Fantasyland
A razor-sharp thinker offers a new understanding of our post-truth world and explains the American instinct to believe in make-believe, from the Pilgrims to P. T. Barnum to Disneyland to zealots of every stripe . . . to Donald Trump. In this sweeping, eloquent history of America, Kurt Andersen demonstrates that what’s happening in our country today—this strange, post-factual, “fake news” moment we’re all living through—is not something entirely new, but rather the ultimate expression of our national character and path. America was founded by wishful dreamers, magical thinkers, and true believers, by impresarios and their audiences, by hucksters and their suckers. Believe-whatever-you-want fantasy is deeply embedded in our DNA. Over the course of five centuries—from the Salem witch trials to Scientology to the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, from P. T. Barnum to Hollywood and the anything-goes, wild-and-crazy sixties, from conspiracy theories to our fetish for guns and obsession with extraterrestrials—our peculiar love of the fantastic has made America exceptional in a way that we've never fully acknowledged. With the gleeful erudition and tell-it-like-it-is ferocity of a Christopher Hitchens, Andersen explores whether the great American experiment in liberty has gone off the rails. From the start, our ultra-individualism was attached to epic dreams and epic fantasies—every citizen was free to believe absolutely anything, or to pretend to be absolutely anybody. Little by little, and then more quickly in the last several decades, the American invent-your-own-reality legacy of the Enlightenment superseded its more sober, rational, and empirical parts. We gave ourselves over to all manner of crackpot ideas and make-believe lifestyles designed to console or thrill or terrify us. In Fantasyland, Andersen brilliantly connects the dots that define this condition, portrays its scale and scope, and offers a fresh, bracing explanation of how our American journey has deposited us here.Fantasyland could not appear at a more perfect moment. If you want to understand the politics and culture of twenty-first-century America, if you want to know how the lines between reality and illusion have become dangerously blurred, you must read this book.“This is an important book—the indispensable book—for understanding America in the age of Trump. It’s an eye-opening history filled with brilliant insights, a saga of how we were always susceptible to fantasy, from the Puritan fanatics to the talk-radio and Internet wackos who mix show business, hucksterism, and conspiracy theories.”—Walter Isaacson

Fantasyland Details

TitleFantasyland
Author
ReleaseSep 5th, 2017
PublisherRandom House
Rating
GenreHistory, Nonfiction, Politics, Sociology, Philosophy, Psychology, North American Hi..., American History

Fantasyland Review

  • Diane S ☔
    January 1, 1970
    It seems like a great many of American citizens are living in a Fantasyland, a land where we can fool ourselves that those like minded people, people who share our beliefs, are n fact correct, truth telling. Seriously, how did we manage to get here, to a world and with a leader, who has taken his fantasies to a new level? The author shows us how this refusal to see other view points, often taking this to extreme levels, has always existed.He takes us back 500 years to the Puritans, a group of Ub It seems like a great many of American citizens are living in a Fantasyland, a land where we can fool ourselves that those like minded people, people who share our beliefs, are n fact correct, truth telling. Seriously, how did we manage to get here, to a world and with a leader, who has taken his fantasies to a new level? The author shows us how this refusal to see other view points, often taking this to extreme levels, has always existed.He takes us back 500 years to the Puritans, a group of Uber religious, who were convinced that they, and only they new the true path to heaven. The witch trials, where those who were different or who disagreed with the established truth were put to death. They must have been sent by the devil. Onto The Gold rush were many gave up everything g to follow the lure of a get rich scheme. The NRA, convincing many that they would be killed in their beds if they were not able to own a firearm, and if that wasn't enough that the evil government was intent on taking away our rights, if we start with the guns who knows what will follow. To UFO abductions, recalled memories, video games, virtual reality, and the internet, fake news and the harm this has all caused. So many other things throughout history. Our appalling habit to revere movie stars, even reality TV stars as heroes, I mean you have only look at the major amount of money the Kardashians have made, for doing and being nothing at all. He calls out those, like Dr. Oz who should know better but has instead turned into a panderer of stardom and the masses. Of course the biggest reality TV star of them all is now our President, and he continues to fire people almost weekly. A man who is smart enough to understand some people's minds and play on that to reach the highest office of them all. I am not, however, going to turn this into my personal discourse on the President, but read this book. I think you will come to a new understanding of exactly how this happened and exactly what played into making this even possible. Think you will be as appalled as I was at the lengths people can go, how they are capable of fooling themselves and the lengths they will go to in order to defend their beliefs. ARC from Netgalley.
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  • Peter Mcloughlin
    January 1, 1970
    This book is a witty and diverting romp through the horror of our current delusional culture and broken system. It is fun and apocalyptic at the same time. The author is funny and hits you with zingers and trenchant observations about the collapse of our culture, government, economic system and prospects for a sustainable future as we fall into a culture of delusion where reality is just your opinion man. He covers in a funny way how entertainment, conspiracy theories, religious fanaticism, magi This book is a witty and diverting romp through the horror of our current delusional culture and broken system. It is fun and apocalyptic at the same time. The author is funny and hits you with zingers and trenchant observations about the collapse of our culture, government, economic system and prospects for a sustainable future as we fall into a culture of delusion where reality is just your opinion man. He covers in a funny way how entertainment, conspiracy theories, religious fanaticism, magical thinking, right-wing derangement, have eclipsed reality. It covers it in such a funny way that you will be laughing all the way to Armageddon.
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  • Laurie
    January 1, 1970
    This is a very interesting, and, I think, valuable book to have come out at this time and place. Surveys he cites show that one fifth of Americans think the 9/11 attacks were an inside job by American government agents, and four fifths believe that the Bible is factual history right down to the creation story. Only a third of us believe that the current climate changes are human caused. Various religious sects believe all the others are heretic. The author states that between the 60s anything go This is a very interesting, and, I think, valuable book to have come out at this time and place. Surveys he cites show that one fifth of Americans think the 9/11 attacks were an inside job by American government agents, and four fifths believe that the Bible is factual history right down to the creation story. Only a third of us believe that the current climate changes are human caused. Various religious sects believe all the others are heretic. The author states that between the 60s anything goes ideology, the huge show business influence, extreme religions, and the internet, the lines between reality and what we merely believe in have become very, very blurred. We put feelings and beliefs ahead of verifiable facts, in ways that people in the rest of the world don’t. And this loss of touch with reality brings us to the point where religious beliefs are being used to direct boards of education and medical care, and we elect politicians on what they say rather than what their voting record (or lack thereof) shows they’ve done. American history, from the very first European settlers (barring the Vikings, who didn’t stick around), has been different from that of other countries. He goes through the details of why Americans are unique in how they see the world. He writes about not just religion and politics but immersive gaming and comic cons. (note to the author: I’ll go out on a limb and say that 99% of us who go to cons don’t believe we’re really vampires, in an alternate Victorian age where ray guns are powered by steam, or that we are capable of flying- it’s just *fun*)The book is not overly long (over 400 pages) but it is a solid read. Despite the length and the deluge of facts, the author has an entertaining writing style that drew me in and made this a book I couldn’t put down. I think it’s an important subject to think about, and possibly reassess how our own beliefs influence our actions. Five stars
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  • Mehrsa
    January 1, 1970
    It's been a long time since I've tried to purposely read a book more slowly than I otherwise would because I just did not want it to end. This book was so riveting and interesting that I made myself savor it over a week instead of devouring it all at once, which is what I usually do. Yet I recommend it with a lot of trepidation because he demolishes every faith and every belief. Nothing is sacred--not even the word itself, which he believes is a troubling concept. There is a lot to disagree with It's been a long time since I've tried to purposely read a book more slowly than I otherwise would because I just did not want it to end. This book was so riveting and interesting that I made myself savor it over a week instead of devouring it all at once, which is what I usually do. Yet I recommend it with a lot of trepidation because he demolishes every faith and every belief. Nothing is sacred--not even the word itself, which he believes is a troubling concept. There is a lot to disagree with--there is cherrypicking, of course, and a lot of revisionism, but that is the case with every single "big idea" book. There is also a lot of unfair caricatures--especially of the Mormons who are the brunt of his most virulent attacks. So there is a lot to bristle at. Why 5 stars? Because it's that good and that necessary. We've all suspected that something like this was going on in politics for a long time and here it is crystal clear and explained as a uniquely American concept.I probably relished this book more than others might because I felt a bit vindicated. I've always been hard on myself for not being about to suspend reality to enjoy fantastical stuff. I'm no fun when it comes to games, fantasy play, new age-y anything, and belief in things that are unproven. I think it makes for a less happy existence and I've often wished I could be different. But at last, proof that skepticism is fine. I also think we need a plan, which this book is short on. What is the antidote to fantastic thinking? It is certainly not "facts" "science" or "truth." Is it a virus that can't be stopped? Sometimes I fear it is. Once people are not dissuaded from their beliefs by "proof," is there any turning back? I hope so because George Soros and the Illuminati and the Free Masons are running out of funds!
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  • David Rush
    January 1, 1970
    Whooo! That was 442 pages of one angry guy venting. The first half has some pretty cool history anecdotes and when he makes value judgments I almost always agree with him at least in the beginning. But the whole thing is like a really long rambling talk with thousands of historical and cultural references. Kind of like if Dennis Miller was funny or smart or not a conservative stooge, you know if he was somebody completely different..then he would be like this guy if he wrote a book. (Well that w Whooo! That was 442 pages of one angry guy venting. The first half has some pretty cool history anecdotes and when he makes value judgments I almost always agree with him at least in the beginning. But the whole thing is like a really long rambling talk with thousands of historical and cultural references. Kind of like if Dennis Miller was funny or smart or not a conservative stooge, you know if he was somebody completely different..then he would be like this guy if he wrote a book. (Well that was pointless wasn’t it?)Quick aside: I think this covers some of the same issues as Idiot America by Charles Pierce (My review at https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... )In general Andersen says America has always been a horror-show of Fantasy thinking but it got much more worse starting in the 1960’s. The book's structure has the first half of it about U.S. history from colonial days to our current age, and after that his reasoning style is sort of a shotgun logic with each page having a dozen or so different reasons why religion or psychology or almost everything in the world that isn’t from Kurt Andersen’s idyllic formative years feeds into the "Fantasy Industrial Complex". At some point I simply started listing things that pissed him off or contributed to “the Fantasy Industry Complex”, see the Appendix at the end of the review. OK, I think the crux of the book is his contention that people, by which he seems to mean everybody in America although one assumes he is excluded, no longer see facts as fact and feel they can believe anything no matter how outlandish. Really, he repeatedly says things like “Americans now think...(something stupid)” and anybody he quotes who offers a criticism to what he dubs squishy thinking seems to already be dead, so only the wisdom of the ancients can help us now, well them and him.Oh and while he hates pop psychology and new age books he really thinks Christianity is the heart of the problem and primarily ProtestantismBut it seems clear to me the deeper, broader, and more enduring influence of American Protestantism was the permission it gave to dream up new supernatural or otherwise untrue understandings of reality and believe them with passionate certainty. Pg. 42 To me the tone feels dangerously close to “all wars are caused by religion and if there were no religion there would be no wars”. Except he is implying if there had been no religion everybody would be rational actors. Now he does NOT make it that clear and I am sure if confronted he would say he didn’t mean that. But that is the impression, but that may just be squishy thinking on my part.A close second to religion is anything else people do or read for recreation...My argument here is that movies (and then television, and then videogames and video of all kinds) were a powerful and unprecedented solvent of the mental barriers between real and unreal...Pg. 138So if you break away from religion you are apt to get hooked on videogames and once more you don’t know what is real.Then there are parts that irritate me because it just seems like sloppy reasoning. I call these parts the REALLY?!? sections, which I stole from SNL Weekend Update bitAnother moral of the Oz story, what the con man/wizard teaches the lion and scarecrow and tin man, is an underlying theme of this book: for Americans, wishfully believing that something is true, even though false, make it effectively true. Pg. 144[REALLY?!?I don’t think that is remotely what anybody else things the moral is]But it is telling that the first director of the national parks was a Barnumesque former New York Sun reporter who’d mad his fortune inventing the pioneering pioneer-nostalgia brand 20 Mule Team Borax. And no less than Sigmund Freud saw such parks as the perfect metaphor for fantasy in a psychiatric sense. Pg. 145[REALLY?!?]The Cuckoo’s Nest portrayal, paved the way for the disastrous dismantling of U.S. mental health facilities. But more generally they helped make popular and respectable the idea that much of science is a sinister scheme concocted bya despotic conspiracy to oppress the people. Pg. 179[REALLY?!? how about this, http://www.nytimes.com/1984/10/30/sci... . Also, could it be some reasonable people may say psychiatric hospitals in the 1950’s and ‘60’s maybe were not so wonderful? I could be wrong, but I just presented as much proof of my thought as he did]I did appreciate him introducing the notion of when something is "falsifiable".using the premise that some fantasies like Gold in Virginia are “falsifiable” , in that at some point there is enough evidence to prove the premise of gold in some place to prove the idea “false”. BUT...On the other hand, most supernatural religious beliefs aren’t falsifiable. The existence of a God who created and manages the world according to a fixed eternal plan, Jesus’s miracles and resurrection., Heaven, Hell, Satan’s presence on Earth - these can never be disproved. Pg. 25Recognizing the irrational thinking of conspiracy buffs in America is a theme throughout the book...but the thing is he ties together everything he dislikes in to an immense web of irrationality that each support the other and it comes off as a really, really big conspiracy. The apparently unrelated ideas are related by their exciting-secrets-revealed extremism, over the air and online, in paranormal and New Age and Christian and right-wing and left-wing political permutations. They form tactical alliances, interbreed and hybridize. One thing leads to another .Ways of thinking correlate and cluster. Pg. 262After positing this Glenn Beck like grand conspiracy he then totally UN-ironically says on the next page….Whether an individual’s conspiracism exists alongside religious faith, psychologically they’re similar: a conspiracy-theory can be revised and refined an further confirmed, but it probably can’t ever be disproved to a true believer’s satisfaction. Pg. 263So even though he does have a ton of cool historical fact, the whole purpose of the book is to tell us American is going to hell in a hand-basket and things were much better when he was little and it all boils down to his opinion, And that can never be disproved to him, i.e. his beliefs aren’t falsifiable.When I was trying to figure this book out I found this interview online which reinforces my thinking. You are talking about people who believe things without reason. I’m trying to understand: Is there some data or something that you’re looking at that makes you think this is where this trend started, that people became more unreasonable in the ’60s?KA:There is data that I’ve looked at extensively and report in the book extensively about the false things that people believe compared to earlier times. No, there’s no data that supports my speculative cultural history, that part of how we got here—part, not all—is this general abdication by gatekeepers and the establishment in the academy and elsewhere who used to say, “No, this is much, much closer to the truth than this,” rather than at the beginning to say, “No, we’re not going to do that as much.” Is there data or survey research to say that that was part of the cause? No, it’s my opinion.http://www.slate.com/articles/news_an...That answer is kind of Trumpesque, in that yes he has a lot of data, but no the data doesn't prove anything, but it is his opinion which is good enough to anchor a whole book about the subject, thank you very much. NEXT Question please!Conclusion:Now that I got all that out of my system I can say that I like the book (but eventually settled on a Goodreads rating of "OK"). I enjoyed all the cool trivia and broadly agree with his conclusions although I before reading his book I already had those thoughts (...that America sure has a lot of people who believe crazy stuff). It is just that he presents a lot of opinion with the moral authority of scientific fact and he ridicules others for having pickups and Jeep vehicles in the city but blithely excuses his Landrover. He criticizes wealthy people for trying to act rural with their large yard suburban housing but it is a OK for him to have a “farm” in New York where his family can raise sheep as a hobby, or at least until they move onto something else. Again, I like this book and agree with much of it, but the author seems a bit of an overconfident* hypocrite.*(dare I say "smug"?, yes I dare!)Appendix: Things he dislikesTolkien, theme parks – especially Disneyland/world, Any historical recreations – especially Civil War recreations, plays – especially TV plays/drama, 1960’s – except when referring to “when I was young”, Beat literature, pop psychology, John Birch society, academia – apparently all of academia, any religion, movies, science fiction – especially Philip K. dick (expect when he does like him), Renaissance fairs, D & D, Lotto, contraception – leads to “unserious sex”, UN-stigmatized masturbation (I didn’t expect that one), Playboy – relates to previous topic, dyed hair (another one of those “when I was a child nobody did”…), plastic surgery, adult sloppy dressing (when he was a child grownups didn’t were jeans I guess), comic con, pro wrestling, hip hop, suburbs, Keith Haring (another one that seemed out of the blue, but I guess he art was unserious), Frank Lloyd Wright, home schooling – except when his friends do it, the TV show Bonanza, The Big Lebowski movie, The Cracker Barrel restaurants, video games, LARPing...and a bunch more.Only from when I noticed and started counting I got 7 references how things were better when he was born or before he was born.
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  • Tonstant Weader
    January 1, 1970
    Fantasyland is a history of the United States through one particular lens – our infatuation with fantasy from hyper-religiosity to science denialism. One way of looking at American colonization, for example, is that was driven by dissenters, people seeking freedom to worship according to their own beliefs. Another way is to see them as fantasists seeking a place to indulge their penchant to invent new doctrine. Looking through Kurt Andersen’s lens, it is though our history is a progression of na Fantasyland is a history of the United States through one particular lens – our infatuation with fantasy from hyper-religiosity to science denialism. One way of looking at American colonization, for example, is that was driven by dissenters, people seeking freedom to worship according to their own beliefs. Another way is to see them as fantasists seeking a place to indulge their penchant to invent new doctrine. Looking through Kurt Andersen’s lens, it is though our history is a progression of natural selection for credulity and fantasy – a kind of memetics of irrationality.Fantasyland begins at the beginning, with colonization and westward expansion and manifest destiny. The various movements and historical events that shaped our drift toward irrationality and the countervailing checks of rationalism are reviewed with glorious snark and delicious detail. It is a book full of the kind of gossipy details that can make history not just interesting, but downright amusing.Much of this history is focused on the increasing power and stranglehold the Evangelical movement has on America. Looking at why we are so different from Europe in our fervent pursuit of charismatic supernaturalism, it makes sense that a country founded by people who created a new religion that made them intolerant of and intolerable to their home country would keep inventing new religions over and over and over through the centuries – increasingly fantastical and untethered.Andersen has a gift for finding the salacious bits of historical minutia that will perfectly enliven his stories of hucksters, grifters, and true believers who have been the drivers of our derailing train. He is not seeking to persuade those in thrall to irrationality, so he pulls no punches. He is assuming the people reading his book perceive the irrational as deluded fantasists and want to know how in the world we ended up with so many of them. Why do so many believe conspiracy theories? Why do people think vaccines are dangerous and that GMO foods are dangerous? Why do people fear fluoride but not climate change? Why are people afraid of Shariah law, but not Creation “Science?” It’s a good question and Andersen makes a good case for it being a product of longstanding cultural values that prioritize individualism and the freedom to believe whatever the hell you want – no matter how irrational it may be.He finds the enablers among the intelligentsia who argue there is no such thing as reality, that the idea of truth and facts is just oppressive. Reading some of the quotes, I could only think, “Just kill me now.” And yet, we know that irrationality is triumphant and untruth reigns when we have a conspiracy theorist who has no capacity for telling fact from fiction in the White House. The political party in control of every branch of government is run by irrationalists who deny climate science, economic facts of history and cling to superstition and falsehood. We are, in a word, screwed.Andersen, unfortunately, has not advice on how to get out of the mess other than to be a voice crying in the wilderness – refuting the lies, standing up for the truth. Of course, research shows that presenting someone who believes a conspiracy with facts to disprove their delusion only reinforces their belief. After all, if it were not true, why would the elite go to so much effort to show it was false?Fantasyland is a depressing, funny, infuriating, and entertaining history. It sometimes feels repetitious, in part because so much of the road to irrationality is a complex interacting mutually-reinforcing feedback loop of bad actors and true believers and in part because Andersen sometimes beats a dying horse. He makes his case, I am persuaded, but he keeps on making the case and keeps on persuading past the point of usefulness.I liked Fantasyland. The problem is, the folks who really need it, won’t read it. For the rest of us, it reinforces our fears and perhaps, makes us feel a bit smug. It’s tough to feel smug, though, in a country where climate change is literally battering our coastline and burning our interior while the Denier in Chief pretends that it’s all just coincidence.Fantasyland was released on September 5th. I received an e-galley for review from the publisher through NetGalley.Fantasyland at Penguin Random HouseKurt Andersen author site.https://tonstantweaderreviews.wordpre...
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  • Karla
    January 1, 1970
    Hmmm, sounds like it might be a good companion piece to Nancy Isenberg's White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America, which I just finished listening to.
  • Harry Allagree
    January 1, 1970
    Watching a TV interview of Kurt Andersen on "All In With Chris Hayes" led me read this book. It's a well-written "walk down Memory Lane" for me, though I did feel that maybe a dozen pages toward the end were somewhat repetitious. Throughout my almost 81 years on this earth I've experienced & loathed what Andersen calls the "fantasy-industrial complex" more times than I can remember. Was I part of it; did I contribute my share to it, consciously or subconsciously? Oh yes, particularly back in Watching a TV interview of Kurt Andersen on "All In With Chris Hayes" led me read this book. It's a well-written "walk down Memory Lane" for me, though I did feel that maybe a dozen pages toward the end were somewhat repetitious. Throughout my almost 81 years on this earth I've experienced & loathed what Andersen calls the "fantasy-industrial complex" more times than I can remember. Was I part of it; did I contribute my share to it, consciously or subconsciously? Oh yes, particularly back in the '70's & '80's. I'm a slow-learner!Andersen views "Fantasyland" America as the result of a special alloy of evangelical fundamentalist Protestantism and the Enlightenment which began c. the 1800's. (In my opinion the seeds of it were certainly planted way before that.) This process, Andersen says, "generated our extreme, self-righteous individualism. 'I have searched for the truth and discovered it.'...'My intuitions are equal to facts.'...My skepticism is profound except concerning my own beliefs.'...'You're not the boss of me.' The book traces this process in detail & is well documented.It occurs to me that Andersen comes off somewhat unduly harsh on Christianity/religion in the book. Part of the difficulty, IMHO, is in his equating fundamentalist beliefs with all of Christianity, something I don't believe is justified. Some whom he identifies as "Christian", as far as I'm concerned, don't even display a basic moral sense, much less any kind of "religious" perspective. In the end, Andersen clings to the conviction, which I heartily share, best expressed by aphorisms of Thomas Jefferson & Daniel Patrick Moynihan: "You're entitled to your own opinions and your own fantasies, but not to your own facts -- especially if your fantastical facts hurt people." His last section of the book spells out, in excoriating detail, how he views the current occupant of the White House & his cronies as prime examples of the quintessential product of the "fantasy-industrial complex".Andersen raises the question which many of us have asked ourselves over the past 9 months or more: "What is to be done?" Though neither he, nor any of us, has the ultimate "actionable agenda", there are things one can do. The first is to "adopt a guiding principle", based on the above-mentioned aphorisms. We need to become "less squishy. We must call out the dangerously untrue and unreal." "But it will require a struggle to try to make America reality-based again...Fight the good fight in your private life...If you have children or grandchildren, teach them to distinguish between true and untrue...between right and wrong...between foolish and wise...We need to adopt new protocols for information media hygiene...Remember when "viral" was a bad thing?...And fight the good fight in the public sphere...contain the worst tendencies of Trumpism and cut off its political-economical fuel...The good news is...that America may now be at peak Fantasyland. We can hope." In 1969 the concluding remarks of Sir Kenneth Clark to his "Civilization" TV series were a moment of truth for me in this regard: "At this point I reveal myself in my true colors, as a stick-in-the-mud. I hold a number of beliefs that have been repudiated by the liveliest intellects of our time I believe that order is better than chaos, creation is better than destruction. I prefer gentlenss to violence, forgiveness to vendetta. On the whole knowledge is preferable to ignorance and sympathy more important than ideology.I believe that in spite of the tiumphs of science, men haven't changed much in the last two thousand years, and in consequence we must still try to learn from history. History is ourselves...I also believe in courtesy, the ritual by which we avoid hurting other's feelings by satisying our own egos. And I think we should remember that we are part of a great whole, which for convenience we call nature. Above all, I believe in the God-given genius of certain individuals, and I value a society that makes their existence possible...Western civilization is a series of rebirths. Surely this should give us confidence. I said at the beginning that it is a lack of confidence, more than anything else that kills a civilisation. We can destroy ourselves by cynicism and disillusion, just as efectively as by bombs... The trouble is that there is still no center. The moral and intellectual failure of Marxism has left us with no alternative to heroic materialism and that isn't enough. One may be optimistic, but one can't exactly be joyful at the prospect before us."
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  • Kimberly
    January 1, 1970
    My real rating is 4.5 stars, as the author's attacks on all religion get old; otherwise, his thesis and support hit me right where I live and believe. I highlighted 127 sections, which is not my norm, and I plan on digesting this book for a while.Thought-provoking, sometimes scary, but with the possibility of hope. We do live in Fantasyland, but we may be able to make it better.
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  • Richard
    January 1, 1970
    Through the Looking Glass! Instead of titling it Wonderland, the author titled it Fantasyland. A distinction without much of a difference, in my view. I received this book free from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. Written by NYT best-selling author Kurt Andersen, and published by Random House in 2017, the book is subtitled How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History. The author is uncannily perceptive in his diagnosis of what is happening in America t Through the Looking Glass! Instead of titling it Wonderland, the author titled it Fantasyland. A distinction without much of a difference, in my view. I received this book free from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. Written by NYT best-selling author Kurt Andersen, and published by Random House in 2017, the book is subtitled How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History. The author is uncannily perceptive in his diagnosis of what is happening in America today, and I really can’t say that I disagree with him much. In fact, I had already concluded much of what he relates in the very first chapter of his book.The book is divided into six parts that are further subdivided into a total of forty-six chapters. Chapter One serves as an Introduction to the book, and clearly lays out the author’s position, along with some of the evidence to support it. He describes how Americans, once anchored firmly in reality, have become rooted in fantasy through a process that began, most recently, in the 1960s. His arguments are compelling and convincing, to say the least. He tells us, for example, that: “Little by little, for centuries, then more and more and faster and faster during the last half-century, Americans have given ourselves over to all kinds of magical thinking, anything-goes relativism, and belief in fanciful explanation, small and large fantasies that console or thrill or terrify us.” He adds that: “We have passed through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole. America has mutated into Fantasyland.” Americans have so become captivated by their fantasies that: Truth in general becomes flexible, a matter of personal preference.” Anderson points out (correctly, in my view) that: “. . . mix epic individualism with extreme religion; mix show business with everything else; let all that steep and simmer for a few centuries; run it through the anything-goes 1960s and the Internet age; the result is the America we inhabit today, where reality and fantasy are weirdly and dangerously blurred and commingled.” Conclusion: “The footings for Fantasyland had been set.” Today, America is a nation where every individual is gloriously free to construct any version of reality he or she devoutly believes to be true.” Don’t believe it? Look only at the presidency of Donald J. Trump, and the daily lies that emanate from the White House, and then see the number of Americans who firmly believe those lies, despite ample evidence of their departure from Truth and Reality. The influence of religion, and especially that of America’s unique brand of Protestantism, is a major factor in the process of the departure of many, many Americans from rationalism and realism into fantasy and magical thinking. Advertising is another contributing factor, although not as much as religion. The author describes in vivid detail how the seeds for American delusions were firmly planted by religious beliefs in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. In fact, it seems that the two biggest influencers on America’s descent from reality to fantasy have been religion and advertising. Andersen also points out something really scary: America’s descent into fantasyland has infiltrated our country’s colleges and universities to a startling degree. Yikes!The author tells us that the era of Ancient Greece that brought about such scholars as Sophocles, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and others, “. . . lasted less than two centuries, after which Athens returned to astrology and magical cures and alchemy. . .” As to why this is, Oxford classicist Eric Dodd hypothesized that it was because the Greeks “. . . found freedom too scary, frightened by the new idea that their lives weren’t predestined or managed by gods and they really were on their own. Maybe America’s Classical period has also lasted two centuries, 1800 to 2000, give or take a few decades on each end.” Sounds plausible to me.Although Andersen has no “actionable agenda” to solve the problem, he suggests that those of us who consider ourselves to be sane and reasonable should “. . . not give acquaintances and friends and family members free passes.” In other words, do not remain quiet when you hear outrageous fantasies from these people. Speak up and point out the fallacies!The book is meticulously researched and painstakingly detailed — perhaps to a fault. It was difficult to review well because it is so very chock full of information. There is an enormous amount of detail in this book, detail that is used to support the author’s conclusions, to be certain, but probably more than strictly necessary to support his points. At times, the book becomes a very tedious read. We get it. American Protestantism is unique in the world. We don’t need to know the details of every single sect and denomination ever seen in our country. There is much, much more in this book, including detailed descriptions of contemporary politics and how the descent into fantasyland has, and will, affect all Americans — even those of us who choose to remain firmly in touch with reality. The book is well sourced, with footnotes at the end of each chapter. Every sane, rational American with a desire to see our nation continue to move forward should read and ponder this book. It is an important work that is extremely well-researched and cogently presented.
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  • Paul
    January 1, 1970
    For my money, this is perhaps the best book written in the past 20 years on American political and social culture. It's a brilliant synthesis of all the religious and thought movements that have taken place since the founding of the United States. Where it has led us as a country is to a place where truth isn't provable by research or observation or reporting but decided on the basis of what a person believes to be true. The book might have been titled The Disneyfication of America, except that' For my money, this is perhaps the best book written in the past 20 years on American political and social culture. It's a brilliant synthesis of all the religious and thought movements that have taken place since the founding of the United States. Where it has led us as a country is to a place where truth isn't provable by research or observation or reporting but decided on the basis of what a person believes to be true. The book might have been titled The Disneyfication of America, except that's too time-restricted. It shows how the country has gone from a self-definition of religious freedom and exceptionalism to electing a B movie actor as president and having a president at the current time who makes up facts as he goes along and defends them on the basis of others' believing them.We have become a nation cocooned in righteous delusions about ourselves, and if it weren't so scary, it would be really funny. I would recommend this book to anyone who has taken high school or college courses on American history as a corrective to what appears to be the current consensus view.This is a great book: funny, eye-opening, scary, long, and very well-written.
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  • Jason
    January 1, 1970
    Chuck Palahniuk once said that while he is proud of Fight Club he is wary of any man who says it is his favourite book/movie. The same can be said for any truly thinking person who meets someone who found this book insightful or meaningful. To see this as anything other than ironic satire of the mindless state of modern liberalism is insane; to believe that the author has enough intelligence and craft to write such a thing is just as insane. This is a cruel read, a well-curated series of Wikiped Chuck Palahniuk once said that while he is proud of Fight Club he is wary of any man who says it is his favourite book/movie. The same can be said for any truly thinking person who meets someone who found this book insightful or meaningful. To see this as anything other than ironic satire of the mindless state of modern liberalism is insane; to believe that the author has enough intelligence and craft to write such a thing is just as insane. This is a cruel read, a well-curated series of Wikipedia articles that acts as an (unknowingly) disparaging condemnation of the author himself as he engages in the mindlessly simplistic thinking that he throws his subjects under the bus for. His infantile attacks (Coleridge took opium!) on the characters of the people he mentions serve to prop up a weak argument that bludgeons already agreeing proselytes with the kind of half-baked directionality that any reasonably intelligent person knows is pure "fantasy". This kind of work erodes what little is left of intelligent thought and should be pissed on by thoughtful people just as thoroughly as the author pisses on the perspectives and views of the "fantasists" that he disparages.
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  • J. Walker
    January 1, 1970
    I eagerly awaited the arrival of this book. I'd been a fan since TURN OF THE CENTURY, and when I heard the topic, I waited with bated breath. I found it on 9/11 in the East Village, at the Strand -as far south as I got this trip - and read it as I traveled back to California the next day.He is one-sided, he has his points to make, and I appreciate that. He certainly sticks to his premise, and throws a lot of historical detail into the pot to stew on. He is entirely dismissive a lot of the tiem, I eagerly awaited the arrival of this book. I'd been a fan since TURN OF THE CENTURY, and when I heard the topic, I waited with bated breath. I found it on 9/11 in the East Village, at the Strand -as far south as I got this trip - and read it as I traveled back to California the next day.He is one-sided, he has his points to make, and I appreciate that. He certainly sticks to his premise, and throws a lot of historical detail into the pot to stew on. He is entirely dismissive a lot of the tiem, and he feels entirely entitled to that frame of reference. Fine: I'm not about to write a rebuttal.
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  • Stuart
    January 1, 1970
    There is no uniform theory of the United States without a detailed discussion of slavery and its historical impact and continued impact on America. This book barely scraped the surface of the institution. By the time I got to the long discussion of the Woodstock generation, I had read enoughabout these really superficial items and put the book down. I don’t agree with the author’s overriding premise and I don’t recommend this book at all.
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  • Jessica
    January 1, 1970
    I had been thinking about the conflict between my atheism and my quintessentially American sensibility with respect to people's freedom to believe whatever stupid shit they want. This book addresses that difficulty in expansive historical fashion.
  • James O'donoghue
    January 1, 1970
    A thorough and scrupulous account of America's steady departure from reality.
  • Mshelton50
    January 1, 1970
    If you have an interest in American history, or current affairs, you should read this book.
  • Edwin Santana
    January 1, 1970
    Simplistic.
  • Maynard
    January 1, 1970
    Excellent historical analysis of how America go to where it is today.
  • Tom K
    January 1, 1970
    Sprawling, comprehensive and tightly connected survey of the past 500 years of American national identity. Highly recommended, even if simply for the rationalist take on history of the USA.
  • Anne
    January 1, 1970
    Very interested to read this one as I've seen some seemingly bright friends and family get sucked in to the vortex of conspiracy theories. And once you're in it seems difficult to get out.
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