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on 24 April 2014
In an article in The Times David Aaronovitch admits that he conspired with others to post fake 5 star reviews of his book on Amazon. This is not one of them.
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on 16 December 2014
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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on 3 September 2017
I read it on my amazon kindle. A very good book to understand how pop culture is full of conspiracy theories!
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on 9 August 2017
Arrived as described
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on 30 September 2015
If this book has one failing, it lies with the author suggesting that it might provide the reader with the means to counter the all too familiar, deluded slightly inadequate chap you find yourself sitting next to in a pub, the one who knows that Diana's death was an MI5 plot, and though uninvited proceeds to explain how he knows this, much to your regret.

The book can sadly provide no arguments for these occasions, because the committed conspiracy theorist is not using Occam's razor to underpin their logic but rather a tortured, evidence and probability-oblivious route to substantiate their conclusion.

Mr Aaronovitch neatly and calmly sets out the evidence against a number of household name conspiracy theories and gives a plausible if unprovable theory of his own as to why an acquaintance or colleague who you previously thought sensible, announces that he is convinced that Bush was behind 9/11, and why when you point out that Governments can't even covertly do something simple like secretly plant some uranium in Iraq, even this is somehow co-opted as evidence, the uranium being deliberately 'not planted' so as to make people like me write reviews like this.
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on 18 November 2009
Well clearly Aaronovitch's book already has a number of conspiracy theorists slathering at the mouth at the debunking of a number of their sacred cows. I guess it's just further evidence to them that the world's media is run by giant lizards from Zarg bent on galactic domination via the printed word. Anyways, let's be grateful for a well researched and readable work which carefully dismantles a number of well know conspiracy theories (Diana, 9/11, JFK) and lesser known ones (e.g. Hilda Murrell). It also usefully provides thoughts on how these theories come about, both in general and in their specific context and what drives people to believe in them despite all the evidence and even post revelation (e.g. Priory of Sion).

So why only three stars?

Well mainly because he carefully selects targets that whilst well known, can also be easily dismantled - a quick check on Wikipedia would probably do enough for the average individual to throw these theories in the bin. So a book on these alone just isn't enough to my mind. A key thing here should be, to my mind, the extent to which governments and companies conspire in far less serious ways and therefore give credence to the possibility of these theories. As such, he doesn't touch on the many day to day collusions, frauds and deceits that governments and companies carry out all the time. These clearly range from the very minor (e. recent Parliamentary expenses), through the domestic (e.g. wire-tapping of political opponents like Scargill), to the international (e.g. French bombing of the Rainbow Warrior) and to the global (e.g. US support for Suharto in the 1960s). Whilst these are very different to traditional conspiracy theories, surely they form part of the broader spectrum, especially in terms of giving a reason to believe - "Well if they can blow up peace protestors' boats then surely they might bump off a peace activist". What makes a conspiracy theory a conspiracy theory? When do little collusions become big ones? How far would a government go to protect its interests?

Dismantling the big theories is easy. Understanding the detail is harder.
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on 16 September 2010
We all love a great conspiracy, and I was prompted to buy this book when its author appeared on a 9/11 conspiracy debunk on TV in 2010. We all know that every story has two sides and this helps to look at conspiracy from the other side if you like. You will still be left none the wiser, but at least a little better informed. It is good to be well read and this book will assist in your arguements down in the pub, when you talk about did we land on the moon, was Princess Di killed by Prince Philip and all the rest... you'll probably enjoy it.
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on 2 January 2010
The author deals with a number of well-known conspiracy theories, from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion to the death of Dr David Kelly, by way of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the death of Marilyn Monroe, the assassinations of JFK and RFK, the moon landings, the Da Vinci code/bloodline of Jesus stuff, and 9/11 (among others) and to my mind demolishes them pretty thoroughly.
But he isn't just interested in debunking. He also examines why people believe in conspiracy theories and why they can exert such a strong grip on them. He points out that conspiracists tend to be on the "losing side" (politically, socially, or economically) of society, and that believing in conspiracies is therapeutic for them. They can explain why they are on the losing side ("we were robbed, deceived") salve their hurt ("the people who deceived us are so powerful, so evil, it's understandable that they appear to be the winners") and then restore their egos ("we have seen the truth, we are so much cleverer than ordinary people who are happy to be sheep-like in their acceptance of things; we are illuminated, in the know, we are special").
Interestingly he is able to develop this line in the light of some recent psychological and biological research which indicates we are genetically hard wired to look for causes and effects. This seems to be related to our developing tool-using capabilities; in order to develop and employ tools we need to think in cause and effect terms. (And of course while some animals to make occasional and specific use of natural objects as tools, humans are the only ones to do so extensively and develop the range of tools to use.) So we are uncomfortable with randomness - if something happens it must because someone caused it to, there's no such thing as an accident, someone must be to blame.
And the more prominent a person is, the more in the public eye, the greater the forces we feel must be needed to pull them down or kill them. Accidents and lone gunmen are for ordinary people, not special ones, and they certainly don't commit suicide.
Not only that but we have a fear of insignificance, of being ignored. If we feel we are being reduced to mere ciphers in a complex society believe in conspiracies is an effective therapy for us.
The author also takes a firm swing at the sort of relativism that exists in some circles and seems fashionable in certain academic circles, that says that one person's perception of what happened is as valid as another's, and that to insist on examining facts and evidence is not helpful.
An engrossing and informative read.
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on 15 March 2016
It was interesting (and depressing) hearing what people will believe to suit their own stories. That the conspiracy theorists have only one theory, and they will never give it up. Any evidence which contradicts what they believe is somehow twisted into "proof" that they are right.
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on 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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