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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent and witty, Aaronovitch takes on the conspiracy-delusion peddlers and is (mostly) on target
You can be reasonably confident in advance that a book will be worth reading if it has conspiracy theorists in rant-mode and foaming with indignation: a raw nerve has obviously been poked. Such a book is David Aaronovitch's `Voodoo Histories' which exposes the delusional ideological framework at the heart of conspiracy-theorist psychology.

This US version of...
Published on 23 Oct 2011 by The Guardian

versus
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a moderate recommendation
There is some interesting stuff here, but I do have reservations. It is hard to see what links Norman Baker's theory about the death of poor Dr Kelly with the Stalinist show trials of the 1930s - indeed, as others have said, it is hard to see the latter as in any way conspiracy theories of the kind we normally hear about. I'm sceptical about conspiracy theories simply...
Published on 25 May 2011 by Stephen


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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent and witty, Aaronovitch takes on the conspiracy-delusion peddlers and is (mostly) on target, 23 Oct 2011
By 
The Guardian (UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
You can be reasonably confident in advance that a book will be worth reading if it has conspiracy theorists in rant-mode and foaming with indignation: a raw nerve has obviously been poked. Such a book is David Aaronovitch's `Voodoo Histories' which exposes the delusional ideological framework at the heart of conspiracy-theorist psychology.

This US version of Aaronovitch's original UK-biased text, which includes the conspiracy theories surrounding Obama's birth, doesn't disappoint - though it might have had more bite. Erstwhile radical anti-establishment journalist Aaronovitch looks into why many otherwise sane and rational people buy into the more outlandish conspiracy theories which litter modern social history. From the fraudulent 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion,' manufactured by 19th century Czarist police to justify the persecution of Jewish people and enthusiastically promoted by Adolf Hitler and Henry Ford (of all people); to the '9/11 was an inside job' fantasists who employ ignorant pseudo-science to feed dogmatic belief-systems and multiple fringe political-propagandist agendas, Aaronovitch takes us on a fascinating, instructive and frequently amusing ride through a parade of delusional ideologies to be found just beneath the surface of contemporary society, and does a mostly effective job in deconstructing them.

In addition to those cited above, other conspiracy theories examined in the book are:

- the Stalinist show trials of the 1930s, where every failure of the Soviet industrial system was scape-goated onto 'conspiracists' singled out for persecution

- the conspiracy theory manufactured by the right-wing 'America First' political lobby to discredit FDR by claiming he had foreknowledge of the Pearl Harbor attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy in December 1941

- Senator McCarthy's witch-hunts in the 1950s against largely non-existent `communist conspirators' allegedly trying to wreck the USA from within

- attempts to 'conspiracize' the deaths of JFK, Marilyn Munro and Diana POW

- the highly profitable and surprisingly durable fantasy perpetrated by Baigent, Leigh et al about the alleged bloodline of Christ surviving through the Merovingians and the Templars up to modern times (which enabled fiction-writer Dan Brown to become a millionaire), side-tracking into the theories of such diverse and successful alternative-history authors as Erich Von Daniken and Graham Hancock

Aaronovitch is a thorough investigative journalist who takes the trouble to read and study all the pro-conspiracy books and attend the meetings; he understands his source material and has done his research. A list of common CT-components is identified: the citing of historical precedent and employment of flawed logic ("there were conspiracies before in history, so this must be one too"); parroting the weak and lazy "we're just asking questions" and "challenging the official version"; the focus on supposed `anomalies' in the absence of supporting evidence for the CT; and a determination to ignore, bury and discount all evidence which might prove the CT to be wrong. Promoters also ape the academic convention of citations and footnotes, but only cite each other in a closed loop which passes the gullible enquirer from one believer to the next, whilst brushing aside all the really hard evidence as "supporting the official story."

In attempting to explain why some otherwise apparently rational folks fall for this stuff, Aaronovitch has insight enough to see that the superficial subject of the theory (whether the death of Diana POW seen as a `murder by MI6' or `there were no planes on 9/11: it was all holograms') has little to do with the reason people cling to it so zealously. People hold on to these delusions for personal psychological reasons, so adherence to such dogmas cannot be effectively argued with because the normal rules of logic and evidence do not apply in the proponents' world. Like other writers before him (Professor Michael Barkun for example, or Peter Knight) Aaronovitch identifies a proneness to CT-thinking as a characteristic of political and economic losers; there is 'a quantum of solace' in adopting an ideology that 'THEY' (the so-called `New World Order', the Trilateral Commission or the `Bilderburgers', the UN, the `Secret World Government' or whatever) can be blamed for everything. It is more comforting to believe in evil puppet-masters flawlessly executing massive conspiracies to fool millions of people and further their own agendas than to work with the deeply nuanced complexities of the real world: no investment of work or time is needed to become part of a small band of heroes who `know the truth.'

So conspiracy theories, Aaronovitch argues, attempt to impose order on the random chaos of the real world and so `improve on reality.' Whilst inventing a more complex and improbable explanation and ignoring the principles embodied in the Occam's Razor rule, they infantilize adherents by explaining events in terms crafted to force-fit their limited paradigms, offering an easily digestible and dumbed-down narrative which can be sold to `believers'. Look at a website promoting a CT-view of the world, or watch a 10-minute video on youtube, and suddenly you can become privy to secret knowledge and understanding, superior to the 'sheeple' (a common CT pejorative, like 'shill') who haven't wasted their time with these things (or just as likely, have seen through their pretensions) and therefore don't understand the conspiracy like you do. You can now justify your own relative failures because the sinister `THEY' are responsible for everything; you have hate-figures to rail against, suddenly `everything is connected' and makes sense.

Far from heaping (often deserved?) scorn on conspiracy theorists, Aaronovitch exhibits generosity of spirit and seeks to understand rather than condemn. In fact, he lets CT-proponents off much more lightly than might be expected (an exception might be Mohammed Fayed who - together with his brother-in-law and Dodi's uncle, the notorious arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi - were responsible for manufacturing and disseminating ALL the Diana murder-conspiracy narratives to a gullible international constituency).

Even if you have little interest in the propagation of CT-ideologies, 'Voodoo Histories' can be recommended as a commendable piece of writing. It's witty, dispassionate and thought-provoking, and a fine - if not entirely original - analysis of an interesting modern phenomenon. The author does demonstrate that adherence to these delusional ideologies occasionally has serious consequences - i.e. the fraudulent `Protocols' were used by the Nazis to convince people that `(Jewish) bankers, financiers and internationalists' were planning a sinister conspiracy to `erode the borders between nation-states, bring in a single global currency, take over the world and enslave the people': legalized persecution and eventually mass human exterminations as official State policy were thus justified.

Readers genuinely interested in the psychology of the CT-phenomenon might also like to check out `The Nature and Purpose of Political Conspiracy Theories', 'Political Paranoia v. Political Realism: On Distinguishing between Bogus Conspiracy Theories and Genuine Conspiratorial Politics' and `Conspiracy Theories and Clandestine Politics' by Jeffrey M. Bale. Professor Michael Barkun's `A Cult of Conspiracy - Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America' in which the author analyses the historical development of pick-and-mix `Improvisational Millennialism' and categorizes conspiracy theories into distinct types which each perform a different psychological function, also makes a good (and more academically rigorous) companion to Aaronovitch's more populist work.
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31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars They Knew, 5 Jun 2010
By 
Pete "Pete" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This is an enjoyable trip through many of recent history's most popular conspiracy theories. The recurring theme is the tendency for apparently intelligent people to challenge "official" stories with a deep scepticism, yet fail to apply any level of critical scepticism at all to their own ideas. There are some interesting common themes and tendencies throughout these, and the conclusion makes interesting observations about our need to find neat narratives in an otherwise indifferent and chaotic world, as well as the odd fact that it tends to be people with plenty of academic qualifications who propagate these stories.

Where he really succeeds is in his ability to tell these stories while (largely) holding back on excessive ridicule or ranting, allowing theories to collapse under their own preposterous contradictions with only a bit of prodding. These are strongest where subsequent evidence (e.g. DNA testing) has incontrovertibly disproved a theory that at the time seemed backed by very strong evidence.

These are generally viewed across the political spectrum, although his portrayal of Noam Chomsky as a sensible chap with no time for daft theories is quite surprising. I liked the observation that much of this is "history for losers", explaining why the collapse of popular beliefs isn't really the fault of the believers but of some invisible omnipotent power - it's interesting to see the vehemence of the JFK theories arising from the awkward fact that Oswald was a fairly hard-core leftie.

I would maybe have liked a bit more of an introduction; having ploughed through a thorough exposé of the Protocols of Zion, I launched into the second chapter on Stalin's show trials without really knowing what he was on about, and the sudden explosion of complicated Russian names was quite tough going. And it seemed a shame not to finish off on his opening anecdote about the moon landings, although perhaps now that we have photos of the landing sites with footprint trails, everyone's forgotten that one.

It is also peppered with wonderful little anecdotes illustrating all these points; I laughed at the friend of the author who went to the Louvre and challenged a curator about the wherabouts of some Da Vinci Code painting; the angry response from the curator was, naturally, evidence of a vast conspiracy, not simply the exasperation of a tired curator meeting his 50th aggressive wannabe detective of the day.

So a most welcome de-bunking effort and plenty of food for thought.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a moderate recommendation, 25 May 2011
There is some interesting stuff here, but I do have reservations. It is hard to see what links Norman Baker's theory about the death of poor Dr Kelly with the Stalinist show trials of the 1930s - indeed, as others have said, it is hard to see the latter as in any way conspiracy theories of the kind we normally hear about. I'm sceptical about conspiracy theories simply because in real life things go wrong, whereas most of the theories seem to rely on perfect accomplishment (the Holy Grail nonsense being a classic of this kind). The author has a nice phrase somewhere about 'the untidiness of reality'. But at times he seems to be straining at a gnat, and once he starts theorising the book becomes too ponderous for its own good. Indeed some of his targets are really not worth the trouble.

Still, I did enjoy some chapters (e.g. the one about the death of Hilda Murrell, drily told) and so a moderate recommendation is fair.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Aaronovitch is an incisive and intelligent writer; I read his opinion pieces in the ..., 15 Nov 2014
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Aaronovitch is an incisive and intelligent writer; I read his opinion pieces in the Times avidly. He brings his analytical skills to bear on some great conspiracy theories of the 20th and 21st centuries. This must have involved massive amounts of research as the detail is incredible. Be aware that this is not a lightweight read. I do not diminish my respect for his work at all when I say that there may possibly be more detailed information here than my own intellect can cope with.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 19 Feb 2011
By 
Davey (Dorset, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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Very readable account of a range of conspiracy theories. The current obsession with conspiracies can be ammusing, but it's at times quite frightening; the pseudo-intellectual backing for 9/11 conspiracy theories, for example, summed up very well by an commentator in The Australian newspaper:

"In this scholarly mirror universe, where truth and fiction are equally interesting so long as they titillate the creative intellect, and where a generalised hostility to Western interests can pass as a proxy for political progressivism, the old hard Left and the new far Right join together in a splendid danse macabre, Black and Red carolling in joyous euphony."

My only complaint is the subtitle: "How Conspiracy Theory Has Shaped Modern History". That sounds too much like something a conspiracy theorist would say!
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5.0 out of 5 stars the sad, the lonely, 16 Dec 2014
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tomtom (London, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
The only book I've ever read which places conspiracy theories (in democracies) firmly in the looney tunes box. Superby researched and pointing the finger accurately at the paranoid, the sad, the lonely, the corrupt and the plain barmy, this is the book to put organised conspiracy in its proper place.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting book, 19 May 2014
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This review is from: Voodoo Histories: How Conspiracy Theory Has Shaped Modern History (Kindle Edition)
Most of the way through reading this at the moment and I think it's great. Well written and with a decent level of evidence to back it up. I'm assuming of course that the references are genuine :)
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5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful BS destroyer, 5 April 2014
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We all know somebody who thinks alien replicants from beyond the moon have teamed up with the reverse vampires and the world wide order of Masonic lodges to strip us of our vital bodily fluids...

well do them a favour and buy them this book! It is highly researched, very well written and keeps you entertained with a mixture of wit and fascinating myth busting knowledge.

As far as I am concerned this should be prescribed reading on the history syllabus, as FAR too many people are falling for the post modern fiction, masquerading as fact, that is the 'conspiracy movement' in our society!

Do yourself and humanity a good deed today and memorize this book in case you come across one of the legions of misguided keyboard warriors who sit around in their mothers basement wearing tin foil hats!
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3.0 out of 5 stars voodoo histories, 11 Dec 2013
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The categorisation of the subjects was unclear. Index inadequate. Good subject but careless production. Author did not bring to the book the same attention to clarity that he applies to his Times comments.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, 29 Sep 2013
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Mr. Mac (Gloucester UK) - See all my reviews
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This is a great book and well written, that will make you think about some of the rubbish churned out to us all the time through the popular media.
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