Jumping at Shadows
Why is an unarmed young black woman who knocks on a stranger's front door to ask for help after her car breaks down perceived to be so threatening that he shoots her dead? Why do we fear infrequent acts of terrorism more far more common acts of violence? Why does a disease like Ebola, which killed only a handful of Americans, provoke panic, whereas the flu--which kills tens of thousands each year--is dismissed with a yawn?Jumping at Shadows is Sasha Abramsky's searing account of America's most dangerous epidemic: irrational fear. Taking readers on a dramatic journey through a divided nation, where everything from immigration to disease, gun control to health care has become fodder for fearmongers and conspiracists, he delivers an eye-popping analysis of our misconceptions about risk and threats. What emerges is a shocking portrait of a political and cultural landscape that is, increasingly, defined by our worst fears and rampant anxieties.Ultimately, Abramsky shows that how we calculate risk and deal with fear can teach us a great deal about ourselves, exposing deeply ingrained strains of racism, classism, and xenophobia within our culture, as well as our growing susceptibility to the toxic messages of demagogues.

Jumping at Shadows Details

TitleJumping at Shadows
Author
ReleaseSep 5th, 2017
PublisherNation Books
ISBN-139781568585192
Rating
GenreNonfiction, Politics, Sociology, Psychology, The United States Of America, War

Jumping at Shadows Review

  • Marilyn McEntyre
    January 1, 1970
    Living in a news cycle that peddles fear of perceived immediate threats 24/7, as well as ongoing awareness of global threats, keeps our collective adrenalin running and fosters what has become a culture of anxiety. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have been diagnosed with some form of anxiety disorder. We all suffer the consequences of widespread chronic fear; the extreme polarization of power and wealth creates populations whose fear one another goes well beyond slight suspicion of competing Living in a news cycle that peddles fear of perceived immediate threats 24/7, as well as ongoing awareness of global threats, keeps our collective adrenalin running and fosters what has become a culture of anxiety. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have been diagnosed with some form of anxiety disorder. We all suffer the consequences of widespread chronic fear; the extreme polarization of power and wealth creates populations whose fear one another goes well beyond slight suspicion of competing interests. In a condition of fear affective bias makes it difficult for us to assess risks and stakes, and easy to focus entirely on stakes rather than rationally recognizing the limits of risks. In this thoughtful reflection on the forces at work to promote chronic fear, Abramsky cites a wide variety of recent studies of fear-based bias in most sectors of society, from police forces and prison guards to school administrators and parents wondering how to keep their children safe without inducing paranoia. The book is rich, timely, troubling but readable--an invitation to rise to what the author calls "the defining challenge of our time"--imagining how to make our world "fairer, less divisive, less fear-driven."
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  • Jennifer
    January 1, 1970
    Although this supposedly looks at how we incorrectly calculate relative risk in our daily lives, the first chapter was a condemnation of Donald Trump as a demagogue and of his supporters as overly reactive to America's current cultural and political situation. The author then moved on to how the media prompts us to be psychologically predisposed to fear "the other." While he makes many valid points over the course of the book, especially, in my opinion, about parenting in modern America, I felt Although this supposedly looks at how we incorrectly calculate relative risk in our daily lives, the first chapter was a condemnation of Donald Trump as a demagogue and of his supporters as overly reactive to America's current cultural and political situation. The author then moved on to how the media prompts us to be psychologically predisposed to fear "the other." While he makes many valid points over the course of the book, especially, in my opinion, about parenting in modern America, I felt the volume as a whole to be too much a liberal condemnation of blue collar America, with too little discussion of why that group has come to their views. While the author does indicate that a great deal of our misplaced risk assessment comes from the mainstream media's "if it bleeds it leads" philosophy of news, the only media outlet he specifically calls out is Fox News. Further, there is no call for responsible journalism instead of the sensationalism that pervaids the media of all genres and networks. I'm increasingly frustrated by authors or speakers decrying what they view as racism and xenophobia without addressing WHY people feel this way and making some concrete suggestions for how we could all come together, idealistic as that may seem.
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  • David Joseph
    January 1, 1970
    Obviously a very timely book. Although fear is always timely. It’s funny how the zeitgeist always seems to be captured by media. Can a zeitgeist even act independently of media these days? A question for another day. For the most part, this was a really interesting and depressing read. Fear has made a lot of Americans ape-shit crazy. And of course, that sensationalist media is to blame! I wonder though if anyone would pay attention if the media, in a perfect world, was sober. Like, if there was Obviously a very timely book. Although fear is always timely. It’s funny how the zeitgeist always seems to be captured by media. Can a zeitgeist even act independently of media these days? A question for another day. For the most part, this was a really interesting and depressing read. Fear has made a lot of Americans ape-shit crazy. And of course, that sensationalist media is to blame! I wonder though if anyone would pay attention if the media, in a perfect world, was sober. Like, if there was a story done on a tragic shooting or terrorist attack but there was a statement to the effect of: But this type of occurrence is exceedingly rare and then list off a bunch of stats to back that up. To go even further, what if the national media simply ignored these kinds of attacks? Social media would certainly fill in the void and gain even more sway than before. And there’d be an outcry over the big bad media ignoring victims and our desensitized facades, etc. And to go even further and suppose that everyday Americans all but stopped tweeting or social media-ing about such headline grabbing events, there’d probably be stories about the lack of stories on the subject. Soulless meta-journalism! Abramsky stresses the really great point that the fact that events are in the headlines proves their rarity. The likelihood of being victim to a terrorist attack, shooting, kidnapping, etc. are incredibly rare. Honestly, I don’t spend a lot of time personally worrying about that stuff on a day-to-day basis, although I do get my bouts of fear--they usually just pass is all. The Black Lives Matter movement gets extensive coverage here--or more accurately, the why of the movement. I’m not going to lie: after reading that chapter it was hard to not feel anger towards law enforcement in this country. It’s important, in the spirit of this book, to not make blanket assumptions about all police officers. The vast majority are not racist aggressors. One point I do kinda disagree with him on was about parents giving their adolescent children independence, e.g. walking to the park alone, going to school alone. Now, I’m not a parent, but just speaking from experience as a kid, I probably got a mix of annoying supervision and freedom. Maybe it’s just because kids are among the most vulnerable, but would it really kill the parents to watch your kids or have someone watch them while you go on a job interview? Or to take them into the goddamn store with you and not leave them in the car? It’s not even about the chance of your kid getting kidnapped--what if your kid is choking? Gets sick? I don’t know. I’m not saying that parents should have their kids’ taken away by CPS for letting them walk to the park (although the dufus parents in this book did it twice), but you can parent without being a helicopter. There’s got to be a balance. Basically what I’m saying is that, yes, sometimes society is hysterical, but there is less harm in going with the hysterics sometimes. It’s not the end of the world if your kids have to go into the store with you or if you have to find a babysitter for a half an hour. I get that the ‘free range’ parents Abramsky cites are rebelling against what they see as unfair parenting standards in America, but life, as they say, isn’t fair. It’s a freaking lay-up in parenting terms: drive or walk with your adolescent kids to the park. Anyways! He ends the book talking a lot about immigration--specifically the waves of illegal immigration that come(came? Actually more people are leaving America to Mexico these days) from Central America through Arizona. There are a lot of Americans, clearly, that view immigrants as sub-human. That much is certain from our current Commander in Chief and animus towards immigrants of all colors. I recognize that people are afraid (and expressing it with hatred and bigotry) but I don’t get it. I’m much more afraid of the Anglo-American nativists in my midst. It’s pretty appalling to read how these border patrols actively think of these immigrants as people without faces. I guess you’d have to. There are a lot of good samaritans out there: leaving water jugs for those fortunate few to trek into the Arizona desert to, hopefully, a better life. So this book about fear does end on an optimistic if opaque hope.
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  • Matthew Royal
    January 1, 1970
    Good points; I don't disagree, but not rigorous and less scientific than I expected. Many times, the narrative seemed to stray into purely partisan storytelling. It was more a partisan political rant with a couple nonpolitical anecdotes. No historical comparisons with other periods overridden with fear. No projections of where our fear culture will take us. No possible remedies to fear were presented. I feel like I didn't learn anything, and I felt like the author was lazy in his research.
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  • Venessa
    January 1, 1970
    Watch for my review in an upcoming issue of Library Journal.
  • Greg
    January 1, 1970
    Mr. Abamsky, as so others have also noted, observes how much post-9-11 America is awash with "things to be afraid of": terrorists, immigrants, jihadists, etc.The book is useful in documenting how so much of this fear is both based upon relatively few instances -- and, upon ignoring the more real causes of fear represented by nut-jobs in this country possessing far too many firearms -- and upon the skillful and intentional utilization of the Right in pushing those hot buttons that trigger fear, f Mr. Abamsky, as so others have also noted, observes how much post-9-11 America is awash with "things to be afraid of": terrorists, immigrants, jihadists, etc.The book is useful in documenting how so much of this fear is both based upon relatively few instances -- and, upon ignoring the more real causes of fear represented by nut-jobs in this country possessing far too many firearms -- and upon the skillful and intentional utilization of the Right in pushing those hot buttons that trigger fear, flight, and anger.This is, he argues, and I fully concur, a key reason why our civic discourse has so badly deteriorated in recent years into one of tribal partisanship and ridiculous stereotyping. We, in effect, are no longer considering each other fellow citizens but, rather, increasingly as members of a hostile "other" that must be resisted -- at all costs!He also emphasizes how "words have consequences," that the deliberate harshening of language that began with Newt Gingrich in order to seize Congressional power back in the '90s has steadily morphed into more vicious means to "take down the other side" by any means possible. The significant rise in hate speech and hate crimes we have experienced since the election of Despoiler in Chief he finds as the best proof that the old adage that "words have consequences" is true. Now the head of our country is visibly giving permission to others to unleash their hidden "ugly selves." It is OK to discriminate, to disparage, to ridicule, to hate!In addition, he significantly notes a tie-in between this increasing atmosphere of fear and alienation with the existence of a "grossly unequal society.""The United States in the early twenty-first century is a place of stark inequities...One of the consequences of that inequality is a maldistribution not just of income and of opportunity, but also of perceptions of risk and fear. Increasingly, those without are seen as representing danger, risk, as being worthy of fearing. They are, in many ways, the Great Unwashed of our age, perceived to be as dirty and as germy, as violent and as unstable as were their antecedents in Victorian London. Thus the poor, the addicted, the undocumented, the homeless, the mentally ill -- as well as the communities disproportionately lived in by the poor -- all are seen as potentially destructive of the broader social order."We are increasingly a "limbic society... we tend to judge people either as members of our group -- the in-group -- or as outsiders, potentially threatening, rapacious members of an out-group. We start thinking tribally. And we become easy fodder for demagogues."Our culture is in deep trouble. We had better -- and very soon -- begin taking those steps to breathe deeply and see truly if we are to avert the worst outcomes our current paths will otherwise yield!
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  • David Becker
    January 1, 1970
    A solid, interesting and very timely premise — the exploitation of fear to advance political and business agendas. And the sections that deal with that are great, explaining a lot about how our discourse sunk to where it is. The problem is the author often goes off on tangents to put a face on issues related to the central premise. Which he’s not terribly good at — visual descriptions are particularly clunky.Also, yes, the author’s viewpoint is staunchly leftie. If that’s likely to trigger you, A solid, interesting and very timely premise — the exploitation of fear to advance political and business agendas. And the sections that deal with that are great, explaining a lot about how our discourse sunk to where it is. The problem is the author often goes off on tangents to put a face on issues related to the central premise. Which he’s not terribly good at — visual descriptions are particularly clunky.Also, yes, the author’s viewpoint is staunchly leftie. If that’s likely to trigger you, go to your safe space and blame it all on Hillary.
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  • Robert S
    January 1, 1970
    Jumping at Shadows tackles the important topic of fear in the American psyche and its impact on our everyday lives.Abramsky tries to dive into why Americans fear terrorism or plane crashes more than car crashes even though the latter kills far more in any given year among other topics.The author has some really good points in this book but I would have appreciated some more analytics and less personal opinions. I also think the book would have benefitted more with conversations from average ever Jumping at Shadows tackles the important topic of fear in the American psyche and its impact on our everyday lives.Abramsky tries to dive into why Americans fear terrorism or plane crashes more than car crashes even though the latter kills far more in any given year among other topics.The author has some really good points in this book but I would have appreciated some more analytics and less personal opinions. I also think the book would have benefitted more with conversations from average everyday people who feel this way.
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  • Rick Conti
    January 1, 1970
    A wise and in depth report on the state of a nation that is arguably the strongest, richest, and most secure in world history yet suffers chronic and traumatic dread of imagined dangers on all fronts. Abramsky shows just how bad off we are and the mess our fears have put us in. We cower in the face of non-threats, all the while dismissing real problems that endanger our very existence. In the process, we've put our very freedoms at risk. Now that's something to be afraid of.
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  • Amy
    January 1, 1970
    Parts of this book illuminated our country's current situation and even shed light on the irrational and paranoid behavior I see in some of my own relatives--who are ruled by fear which is fed by right wing propaganda and social media. But Abramsky rambles. And the rambling made this hard to read at times.
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  • Sascha Benjamin Cohen
    January 1, 1970
    This is less a critical analysis than a discursive review of the topic at hand. That said, Abramsky deftly sifts through his topic with clarity and accuracy, uncovering some of what drives the destructive valorization of our culture around fear, violence, and reactionary progress. This is not a "fun" read. But it is a very valuable one. Recommended.
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  • Jason Rosenstock
    January 1, 1970
    Loved the parts about risk assessment, and why we struggle so much with that. Loved the reporting on specific individuals and places, and how fear has affected behavior. Did a nice job explaining the rise of Trumpism as well. However, it was a bit repetitive and uneven for my tastes, with surprisingly little examination of how and why the media plays a role in the formation of our fears.
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  • Ellen Johnson
    January 1, 1970
    good stuff, but he does what he accuses the powers that be of doing: makes you scared. Does this by showing what frightened Americans are doing, hating Muslims, buying guns, etc. it is all too real for me so I didn't really want to think about it any more and didn't finish.
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  • Ralph Cooper
    January 1, 1970
    Quick read with plenty of thought provoking take-away "conversation starters."
  • Jade Geary
    January 1, 1970
    Interesting read about fear in America. Parts of the book ramble which I found myself skimming but a very thought-provoking read.
  • Karen
    January 1, 1970
    I thought this would be an evidence-based investigation of how we evaluate risks. But it was more a narrative focused on our fear of terrorism. I didn't finish it.
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