarding the publisher for such a lazy and sloppy conversion into the digital format.
Who would've predicted it? I imagine that's just about as pertinent a question as can be applied to Them. Who would have predicted that a 5-year documentary of myriad extremist groups would culminate, at least if not internally, then externally, in the most violent of thematic bookends: the World Trade Centre horror? Who could have predicted that Jon Ronson's strange acquaintanceship with Omar Bakri who, last century, proclaimed himself Osama Bin Laden's man in Britain, would, in 2001, take on such fearsome new dimensions. I don't think, certainly, that Jon Ronson would have predicted it. But, possibly, the extremists Jon adventures with in this wry-yet-shocking book would have guessed. Because, as this series of fair-handed portraits continually demonstrates, extremist groups are reacting against something. They may have wrong the level or the participants (individual, or group, sector, race) of a conspiracy, but they do not make up the whole story. There are conspiracy theories because there are conspiracies. Extremists shout and bawl, often in distasteful and, frankly, bizarre terms about conspiracies, only because people are apt to conspire.
The book is split into chapters, which, usually, take one extremist group at a time. Occasionally several chapters link the threads of one conspiracy, but essentially Ronson provides digestible snapshots of a wide range of beliefs and fears. The buffet approach can possibly leave you short-changed in terms of full-blown analysis, but the book isn't really concerned with providing that. Instead, what the reader gets is an extremely entertaining read - Ronson being about as charming and witty guide as any tourist could want, especially, it soon becomes clear, when traversing some fairly odd ground - but also one that allows the humanity of the extremists to be viewed. As individuals, these are very often personable enough people. They are far from crazed, even if more frequently they stick with worrying fastness to their eccentricity and their sometimes indefensible beliefs.
But it is not just the extremists who are being revealed here. The British press, the countless groups proclaiming to protect New York Jews from anti-Semitism, the financiers, the entrepreneurs, the businessmen and politicians of the (secretly world-ruling, according the conspiracists; privately world-benefiting, according to them) Bilderberg group, all come in for the sort of gentle, self-effacing, but often deceptively impassioned probing Ronson specialises in. He doesn't ever become one of them, though he worries about it, and I doubt many of the readers of this book will either, but all of us together, author and audience alike, are, by the final pages, far slower to jump to conclusions and far quicker to accept that They might have a bit of a point.