Voodoo Histories: How Conspiracy Theory Has Shaped The World by David Aaronovitch

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Voodoo Histories: How Conspiracy Theory Has Shaped The World by David Aaronovitch

Category: Politics and Society
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A great look at a phenomenon I like to read about and scorn equally - the cranky, quirky conspiracy allegations that currently are swamping a blogsite near you.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: May 2010
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099478966

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What shape is a conspiracy theory? Unusual question, I know, but I think on this evidence it is round. A conspiracy theory is lumpen, ragged, full of holes, and has a huge circular gap where the obvious and sensible has dropped through, leaving the believer or theorist with the implausible skeleton of what they choose to think instead. They certainly have a habit of coming round in circles - if I mentioned a heinous crime caused by a western leader that killed hundreds or more people, purely to get their way and get a war started, I could be referring to Roosevelt and Pearl Harbor, Maggie Thatcher and the General Belgrano, or Bush etc and 9/11.

I have a hard time sometimes trying to work out which completely average yet exceedingly over-rated blonde woman who died mysteriously in their late 30s, purely because they had a habit of sleeping with the wrong men and getting in the way of the powers that be, these conspiracies are on about - Marilyn or Princess Di. Of course, there are countless differentiating details and opinions to be found on the internet - which, as we all know, was developed in secret by the US military so humanity had *some* kind of network of interaction if they happened to cause a nuclear catastrophe killing the rest of society off.

It is here we have to put that the opinions in this review are not necessarily those shared by The Bookbag. Or the review's writer. And they're certainly not those of David Aaronovitch, whose voice is hardly heard in this book. There is no editorialising whatsoever, instead a steady, highly academic and erudite voice providing a consistent and very successful read. The book combines two intentions in one - to discuss the whole concept of conspiracy theories, by also detailing a dozen of them from the last hundred years or so. So while we learn more about popular conspiracies - there is a forensic look at the farcical fictions that inspired the books that inspired Dan Brown (some of them from the pen of a Doctor Who writer, no less) - we start much earlier, with a historical and authoritative look at older untruths.

The book starts off with the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a hateful melange of potboiler fiction and distorted lecturing that purported to reveal a Jewish conspiracy for their being usurer and usurper to the whole world. In fact a lot of this book boils down to anti-Jewish sentiment by too many people. Chapter two, which might put some people off the rest of this book as it concerns the Stalin show trials and declares them accurate and truthful, and not a falsity, ends with a slightly forced-in paragraph on Israeli/Arab attitudes. People might find an ulterior motive... But of course this book is part of the Zionist propaganda, and if I said it wasn't I'd be saying just what the conspiracists would expect me to say.

Fascism is rife in this world Aaronovitch shows us. Some people I might politely refer to as crackpots find Israel's not saying they didn't commit 9/11 is evidence it was a Mossad plot, possibly by colleagues of the Danish publishers of anti-Islamic cartoons. Right from the beginning in the introduction, we are shown how the modern conspiracy theory needs powerful websites to cross-reference themselves to build a story, referring to experts of dubious authority. Hence one chap, denying 7/7, is outed as a lecturer (on "the effect of planetary motions on alchemy"), and researcher (for which read an author about crop circles). Oh, and he's been sacked at least once for being a Holocaust denier.

So theories such as these, and their adherents, go round in circles, as I say, but if anything the tying up of knots is done by the theorists and not our author here. He does not put a handy bow on anything, leaving it to those who seek to see everything the result of some global secret cabal of governers. I can only scorn at those who think they are the British bankers, and their colleagues in the royal family. But the style of this book - featuring such words as "geostrategicians" and two mentions at least of "hecatombs", and its nature of being an academic script, means this is definitely not a book to journalistically let people hoist themselves by their own petard, as someone like Jon Ronson would write.

But aside from that it is still exceedingly readable. I did prefer the more modern chapters, regarding 9/11 and more - and the sprinkling of over-arching asides, where he looks at the phenomenon of revisionist historians, or suchlike. With modern history so evidently formulated by mass media and the web 2.0, there are even greater holes in those fractured circles of theories - if you have the British paperback edition of this book, just savour page 234 and see how blinkered the theorists can be.

And I strongly suggest you do look at the contents. We gain a wholesome and scholarly look at alternative thinking over the past decades, and no shortage of detail. The current paperback has about forty pages further than the original editions, covering the nature of those decrying the public lack of a birth certificate for Obama - mostly by those hung-up on past conspiracies surrounding Clinton, and needing to make a new hoo-hah.

Of course - that is one more conspiracy - adding a chapter every time it gets rereleased. But this book will stand as a timeless authority on the subject, difficult to best whatever copy you find, and I feel completely at liberty to add my weight to the conspiracy and recommend you absorb these many valuable pages.

I must thank the publishers for sending me a review copy.

We at the Bookbag enjoy the debunking of the irrational and the absurd, and our Top Ten Books For The Defenders Of Reason covers bad science, urban myths and much other silliness, all corrected by authors as compelling as Aaronovitch.

Buy Voodoo Histories: How Conspiracy Theory Has Shaped The World by David Aaronovitch at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Voodoo Histories: How Conspiracy Theory Has Shaped The World by David Aaronovitch at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Voodoo Histories: How Conspiracy Theory Has Shaped The World by David Aaronovitch at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Voodoo Histories: How Conspiracy Theory Has Shaped The World by David Aaronovitch at Amazon.com.


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