There are those who believe in conspiracy theories and those, like me, who do not. As a non-believer I see something enviable in the ability to believe that events can be so easily controlled, in the sunny optimism of those who think the world would be going their way were in not for those darn conspirators mucking things up for everyone. More often I just long to tell the believer to please, shut up. At last, we non-believers have a book that is one long “Shut Up!”
David Aaronovitch’s Voodoo Histories tackles everything from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion to Who Killed Diana to 9/11 “truth” seekers. He is thorough, rationale and witty in examining, explaining and demolishing conspiracy theories past and present.
Many is the time, usually trapped in a limo to the airport, when I have wondered how anyone (namely the driver of said limo) could believe, for example, that the legendary island of Atlantis is submerged in the Hudson River and that this is why New York City is the capital of the world. Aaronovitch’s theory is that belief in conspiracy theories offers two benefits: 1) the believer knows something the rest of the world does not and is therefore superior; and 2) the theories offer a comforting explanation for the occurrence of something they wish hadn’t happened. Not unlike a three year old claiming their imaginary friend knocked over the glass of milk. So whether it’s one side claiming an election was stolen (how else to explain people voting for a candidate you don’t like?) or another side claiming the elected candidate isn’t actually a citizen (he’s not a candidate, he’s a conspiracy!), these theories offer a weird comfort against unpleasant reality.
The chapters on the Protocols and the Moscow Trials are solid but perhaps a bit slow if you aren’t a history buff. Stay the course, because Aaronovitch really hits his stride in his chapter-long take-down of Holy Blood, Holy Grail. Truly laugh out loud funny and informative. Learning that the Priory of Sion, like NY gubernatorial candidate Jimmy McMillan, were motivated by a conviction that the “rent is too damn high” has made my year.
The book covers the all four basic categories of conspiracies: 1) Things that were planned in advance for profit (Both World Wars, most terrorist attacks); 2) Groups that are planning to take over the world but can’t keep a secret (the Da Vinci code, the Elders of Zion, the Super Clan); 3) People who were killed because they interfered with or knew about 1 or 2 (JFK, Hilda Murrell, Diana); 4) Aliens are responsible.
Aaronovitch’s book reveals the lie of the claims that by belief in conspiracies takes courage. It doesn’t take courage to believe the worst about people/groups you don’t like. An entertaining, informative book. Highly recommended.