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Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History

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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • “The single most important explanation, and the fullest explanation, of how Donald Trump became president of the United States . . . nothing less than the most important book that I have read this year.”—Lawrence O’Donnell How did we get here? In this sweeping, eloquent history of America, Kurt Andersen shows that what’s happening in our country NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • “The single most important explanation, and the fullest explanation, of how Donald Trump became president of the United States . . . nothing less than the most important book that I have read this year.”—Lawrence O’Donnell How did we get here? In this sweeping, eloquent history of America, Kurt Andersen shows that what’s happening in our country today—this post-factual, “fake news” moment we’re all living through—is not something new, but rather the ultimate expression of our national character. America was founded by wishful dreamers, magical thinkers, and true believers, by hucksters and their suckers. 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 love of the fantastic has made America exceptional in a way that we've never fully acknowledged. 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. 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. Fantasyland could not appear at a more perfect moment. If you want to understand Donald Trump and the 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.


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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • “The single most important explanation, and the fullest explanation, of how Donald Trump became president of the United States . . . nothing less than the most important book that I have read this year.”—Lawrence O’Donnell How did we get here? In this sweeping, eloquent history of America, Kurt Andersen shows that what’s happening in our country NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • “The single most important explanation, and the fullest explanation, of how Donald Trump became president of the United States . . . nothing less than the most important book that I have read this year.”—Lawrence O’Donnell How did we get here? In this sweeping, eloquent history of America, Kurt Andersen shows that what’s happening in our country today—this post-factual, “fake news” moment we’re all living through—is not something new, but rather the ultimate expression of our national character. America was founded by wishful dreamers, magical thinkers, and true believers, by hucksters and their suckers. 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 love of the fantastic has made America exceptional in a way that we've never fully acknowledged. 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. 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. Fantasyland could not appear at a more perfect moment. If you want to understand Donald Trump and the 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.

30 review for Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History

  1. 5 out of 5

    BlackOxford

    On Faithful Truthiness Umberto Eco spotted it first in the 1980’s: The United States exists in a condition of hyperreality, within which the authentic cannot be distinguished easily from the fake (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1...). In fact the fake is preferred to the authentic: it costs less, it’s more accessible, and its easier to clean. But Alexis de Tocqueville sensed it as a possibility 150 years earlier in his experience of the enthusiastic insincerity (or insincere enthusiasm; its On Faithful Truthiness Umberto Eco spotted it first in the 1980’s: The United States exists in a condition of hyperreality, within which the authentic cannot be distinguished easily from the fake (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1...). In fact the fake is preferred to the authentic: it costs less, it’s more accessible, and its easier to clean. But Alexis de Tocqueville sensed it as a possibility 150 years earlier in his experience of the enthusiastic insincerity (or insincere enthusiasm; its difficult to distinguish) of the population (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1...). Americans, who never had a terribly firm grip on their perceptions of the world, were showing clear signs of profound and destructive self-delusion about things like slavery and the sustainability of a polity based on mutual regard. Andersen’s book provides confirmation of Eco’s hypothesis, and a rather comprehensive history, perhaps more comprehensive than necessary, to justify de Tocqueville’s suspicions. Andersen’s book is a study in American cultural epistemology. Epistemology is the study of the validity of the stories we tell ourselves about the world. The first principle of epistemology is that the map is not the territory. In other words, no matter how convincing, or plausible, or logical, or factually supported, whatever story we tell ourselves about the way the world is, is just that: a story. And the story is not reality. The story remains a story. And no story is worth dying, or killing, for. Americans, more than any other people on the planet have difficulty is grasping this principle and its import. There is no second principle. Gullibility is the result of failure to pay heed to this principle. Folk get confused. As Mark Twain noticed, they substitute feeling for thinking, which creates a hell of a mess. American gullibility is unbounded according to Andersen. If you print it in the tabloid journals, or say it on the AM radio stations or cable television channels, or publish it on the internet media, they will come. Not everyone will come at once but, according to reliable statistics, the majority of Americans believe any number of bizarre and unfounded nonsense. Abe Lincoln got it wrong: Most Americans can be fooled most of the time, even if its rarely by the same huckster. Some get hobbled by the gun lobbyists; others worry about the spread of satanism. Sometimes an individual collects a number of such fantasies. He’s the obvious nutcase. But those with a more limited portfolio - say Obama birthers who are convinced that WWF wrestling isn’t rigged, and who believe that Epstein was murdered by Hillary - are just normal. Perhaps there is a genetic component in the American propensity for wild fantasy. The country has been traditionally ‘sold’ elsewhere as one sort of paradise or another. Inherited gullibility in prospective immigrants might well be a factor in succumbing to the hype. Andersen quotes the historian and onetime Librarian of Congress, Daniel Boorstin, suggesting that “American civilization [has] been shaped by the fact that there was a kind of natural selection here of those people who were willing to believe in advertising.” Perhaps the concentration of such a characteristic is the real origin of Madison Avenue. But given the likely dilution of the American gene pool over centuries, some other explanation seems necessary. Andersen tends toward the theory that Americans have been drinking their own ideological bathwater for so long that they actually believe that they have the right to believe anything they want to just because they can. Of course the corollary to this, as John dos Passos pointed out, is that they also believe that their neighbour has no right to know more than they do. This would explain the perennial American anti-intellectualism and the equation of expert knowledge with dictatorial power (See: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/5...). Americans resent knowledge about the world that they don’t have. They do not consider the hard-won knowledge of others through scholarship or dedicated experience to be equivalent to their own quick-fire insight and casual explanation about a situation. This is their peculiar version of Occam’s razor: ‘if it hasn’t occurred to me before, it’s not worth knowing about.’ Ayn Rand’s strange philosophy of the lonely and persecuted corporate hero is typical of this culture and explains her popularity, even among intellectuals (or perhaps especially among intellectuals since their trade is in ideas, mainly their own). Trump of course is the perfect cultural as well as political representative of his fellows. He resents and rejects any factual assertions not his own. He constructs fantasies continuously and publicly. This behaviour is considered not just acceptable but also admirable by about half the country. They live in his stories. After all, they had suspected for years that immigrants were the source of the country’s drug problems, that black people have themselves to blame for racism, that the Christian religion is under attack, that white folk are treated like second-class citizens. Trump confirms their every casual insight worked out laboriously over straight-talking in the bar, the diner, the bible study group. Or for that matter at the country club poolside and in the corporate boardroom. American gullibility is not class-conscious. Anti-vaxxers, neo-libbers, creationists are generally better formally educated but equally impervious to rational discussion. Andersen thinks that the mere availability of stories in America is part of the problem. This of course is nonsense. Every literate culture produces fiction. Whatever stories are told in America are told round the world, and have been for quite some decades, if not centuries. Rather, Americans are unique because they believe the stories that they hear and tell are not just true but real. They have no determinate criteria for truth other than their ‘gut;’ but that’s enough. Truth demands faith, and faith implies intransigence. There can be no compromise, no modification of the truth. Truth is sacred, that is to say, the affirmation of the implausible stories of politicians, businessmen, and media personalities are a quasi-religious duty. Such faith naturally implies that learning is not possible. When the truth is possessed, it no longer need be sought. And error, that is the object of the faith of others, has no right. Andersen does more than imply that the Christian religion, particularly Protestantism, has a lot to answer for in shaping this peculiar obduracy of the American mind. But what he doesn’t see is that it is not the specific Christian doctrines or their variants that are central to the American attitude of obstinate adherence to silliness; it is the presumption that faith itself is a virtue appropriate to a democratic society. Unwavering, unthinking faith in one’s interpretation of authorised texts is easily transferable into similar idiosyncratic faith in the ideals and institutions of American politics and civil life. Such faith, it turns out, is inimical to the democratic political process as well as to the civil cohesion of the country. Faith fragments any society, except where its particular tenets are imposed by force. And this, of course, is precisely what the evangelicals and right-wing pundits would like to do today - by law if possible but through violence if necessary. This is the essential logic of faith: Truth must prevail over reality. But secularists and the Left have also been engaged in the same faith-based game for as long as the country has existed. “We hold these truths to be self-evident...” has proven a rather dangerous Deist conceit. Nothing about America is self-evident except the willingness to insist what that might be against one’s neighbour. I know, I know: not all Americans are like this; and only 48% of the population voted for Trump. But the unit of analysis in Andersen’s book and my comments is not the individual American but the collective culture of America. This is a culture dominated by ideologies, religious and secular stories which appear to be popular to the extent they are absurd, and in which absurdists have faith. In a democratic society, the absurdists, as swing voters, have come to decide elections. They also sell well in a society that appears bored with itself. It is perhaps a central American fantasy that these people are marginal in the culture. The message of Andersen’s book is that they are not and have never been. They are what the place is built on and run by - its true believers.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    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.

  3. 5 out of 5

    David Rush

    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 Protestantism But 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. 138 So 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 bit Another 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 thinks 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 made 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 by a 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. 25 Recognizing 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. 262 After 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. 263 So 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 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. That, AND that 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 dislikes Tolkien, 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 (except 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 wear jeans I guess), comic con, pro wrestling, hip hop, suburbs, Keith Haring (another one that seemed out of the blue, but I guess he feels Harring's 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.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Always Pouting

    I think the premise of the book is an interesting one but I'm actually not sure how much I bought into the argument put forth. I'm sure plenty of us who live in the United States question why we differ so much from other countries that are supposedly comparable. I feel like the book did a lot of describing of various phenomenon that are examples of Fantsyland thinking in America but there wasn't as much exploration of explanation of what would bring about those things. That isn't necessarily a ne I think the premise of the book is an interesting one but I'm actually not sure how much I bought into the argument put forth. I'm sure plenty of us who live in the United States question why we differ so much from other countries that are supposedly comparable. I feel like the book did a lot of describing of various phenomenon that are examples of Fantsyland thinking in America but there wasn't as much exploration of explanation of what would bring about those things. That isn't necessarily a negative but I was just expecting more argument around an explanation since the book title says "How America Went Haywire". There are some explanations like our increased religiosity and our moral relativism but I think I found those unsatisfying because they were also supposed to be examples of us being prone to flights of fancy. I also don't know if America is unique in its tendency to be conspiratorial or indulgence in entertainment. I think Anderson provided some support for the idea that we are much more religious than peer countries but on the other fronts I'm not so sure. I think I would be more convinced if there was more proof that we were unique in this kind of questionable thinking. I do think the author puts forth an argument with some merit, I just think that the book mainly revolves around making the case that we are more prone as a culture to fantasy thinking than explaining what might be the cause of that. I also think the argument that we're more prone to fantasy thinking could've been stronger if it had been more comparative of other cultures outside of the context of just religion and if the kinds of fantasy thinking he was including wasn't so far reaching. Is it really fantasy thinking to get plastic surgery? I remain unconvinced. I also think the argument could've been made stronger if examples of fantasy thinking themselves weren't then used as explanations of why we're more likely to indulge in fantasy. I understand that it might operate as some sort of positive feedback loop but then that argument could've also been spelt out much more clearly in the book.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie *Extremely Stable Genius*

    I was born in the mid sixties, and I don’t recall anyone being overly religious. I don’t remember any of my classmates talking about Jesus, unless it was in reference to baby Jesus and we were doing a school Christmas play. Our founding fathers were almost entirely atheist, hence the separation of church and state that they made damn sure to put in the constitution. They experienced religion mixed with government first hand and knew it was a craptastic idea. Recently, Jeffery Beauregard Sessions, I was born in the mid sixties, and I don’t recall anyone being overly religious. I don’t remember any of my classmates talking about Jesus, unless it was in reference to baby Jesus and we were doing a school Christmas play. Our founding fathers were almost entirely atheist, hence the separation of church and state that they made damn sure to put in the constitution. They experienced religion mixed with government first hand and knew it was a craptastic idea. Recently, Jeffery Beauregard Sessions, the ‘attorney general’, and Sarah Hucklebutt Sandforbrains, the person who lies and lies for the *president (aka press secretary), quoted bullshit from the Bible to somehow justify kidnapping young children from their parents and put them in cages. CAGES! Just because they are brown. What about the separation of church and state? Quoting the Bible in font of cameras as representatives of our government? What the fuck? How did we get here? How did we get from a Democratic country formed by reasonable people (well, kind of reasonable. There that whole slavery thing that they were fine with) to the fascist, wannabe dictatorship that seems to be where we (the US) find ourselves at the moment? Fantasyland explains it better than any book I’ve read on the subject, and I’ve read a lot of them. I had numerous ‘aha’ moments. Kurt Anderson takes us back 500 years and walks us forward to the present day, illustrating our slow but sure decent into fantasyland. From mysticism, crystals, UFOs, Oprah, Scientology, science fiction, theme parks, video games, virtual reality, dressing up as your favorite cartoon character in public as a grown-ass adult (LARPING), to **electing a cartoon *president. It was inevitable. I highly recommend this book..... it’s fascinating. Five stars. *illegitimate, criminal, ugly, moronic, immoral, disgusting, child-stealing creep. Not actually the president. ** He was installed.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    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!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    Remember when 'viral' was a bad thing, referring only to the spread of disease? Same goes for what you read and watch and believe. Andersen traces 500 years of cultural history that lead us to this moment where logic and rational thought are downplayed, where opinion equals fact, and where many choose to live in a complete "fantasyland". It's a trenchant analysis, and a very convincing one too. Andersen notes that from the very beginnings - the Protestant Reformation, the European migration to No Remember when 'viral' was a bad thing, referring only to the spread of disease? Same goes for what you read and watch and believe. Andersen traces 500 years of cultural history that lead us to this moment where logic and rational thought are downplayed, where opinion equals fact, and where many choose to live in a complete "fantasyland". It's a trenchant analysis, and a very convincing one too. Andersen notes that from the very beginnings - the Protestant Reformation, the European migration to North America, the treatment of native peoples - the nascent state was set up as a "fantasy", as a "city on a hill", something that it could never truly be. Following the sociological trends, the demograhics, and specifically the religious and industrial history of the country, the Fantasyland ideal was secured. 230 years are covered in 50 pages (1517-1789), and the analysis really begins in the 19th century. We see the rise of homegrown belief systems (Mormonism, the Shakers, Christian Science), as well as the explosion of alternative health (tonics, snake oils, nephrology, etc.). Combining these things with the manifest destiny/westward expansion, the explosion of industry, etc. Years 1900 - present receive the bulk of the book, tracing trends in entertainment, health, business, and religion and finally 2016's presidential election as a culmination of all things fantasy. Andersen reports and collates the history, and occasionally offers some personal anecdotes: his own time with a guru in the 1960s, his own experimentation with psychadelics, his family's midwestern beliefs and suburbia, and his adult life as a writer and radio personality. This book was hard to put down - I learned a lot, reminisced a bit, realized how I also perpetuate/practice some of these fantasies in my own life (not *always* a bad thing...), but it helped me also underscore why it is so important to continue to stand up for research, for reason, and for rationality. 5/5

  8. 5 out of 5

    Laurie

    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

  9. 5 out of 5

    Gary Beauregard Bottomley

    I am in the minority regarding this book. I found it tedious, shallow and worst of all familiar. The author is out of his depth in his overall story that he’s trying to tell when he connects all of his facts about the past. He has a lot of facts that he presents about how Americans have (almost) always been willing to suspend disbelief and fail to use sufficient reason proportional to the credulity of the belief under consideration. Evolution is a fact. The theory of evolution by natural selecti I am in the minority regarding this book. I found it tedious, shallow and worst of all familiar. The author is out of his depth in his overall story that he’s trying to tell when he connects all of his facts about the past. He has a lot of facts that he presents about how Americans have (almost) always been willing to suspend disbelief and fail to use sufficient reason proportional to the credulity of the belief under consideration. Evolution is a fact. The theory of evolution by natural selection is a scientific fact. Intelligent design is not science. ‘Climate change is a Chinese Hoax’ is absurd, ‘Vaccines cause autism’ is crazy talk. ‘Repressed memories are real and Satanist exists in large numbers because of that’ is conspiratorial clap trap. Every one of those statements is easily shown true by a quick Wiki search and of course made up part of this book. I still get queasy every time I hear Oprah Winfrey or Geraldo Rivera’s name because of the insanity they foisted on the nation by creating out of fictional broadcloth a ‘Satanic Panic’ fear within people who were willing to believe without sufficient reason, or foundation, or empirical evidence and they were manipulated by bigger fools than themselves. (I’ve subscribed to the ‘Skeptical Inquirer’ for over 35 years and almost all the recent silliness presented in this book had already been covered in that magazine with way more depth). This book tries to use a fair amount of history, philosophy, science, religion, and politics when the author is telling his story. I’ll grant any one can be an expert on politics just as easily as any baseball fan can be an expert on baseball and I won’t dispute him on politics (I’d even say that I loathe Donald Trump as much as he says he does and probably agree with him overall on the mess we are in today). If you don’t believe me that anyone can be expert on politics just watch a substance free hour of Sean Hannity, or listen to three hours of hate by Rush Limbaugh. They’ll tell you they are political experts about everything, and they will also tell you that you don’t have to follow any other news sources because they are all you need in order to be full of hate as they are. The author really didn’t understand science or philosophy. That bothered me immensely. Science never proves anything. It can reject a null hypothesis and accept an alternative hypothesis at 95% confidence (or 99% or six sigma if you are using the LHC, e.g.), but science never proves. Science never knows itself, but it can always be self correcting and open to new ‘truths’. At the turn of the century, everybody thought Newton was bedrock solid to the point of certainty so much so that Ernst Mach said it was a tautology. Einstein, of course, changed that. The author mentions Galileo and the church and the heliocentric model. I could tell the author had not read ‘Dialogs Concerning Two Chief World Systems’. That book is a masterpiece, but Galileo got stuff wrong in it (the earth’s waves are not caused by its rotation, e.g.) and the unfolding of science is more subtle then the author appreciates. The author kept building a post-modernist straw man to debunk any version of scientific relativism. All of the scientific truths we had at the beginning of the 20th century got replaced by the beginning of the 21st century (the universe is expanding, the sun is 4.5 billion years (in your face Lord Kelvin!), nuclear fusion powers the sun, and so on, and so on). There is a difference between understanding and explaining. Feynman said we don’t understand quantum physics, but we can explain it to the 10th decimal place. Einstein (and Newton) said they understood the universe up to the assumed first principals. (Of course, that’s not exactly true, because Newton says he will ‘feign no hypotheses’ except for God, and Einstein takes time out of the universe). Also, the author stated that Nietzsche was a relativist. People who don’t read him say that. Nietzsche thought "a picture of the world that organizes a larger order of it in accordance with its own principle of interpretation is more powerful and therefore real than the viewpoints it incorporates in itself". This leads to Nietzsche's view point of "perspectives". It’s not a relativist statement by most measures. My real complaint on this book overall is that I don’t think the hate we see today is because we can choose to live in Fantasyland (be it color TV, fantasy ball leagues, homeopathic medicine, churches, video games, movies, Disney Parks, all mentioned in this book) . I think Hannah Arendt in her book ‘Totalitarianism’ gets at the causes better and that book was written in 1950 and this author did praise it and mentioned he read it in 2016. There’s no more dangerous slope then having a president undermine reality based news services by calling them fake news, creating a class of ‘alternative facts’, and undermining a free society by inciting the mob (48%) to hate the same people he hates.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Chelsey

    I first became suspicious when I saw this book does not contain a bibliography of any kind. If you're writing a book about our current era of "fake news" and "alternative facts," and how we became a society who tolerated that kind of thinking, don't you think you should cite some sources to back up your own claims? Otherwise, the reader has to take it on faith that what you're saying is true, that you're quoting things accurately, and that there's actually facts behind your claims. The book starts I first became suspicious when I saw this book does not contain a bibliography of any kind. If you're writing a book about our current era of "fake news" and "alternative facts," and how we became a society who tolerated that kind of thinking, don't you think you should cite some sources to back up your own claims? Otherwise, the reader has to take it on faith that what you're saying is true, that you're quoting things accurately, and that there's actually facts behind your claims. The book starts out more historically-based, arguing that the type of person who settled America (fools willing to believe that America was filled with gold, and folks determined to practice their own independent religions, according to the author) was the starting point for creating our current "my facts are whatever I want them to be" society, that ultimately ended in electing our current president. There's not a lot evidence provided, however, to demonstrate how the former caused the latter. If we're so influenced by the beliefs of our predecessors, shouldn't Australians be more likely to commit crimes, since Australian colonists were in large part conscripted criminals? The author spends a lot of time on this idea, but doesn't provide any kind of psychological research that might indicate that a temperament like a fool-hearty belief in a gold-filled America and supernatural religion can be passed down, generation to generation. Here are some other things the author claims are in part connected to the rise of Trump and "alternative facts:" - cosplay - Disneyland - Burning Man - superhero movies - adults dressing up for Halloween - jeans (which he literally calls "play clothes," as opposed to those sensible khakis I guess we're all supposed to be wearing?) - video games - the Internet - Brazilian waxes - Fantasy football - the X-Files And listen, maybe he's right! (I doubt it). But maybe, somehow, cosplayers (who baffle the author so badly he brings them up at least five times) really are more likely to deny global warming, vote for Trump, and believe that vaccines cause autism. I don't think it's very likely, but I can't say for sure unless someone does some polling on the issue. If such polling exists (maybe Pew is really bored these days?) it definitely isn't cited in this book! Because that's the most ironic thing about this book. For all the author wants to explain how we've created a large portion of a society who believe that everyone is entitled to their own facts, the author also writes as though he's entitled to his, and we should just believe him, full stop. No need to verify the research. No need to show evidence, or include specific citations. And if no one can see the problem with that, then we as a thinking society are even worse off then I thought.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Mikey B.

    I have been to the U.S. several times in my life and have to admit that I haven’t experienced it like this book, although I did see gun stores and many churches in the Southwest. But traveling is selective; I love visiting museums and National Parks where one does not encounter the ideas and people in Kurt Andersen’s “Fantasyland”. Kurt Andersen, like many politicians and pundits, stipulates that the U.S. indeed is an “exceptional country”. But by “exceptional” he really means “idiotic”. The theme I have been to the U.S. several times in my life and have to admit that I haven’t experienced it like this book, although I did see gun stores and many churches in the Southwest. But traveling is selective; I love visiting museums and National Parks where one does not encounter the ideas and people in Kurt Andersen’s “Fantasyland”. Kurt Andersen, like many politicians and pundits, stipulates that the U.S. indeed is an “exceptional country”. But by “exceptional” he really means “idiotic”. The theme of this book is that the “inmates have taken over the asylum”. The gatekeepers of rationality have been overthrown. When a significant percentage of your population and leaders believe ardently in the following, problems arise: > Creationism – as in the earth was created less than 5,000 years ago (creationism and intelligent design are part of the science curriculum in some states) > conspiracy theories – like a world government under the U.N. will soon be taking over the U.S. and we must arm to protect ourselves; or that the U.S. government has been in contact with aliens and UFO’s for many years and hiding this from its citizens; or the U.S. government has plans to take all your guns away > obsession with entertainment – fantasy lifestyles, celebrity and sports worship > falsification and irrationality in the mass media (namely Fox news, Breitbart) > a literal interpretation of Biblical texts (as leading to end-days and Armageddon) > belief in Satan, the Devil, witches (or the use of the occult) > speaking in tongues > a personal relationship with God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit (God spoke to me) > the proliferation of churches with little accountability (what use to be fringe is now mainstream, for example the Mormon church) > the growth of fantasy – theme parks, casinos, lottery tickets > New Age religions, foods, health, mysticism > gun, gun culture, growing acceptance of extreme guns And of course there is now the internet. Page 260 (my book) Before the Web, cockamamie ideas and outright falsehoods could not spread nearly as fast or widely; so it was much easier for reason and reasonableness to prevail. Before the Web, institutionalizing any one alternate reality required the long, hard work of hundreds of full-time militants – the way America’s fundamentalist Christians spent decades setting up their own colleges and associations and magazines and radio stations. In the digital age every tribe and fiefdom and principality and region of Fantasyland – every screwball with a computer and telecom connection – suddenly had an unprecedented way to instruct and rile up and mobilize believers, and to recruit more. All of these, and more, have accelerated tremendously in the last 50 years. And the author specifies that it is just the U.S. Certain aspects like the growth of the right wing are happening in other developed countries, but not in the same context as in the U.S. A key argument in his book is that facts in the U.S. have become more and more relative. Opinions override truth (denial of climate change being a prime example). We are provided with a history of this. The Enlightenment led to rationalism and science in Europe, but in the U.S. it also led to more of a “free-for-all”. The spread of diverse religions in the U.S. is a good example. All this irrationality feeds and spins into other fantasies and disparate groups. Page 217 The modern homeschooling movement, for instance, got going then in both fundamentalist Christian and Woodstockian iterations. The former sought to reduce children’s exposure to ideas from outside the Bible-based bubbles of family and church. In left-Bohemian milieu, parents decided that their children are not in this world to live up to expectations; that they must only and always do their own thing; and that tests and grades would turn them into drones of the corporate state... courts and state legislatures started deciding okay, whatever, do your own thing, Christian, hippie, it’s all good, school’s optional. One doesn’t have to look too far for fantasy. I checked Goodreads Clubs. Here’s a few: Supernatural and Paranormal Roleplay Chaotic Roleplay Lucifer’s Academy for the Unholy Fairy Tale Fans Unite Elysian Darkness Red Pilling Behold a Pale Horse and Beyond (Behold a Pale Horse is a prominent conspiracy book – as in the U.S. government is out to get you, control you, is affiliated with the U.N....) The author implies a growing “Clash of Civilizations” within America – the secular, rationalist, reasonable versus the fantasy-irrationally possessed (the devoutly religious, the conspiracy theorists, the occult...) There’s a wide assortment of ideas expressed throughout. Some of it is funny – and I couldn’t agree with everything. However this book does make one ponder. Where goes the U.S. with Trump? Page 427 “Do you think that talking about millions of illegal votes is dangerous to this country without presenting the evidence?” the anchor of ABC World New Tonight asked President Trump. “No,” he replied, “not at all! Not at all – because many people feel the same way I do.”

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ross Blocher

    Fantasyland is a sweeping, masterful explanation of America’s fascination with unreality. By examining our history and singular makeup (from an expansive 500-year vantage point), Kurt Andersen seeks to explain how we arrived in a post-truth, alternative facts, fake news culture with Donald Trump as president. Andersen can claim some prescience, as this book was well into its formation before Trump became a “serious” candidate and proved the premise. The phrase “Fantasyland”, a nod to Walt Disney Fantasyland is a sweeping, masterful explanation of America’s fascination with unreality. By examining our history and singular makeup (from an expansive 500-year vantage point), Kurt Andersen seeks to explain how we arrived in a post-truth, alternative facts, fake news culture with Donald Trump as president. Andersen can claim some prescience, as this book was well into its formation before Trump became a “serious” candidate and proved the premise. The phrase “Fantasyland”, a nod to Walt Disney’s creation but also a catch-all term for the alternate realities we construct, offers an explanatory filter that is simple and clear, yet explains much. This is one of those rare books that will change the way you see… pretty much everything. Of course, the United States is not the only place where absurdities and flights of fancy can be found, but “we are Fantasyland’s global crucible and epicenter.” While our constitution and founding fathers were products of the Enlightenment, there coexists a strong, earlier core of religious fundamentalism, witch-burning zeal, and hunger for gold and the fountain of youth (Jamestown was a failed gold rush) that shaped our national character and preoccupations. While we laudably value free speech and personal conviction, we seem poorly equipped to counter those convictions when they pick pockets and break legs (to paraphrase Jefferson). The scope here is truly staggering: Andersen intelligently weaves together people, places, events and movements that are the products and progenitors of Fantasyland, peppering each discussion with relevant details, quotes, fun asides, and his own sharp commentary. We visit topics as diverse as Martin Luther, the Puritans, witch trials, Jamestown, Anne Hutchinson, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Ann Lee and her Shakers, Joseph Smith and Mormonism, the Millerites and other end times prophets, spiritualism, Mary Baker Eddy (who was influenced by quack medicine before founding and discovering Christian Science), satanic panics, P.T. Barnum, Harry Houdini, snake oil, homeopathy, water cures, mesmerism, phrenology (a phrenologist told a young Ray Kroc - founder of McDonalds - that he would be in the restaurant business), speaking in tongues, Bugsy Siegel, Las Vegas, gambling, the lottery, Hugh Hefner, Playboy, breast implants, Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Oz, Ayn Rand, John Birchers, conspiracy theorists (Behold A Pale Horse had been an influential book for me in 8th grade and it’s fun to hear him discuss it here), Billy Graham, Ronald Reagan, Thoreau, Wild Bill Hickok, the Scopes trial, utopian societies, sentimental architectural, Walt Disney, Disneyland, the red scare, L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology, Woodstock, hippies, new age, psychedelics, LSD, Carlos Castaneda, Esalen, Oral Roberts, Hal Lindsey, Jerry Falwell, doomsday preppers, gun nuts, David Koresh, historical reenactments, Dungeons and Dragons, Comic-Con, Renaissance fairs, LARPers, World of Warcraft, League of Legends, virtual reality, the WWF and WWE, Creationism, X-Files, Alex Jones, global warming denial, GMO panic, anti-vaccination, Burning Man, and so much more. Sharing thoughts and observations on these topics would make for too long a review, so suffice it to say that it’s a delight to see these ideas cascade and unfold into one another. With each exhibit, Andersen demonstrates how we actively replace the actual with the imagined and the idealized, to the point where it is hard to tell the difference. While this book is a call to reason and evidence, it is not unilaterally against fantasy, which can and should play a role in a healthy society. Andersen quotes J.R.R. Tolkien, who said in a lecture after publishing The Hobbit: “Fantasy is a natural human activity. It certainly does not destroy or even insult Reason; and it does not either blunt the appetite for, nor obscure the perception of, scientific verity. On the contrary. The keener and the clearer is the reason, the better fantasy will it make.” Hear, hear. I, too, am a rationalist who values the power of fantasy to inspire, to expand our horizons, and to make us hope for a better tomorrow. However, it’s important that we never lose sight of reality in the process. As a society, we’ve tipped too far in Fantasyland’s direction. Hopefully voices like Andersen’s and other defenders of science and reason will prevail. There is reason to despair… but one can hope.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Karla

    If you're one of those people who believes that the current insanity we're living through in America is a new infection, Andersen makes a convincing case that it's a virus America's had for quite some time. In fact, he asserts that it's part of our DNA and the outbreaks have cropped up in different forms over time since our "discovery" back in the 15th century. Europe sent over their best and the world's never been the same since. His case is particularly solid when describing the post-war Boomer If you're one of those people who believes that the current insanity we're living through in America is a new infection, Andersen makes a convincing case that it's a virus America's had for quite some time. In fact, he asserts that it's part of our DNA and the outbreaks have cropped up in different forms over time since our "discovery" back in the 15th century. Europe sent over their best and the world's never been the same since. His case is particularly solid when describing the post-war Boomer era and beyond (the majority of the text), when economic security and technological advances enabled fantasy to become more and more a facet of everyday life and common indulgence. To be honest, I really can't relate much to that mindset, but seems like the headlong rush into Fantasyland is a lifelong pursuit for some, whether it's via the boob tube, the internet, or - in a more toxic and politically devastating way - the pulpit. What really makes America Fantasyland is religion and the unquestioning embrace of faith and belief over facts. In all, Andersen delivers his ruminations on what makes America the obnoxiously flakey and ideologically free-for-all dynamo that it is in a very engaging and accessible manner. His final chapter on Donald Trump is particularly good, given Andersen's adversarial history with him as the publisher of Spy magazine. He speaks as one who was on to Trump's shady schtick long before Agent Orange embarked on his latest scam conning the rubes & bullying the spineless on a national level. One of the more entertaining popular social histories I've read. *** Pre-reading thoughts: 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.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Leo Walsh

    A fun romp through "post-truth" America, where people make millions off of Americans' gullibility. Where Karl Rove, a White House official, can quip that "what we call the 'reality-based community,' where people believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." have it wrong. Because, according to Rove, "That's not the way the world really works anymore." In this America, people believe in easily-debunked fact-and-logic-free nonsense — like UFO's, the Illuminati cr A fun romp through "post-truth" America, where people make millions off of Americans' gullibility. Where Karl Rove, a White House official, can quip that "what we call the 'reality-based community,' where people believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." have it wrong. Because, according to Rove, "That's not the way the world really works anymore." In this America, people believe in easily-debunked fact-and-logic-free nonsense — like UFO's, the Illuminati creating a New World Order, that the US government staged 9/11 using crisis, Pizzagate, that the bible is the "unerring word of God," that the world is 5000 years old, that a bunch of hippies sitting around the Pentagon chanting "Om" could actually levitate the building and initiate an era of world peace, etc. It's funny on one hand, since this stuff is nutty. And yet, it's not. Since this denial of reality often has consequences. Consider the fact-free freakout about the MMR vaccine causing autism. It's pure bunkum. The study that originally reported this in the British medical journal "The Lancet" has been discredited, the evidence made up. What's more, before that, public health researchers, freaked by the potential connection between the MMR vaccine and autism, pored over hundreds of previous studies and created new studies. These proved that, based on the best available evidence, that MMR does not cause autism. Period. And yet people (especially in CA) refuse to let their children be vaccinated out of fear of autism. Which brings immunizations below the mathematically necessary herd-immunity levels. And thus brings diseases that were extinct a few decades ago, like mumps and measles, back into existence. Worse, some of those children affected have died. And yet, we continue, pretending this is just an amusing quirk. Andersen traces this to America's grand Protestant tradition, where every person is free to interpret scripture (and thus, reality) in a matter that suits only himself or herself. And he does a nice job digging through our history to see where the first PT Barnum fleeced the first sucker. Which leads to some interesting factoids. For instance, did you know that Jamestown, VA was created not so people can farm, but because of a trumped-up goldrush... that shouldn't have existed since VA has little to no gold reserves? So people rushed to Jamestown to get rich quick. Based on fake news and puffery. But I've got to shave points off because not being a historian, his argument comes off lopsided. Afte reading this, you'd assume that American history is a sham. That every person who fishes, hunts, raises chickens or gardens is living an "I'm an America Frontiersman" fantasy. I dunno. I'm an American. I fish and grow my own organic produce. I garden to save money and eat healthy food... and to feed oxygen to the environment to help offset my carbon footprint. And I fish (mostly rivers) because I enjoy the peace and quiet. And the pleasant shock I get when a fish hit my lure. Not sure that's a fantasy. What's more, Andersen has a long list of dislikes, some of which I agree with, others of which I think are overkill. Regardless, this is a funny book. And a wakeup call for America. Since we all have a right to our own opinions, but not to our own fact. Instead, let's call Kellyanne Conway's "alternative facts" what they are. Inaccuracies or lies, depending on the circumstances. Four stars. A long book that's over too soon, IMHO.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kressel Housman

    I've been a fan of Kurt Andersen's radio show "Studio 360" for years, especially his "American Icons" series, so when I heard him promoting this book, I ordered it from my library immediately. What I did not realize, though, was that it was the perfect follow-up to the book I'd just finished because it picks up where that one was set: in the Puritan colonies. Roger Williams gets only two mentions in this book, but it's all about the down side of his legacy of "soul liberty." If everyone is allow I've been a fan of Kurt Andersen's radio show "Studio 360" for years, especially his "American Icons" series, so when I heard him promoting this book, I ordered it from my library immediately. What I did not realize, though, was that it was the perfect follow-up to the book I'd just finished because it picks up where that one was set: in the Puritan colonies. Roger Williams gets only two mentions in this book, but it's all about the down side of his legacy of "soul liberty." If everyone is allowed the freedom to pursue his or her own spiritual truth, that opens the door to all kinds of crackpot beliefs and eventually devolves into the world of "alternative facts" as we now know it. Andersen covers every bout of irrationality in American history: the fanatic Puritans, the founding of Mormonism, the phenomenon of speaking in tongues, the Scopes monkey trial, the 60's and the New Age, the rise of the religious right, and climate change denial. Andersen claims to be an agnostic, not a crusading atheist, but religion in general and Protestantism in particular come out looking pretty bad in this book. Another of its major themes is how much these movements gained momentum because of the entertainment industry. Show business was once made by vaudevillian hucksters like P.T. Barnum, but the lines between fantasy and reality really blurred with the advent of television. I was a kid in the 70's, pre-Internet when TV was still king, and my memoir contains quite a bit about play-acting TV shows and how much I lived in my fantasies. When I read Kurt Andersen's observations, I felt like I could never publish my own thoughts on the subject because they seem so unoriginal. On the other hand, I can stop thinking of myself as such a weirdo because I was just a product of my times. Childhood has been extended since the Baby Boom. Since this book covers 500 years of American history in 450 pages, it's impossible for me to do it justice with a simple review, but I do want to highlight just one of Andersen's concepts. He divides people into three categories: the believers, the cynics, and the squishies. The believers actually buy into the "party line," and that goes for virtuous worldviews as well as false ones. The cynics talk the language of the believers, but they're manipulating them for their own ends. The squishies are moral relativists, often found in academic or liberal circles, who are inclined to say, "Everyone has his own truth." Andersen says the squishies have been silent too long. His book is a cry to call out the cynics, the hucksters, and the liars of the world and say, "Facts are facts; there are no alternatives" and/or "Climate change is real." The world is in a perilous position, and we've got to turn it around. And even a religious believer like me can be part of it.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Robert Gustavo

    I don’t know what I expected, given the title, but the author is basically an asshole speaking to the converted. The premise is fairly straightforward — Protestantism makes each person the ultimate authority on The Truth, and that founding America on Protestantism has led to an America where facts and figures are a matter of opinion. And, there is probably a decent argument to be made along those lines. But, Kurt Andersen doesn’t make that argument well, because he’s more interested in scoring po I don’t know what I expected, given the title, but the author is basically an asshole speaking to the converted. The premise is fairly straightforward — Protestantism makes each person the ultimate authority on The Truth, and that founding America on Protestantism has led to an America where facts and figures are a matter of opinion. And, there is probably a decent argument to be made along those lines. But, Kurt Andersen doesn’t make that argument well, because he’s more interested in scoring points. Religion is always a fantasy in his eyes, and he always lands on the more provocative language just to be provocative — he doesn’t start from a reasonable stance on religion and show how it allows thinking that sends people off into the woods to discuss chemtrails, he starts from the premise that any religious belief is disreputable nonsense. I’m not religious. I don’t believe in god. But Kurt Andersen is the type of atheist that wants to make sure that you understand that he looks down on you for believing in a religion. I’m smug as shit, and even I find this guy insufferably smug. I read slowly. I don’t have time for this asshole. Fuck him and fuck his little book. Abandoning it less than a quarter of the way through.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Monica

    My impression of Fantasyland ended up being a lot like my impression of Hillbilly Elegy.  Overall, I liked it. I even enjoyed it, but it was about 80% solid research/fact and 20% political rhetoric.  That's a bit of a turn off for me, even when I agree with him (and I do).  Andersen's basic premise is that from the very beginning America is built upon a foundation of self delusion and a profound lack of awareness and perspective regarding history. From the Pilgrims to the Populists and Progressi My impression of Fantasyland ended up being a lot like my impression of Hillbilly Elegy.  Overall, I liked it. I even enjoyed it, but it was about 80% solid research/fact and 20% political rhetoric.  That's a bit of a turn off for me, even when I agree with him (and I do).  Andersen's basic premise is that from the very beginning America is built upon a foundation of self delusion and a profound lack of awareness and perspective regarding history. From the Pilgrims to the Populists and Progressives (and Conservatives who in my view are at a whole different level), we have continuously fooled ourselves. This "ignorance", self-delusion and Herculean willful denial of facts that we don't like, has propelled us to a current state of the union. Will this lack of perspective lead to ruin or promote us to prominence? Time will tell but in my humble opinion, things aren't looking so good right now--but I am not exempt from pushing self fulfilling prophecies and delusions. There are hints that this phenomenon is worldwide, but this book focuses primarily on the US. 4 Deaf, Dumb and Blind Stars Listened to the audiobook

  18. 4 out of 5

    Dennis Diehl

    Unfortunately, those with the most to gain from Fantasyland are those most likely to never read it.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Martha☀

    I slowly read the first half of Fantasyland (from 1500 to 1982) before I had to return it to the library. It is a stunning look at the type of people that initially made the leap to leave Europe and settle in America. These consisted of religious sects which were being persecuted and excommunicated from established religions. As these extremists arrived in America, they brought their belief systems with them and practiced without restraint, believing that this new world was an opportunity to do I slowly read the first half of Fantasyland (from 1500 to 1982) before I had to return it to the library. It is a stunning look at the type of people that initially made the leap to leave Europe and settle in America. These consisted of religious sects which were being persecuted and excommunicated from established religions. As these extremists arrived in America, they brought their belief systems with them and practiced without restraint, believing that this new world was an opportunity to do anything, anytime. This attitude of living without fixed societal rules has been a hallmark, passed down through the generations and ultimately creating the fantastical idea of the American Dream and the Me First attitude so familiar to the rest of the world. Think Salem witch trials, John Smith creating Mormonism, Waco Texas, the NRA. anti-vaxers and countless other deviances which make America oddly unique. All of this is possible because Americans can 'believe' whatever they want - including choosing to 'believe' in science (or not). Whatever an American can imagine becomes his reality - the ultimate Fantasyland. Andersen heavily applies his opinion to the connections he makes and, oddly, there is no bibliography for this tome. But he makes some incredibly insightful points which have me shaking my head at every news piece about the States and especially during the current pandemic where many Americans 'believe' that it is a hoax or that they don't 'believe' in wearing a mask. I do plan to read the rest of the book - since the post-Reagan times to the current Trump schmozzle will be quite entertaining (in a nauseating way). If you want a more concise version of this 400+ page book, try reading Andersen's article in The Atlantic which was published in 2017. It holds most of the same content. Andersen Atlantic article

  20. 4 out of 5

    Todd N

    Well, this has got to be the longest Spy Magazine article I have ever read. It’s too bad the book jacket doesn’t have a Photoshopped picture of Hillary and Trump on it. Come to think of it, there must be several good ones in the Spy archives left over from the 80s and 90s. The “Fantasyland” of the title is America, of course — the place where reality has a well-known liberal bias. The place where Republicans think it is ridiculous Russia could have interfered in the latest election, while at the Well, this has got to be the longest Spy Magazine article I have ever read. It’s too bad the book jacket doesn’t have a Photoshopped picture of Hillary and Trump on it. Come to think of it, there must be several good ones in the Spy archives left over from the 80s and 90s. The “Fantasyland” of the title is America, of course — the place where reality has a well-known liberal bias. The place where Republicans think it is ridiculous Russia could have interfered in the latest election, while at the same time their 2016 platform calls for a constitutional amendment to protect homeschooling from the United Nations. The place where GMOs and vaccines are a corporate conspiracy, yet herbal pills (which are as likely as not to contain any trace of an actual herb) contain the latest health wisdom of the ancients. Even though it’s one big book divided into six parts, to me it read like two different books with the same themes fused together at the midpoint (sort of like Strawberry Fields Forever if that makes sense). The first part goes all the way back to Martin Luther 500 years ago and ends around 1950 or so. The earliest America is populated by (1) people too Protestant to get along with other Protestants and (2) people credulous enough to believe get rich schemes about the New World. These people put down roots way, way before The Enlightenment came to town. During this period think of America as a waffle iron that takes the waffle batter of The Bible and makes ever more bizarre religion waffles, from Puritan to Pentecostal, from shaking to speaking in tongues. On the more secular side of things, there was all kinds of fun nonsense going on too: mesmerism, hypnotism, homeopathy, phrenology, seances, magic gems for finding treasure, P.T. Barnum, Buffalo Bill... One particularly interesting section discusses the role of conspiracy theories in helping to bring about The Civil War, and how Lincoln made references to them in his debates with Douglas. The second section picks up in the 1950s, when the seeds were sewn for what would bloom into today’s modern Fantasyland: Las Vegas, Playboy, the Beats, Scientology, McCarthyism, renewed interested in Christian evangelicalism, and—most of all—Disneyland. Then came the Fantasyland Big Bang in the 1960s and 1970s, in which anything went and anything did. Mr. Andersen makes the crux of his argument here: We all know about the left’s side of the culture wars that kicked off at this time: sex, drugs, rock and roll, Esalen, academic relativism, cultural relativism, and so on. But this is also when the right let loose. He pinpoints this time to the mainstreaming of the right’s particular brand of unreality: extreme Christianity, conspiracy theories, right-libertarianism/Randism, capitalist greed, the gun lobby, survivalist movements (an offshoot of live-off-the-land movements), and more. This is when for so many Americans, individualism curdled into solipsism, just as “Every man for himself” is the flip side of “Do your own thing.” According to Mr. Andersen, we are now in Full Fantasyland and have been since 2000. We just needed these things to happen first to push us over the edge and convert a bunch of us into Walter Mittys: Reagan; Oprah; The Secret; Behold a Pale Horse; X-Files; Celebration, Florida; President Clinton investigated for Vince Foster’s suicide; formation of the National Institute of Health’s alternative medical center; the Web; broadband Internet. Even though this book was started and mostly written way before Trump was running for president, obviously the current state of American politics and the GOP (and even the recent Senate primary win of Roy Moore) hangs over much of this book. Also it’s impossible to read this book without thinking about fringe news sites and the role of social media in the 2016 election. Before I read this book, I assumed it was just simple confirmation bias that resulted in so many people sharing articles on clear nonsense like, say, Pizzagate or the Pope endorsing Trump. Now I think it’s something much deeper in the American character with that weird mix of Protestant plus Enlightenment plus gullible New World fortune seeker. Roughly half of the book discusses religion, the history of religion in America, and different factions of American non-mainline Protestant religions. These parts are pretty rough (read: clear eyed) on religion. It may be tough going if this is a topic that you are (1) not interested in or (2) sensitive about. I can sum it up for you real quick by saying that Marx was almost right: Religion is actually the hallucinogen of the masses. Still, it is refreshing to read paragraphs like this: “But the Branch Davidian’s theology is not so different from that of a large fraction of Americans. We call Koresh a ‘cult-leader’ which allows us to file him away reassuringly as a one-off nut... But it’s important to recognize that his church was a long-standing subgroup of a 150-year-old Protestant denomination that is one of the twenty largest churches in America, with six thousand congregations.” (Don’t forget that our current secretary of housing and urban development is a Seventh Day Adventist, just like Koresh was.) Mr. Andersen throws in some great quotes, including some scary quotes from Goebbels and Arendt and Orwell. But the one that he keeps coming back to, from Thomas Jefferson, is his litmus test for when someone else’s beliefs can be considered harmful or not. How about putting this quote outside courthouses instead? “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” Highest recommendation. The best book I’ve read so far this year. The Russians should hire Mr. Andersen to run their bot farms. P.S. Obviously this book is wrong about aliens and visitations. Don’t even try telling me that we didn’t reverse engineer computer chips from crashed alien ships.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Andy Klein

    This work would have made a decent article in the New Yorker. But expanded into a long book, we are left with the author shoehorning every conceivable--and many inconceivable and some patently ludicrous--examples of fantasies to fill out a book and try to make his point. There are explanations about how we arrived at Donald Trump and why so many people were taken in by him, but Anderson doesn't have the intellectual firepower to unearth and explain them. A book will be written that explains how This work would have made a decent article in the New Yorker. But expanded into a long book, we are left with the author shoehorning every conceivable--and many inconceivable and some patently ludicrous--examples of fantasies to fill out a book and try to make his point. There are explanations about how we arrived at Donald Trump and why so many people were taken in by him, but Anderson doesn't have the intellectual firepower to unearth and explain them. A book will be written that explains how we became saddled with a mentally ill, deranged, compassionless huckster as President, but this ain't it.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kusaimamekirai

    I’m a big fan of NBA basketball. Earlier this year a seemingly thoughtful star athlete on the Cleveland Cavaliers named Kyrie Irving (who briefly attended the prestigious Duke University), made waves at a press conference after a game. Somehow the conversation had turned to science and Irving, to the astonishment of those in attendance claimed because he had traveled all around the world multiple times he could say that the world is flat, not round. This triggered a string of tweets by other N I’m a big fan of NBA basketball. Earlier this year a seemingly thoughtful star athlete on the Cleveland Cavaliers named Kyrie Irving (who briefly attended the prestigious Duke University), made waves at a press conference after a game. Somehow the conversation had turned to science and Irving, to the astonishment of those in attendance claimed because he had traveled all around the world multiple times he could say that the world is flat, not round. This triggered a string of tweets by other NBA players agreeing with his statement. One player’s response in particular was instructive. When told there are numerous photographs of a round earth he responded: “Who’s to say that picture is telling the truth? I can make a round picture with my iPhone today and make it look round. So I don’t know. I’m not saying I think it’s flat or round. I don’t know. But it could be.” How do college educated, and otherwise articulate people like this come to stop trusting in objective reality? Such is the subject of Kurt Andersen’s excellent book “Fantasyland”. In the book, he lays out the argument that America’s seemingly having lost it’s belief in objective truth, if not it’s collective sanity, isn’t a new phenomenon. Rather, this has been a slow burning process that started with the very origins of the idea of America. The first settlers were in every sense fundamentalist religious purists who sought to establish a theocracy in the New World. Within this group even more radical groups splintered off until the idea of a theocracy seemed relatively tame compared to the belief in demon possession, witches, and signs from God that proliferated. It just got worse from there. This book is an extremely comprehensive century by century roadmap that is difficult to lay out in a single review but suffice it to say that these fantasies by the first Americans laid the groundwork for all kinds of fringe groups later on. Mormons, snake oil salesmen, repressed memory hucksters, UFO believers, televangelists, hippies, new age medicine, and so many others. What they all share in common is the belief that truth is relative. Or as the author of the self help bestseller “The Secret” says, if you believe it’s true than it’s true. Or as one of the poster children for moral relativism Deepak Chopra once said “It’s not just the interpretation of objective reality that is subjective, objective reality per se is a concept of reality we have created subjectively.” Some may argue, as Thomas Jefferson did, that “if it doesn’t pick my pocket or break my leg” it’s no big deal. Just let people get on with it. Fringe belief systems have always existed but what they lacked was a way to contact other believers and spread their ideas. With the internet, that is no longer true. As Andersen argues, there are now very real world consequences for having no belief in objective truth. Whether it manifests in violence or an erosion of trust in the institutions that hold up our democracy, every person being their own island of truth is unsustainable in the digital age. Andersen makes an important distinction: “Pre-Internet information systems, in which accuracy and credibility were determined mainly by experts or otherwise designated deciders, had terrible flaws and annoyances, including complacency, blind spots, snobbishness, and bigotry. But those gates and gatekeepers also managed to keep the worst hogwash out of our mainstream.” As depressing as this may all seem, Andersen is ultimately hopeful. The Dark Ages spawned the Enlightenment. America has self corrected itself on multiple occasions from regulating and outlawing quack medicines to pushing back on anti-vaccine activists. America in the end always seems to come back to rationality after dipping its feet in the waters of collective madness. Is there another correction coming? We can only wait and hope.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I think Kurt Andersen has important things to say about current events in the US, and the way our past has led to this moment. His thesis--that our current alternative-facts world is an understandable outcome for a country founded on the idea of escape and the possibility of illimitable riches and freedom--suggests both a way of understanding the modern era and a hope of a more reasoned, and reasonable, future. On the other hand, any nonfict I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I think Kurt Andersen has important things to say about current events in the US, and the way our past has led to this moment. His thesis--that our current alternative-facts world is an understandable outcome for a country founded on the idea of escape and the possibility of illimitable riches and freedom--suggests both a way of understanding the modern era and a hope of a more reasoned, and reasonable, future. On the other hand, any nonfiction book, and especially one this wide-ranging, needs to have documentation. (I can hear all my history professors slow-clapping, but damn it all, they were right.) This book has no foot- or end notes and nothing in the way of bibliography. More exasperating is Andersen's tendency to describe the person he's quoting rather than name them, by saying something like 'a poet and newspaper editor,' which makes any quote from that source difficult to verify. Andersen's thoughts bear pondering, but as someone who likes to read more deeply on a topic that interests me, not having a bibliography available as a starting point to further research is frustrating. More to the point, for anyone with experience, it looks unprofessional.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Heidi Ward

    (Trigger warning for fundamentalists, cosplayers, climate change deniers, Reiki practitioners, anti-vaxxers, humorless socialists, Scientologists, and Trump true believers.) This book couldn't have hit shelves at a more perfect, pertinent time. Andersen traces the lineage of American super-credulity all the way back to its founding folly: "America" as we know it was seeded with the hopes dreams of an extreme religious sect, with a fervent belief in not just God, but their right to worship their o (Trigger warning for fundamentalists, cosplayers, climate change deniers, Reiki practitioners, anti-vaxxers, humorless socialists, Scientologists, and Trump true believers.) This book couldn't have hit shelves at a more perfect, pertinent time. Andersen traces the lineage of American super-credulity all the way back to its founding folly: "America" as we know it was seeded with the hopes dreams of an extreme religious sect, with a fervent belief in not just God, but their right to worship their own, interpreted version of said God. Though the works of our governmental founding fathers tried to temper our enthusiasm with rational humanism, it was already too late. We were believers, and we believed what we liked. Throw in in some apocalypse cults, a bottle of patent medicine, Spiritualism, tabloids, crystal healing, and a few hits of good old windowpane blotter -- voila!, the recipe for our post-reality USA. Andersen's history is dizzyingly informative, long and deep and wide. He hits all the crazy high points: witch hunts and red scares, "The Great Awakening," Mormons and Scientology and Esalen, Biblical literalism, "The End Times" and speaking in tongues, "Manifest Destiny," hippies, hallucinogens and homeopathy,"Satanic Panic" and "recovered memory" therapy, postmodern relativism, pyramid schemes and pyramid power. The assumed veracity of The Bible, "Chariots of the Gods" and "The X-Files." So when you put it that way . . . wow. Americans be trippin'. Certainly most of us are guilty of some kind of magical thinking, even if it's just throwing salt over your shoulder or reading your horoscope or buying a lottery ticket. Mostly harmless. But now's a good time to ask ourselves how exactly does all this enthusiastic nuttiness intersect with America as a fiercely democratic nation? A country deeply devoted to the tenet that you have the God-given right to construct your own reality? Believers that even "alternative facts" should have their place in arenas of rational discourse? It would seem those attitudes have finally resulted in the election to our highest office of real estate and reality TV "entrepreneur" Donald Trump (and his clown-car of sycophants). Now the most ham-handed, dangerously unprepared and morally void huckster of them all is holding the faith (and fate) of our country in his careless, avaricious, tiny hands. From the start, Americans' strong need to believe has had a dark flip side: we're also born to be suckered by shiny lies that distract from our difficult "consensus reality." Some people have never met a scientific fact they can't deny on Scriptural evidence, others never heard a carnival barker that couldn't tempt them with even slipperier snake oil. Like Fox Mulder, we want to believe in conspiracies at the highest level and little green men on ice at Area 51. Or another kind of imaginary friend in the sky, for that matter. Or magic. Weight-loss pills. Or that what time and date you were born decides your future. Some even believe there was no collusion. It's like gullibility is in our genetic makeup or something. (I read that on the Internet, so it must be true.) I have done my own share of magical thinking, considering ideas that, at best, entertained me or made me feel a bit better, and at worst, were a huge waste of time (looking at you, Y2K panic). Yet Andersen's history didn't ever make me feel stupid. He understands the difference between keeping an open, curious and well-informed mind, and letting it fall open so wide anything at all might colonize it. His humor is sharp but (almost) never condescending, and his range of knowledge vast. If you want to understand how we got here -- to this "un-Presidented" national crisis -- or even just appreciate an offbeat tour of weird American history, pick this one up. 5 thought-provoking and entertaining stars.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Anita Pomerantz

    If ever there was a book I should have DNF'd early on, this was it. Anderson's hypothesis, if you will, is that the United States was birthed in fantasy (the gold rush) and over time, our populace has become so enamored with fantasy that we ended up with Donald Trump as our president. And his "proof" is anecdote after anecdote (described in a historical context) about the uniquely (ok, sure) American love of fantasy. Well, yeah, if you conflate every form of entertainment and pleasure seeking wit If ever there was a book I should have DNF'd early on, this was it. Anderson's hypothesis, if you will, is that the United States was birthed in fantasy (the gold rush) and over time, our populace has become so enamored with fantasy that we ended up with Donald Trump as our president. And his "proof" is anecdote after anecdote (described in a historical context) about the uniquely (ok, sure) American love of fantasy. Well, yeah, if you conflate every form of entertainment and pleasure seeking with fantasy, I guess he might have a point. Anderson starts by going after religion, but before you know it, everything from Disneyworld to fantasy sports to the suburbs has lead to the downfall of our society. No other countries have any of these things, right (eye roll)? This review isn't very good. That's because this book alternately made me sleepy and angry. For three weeks. I don't even want to give it any more mindshare than I already have. It's a thesis argued with 90% opinion and a problem with absolutely no solution. Can we please leave this type of conjecture to true historians going forward?

  26. 4 out of 5

    Todd Martin

    We all do no end of feeling, and we mistake it for thinking. - Mark Twain You’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving … our press secretary gave alternative facts. - Kellyanne Conway In his 1963 book Anti-intellectualism in American Life Richard Hofstadter noted that, unique among the developed world, U.S. citizens were particularly impervious to factual information. A half century later, despite the prevalence of technology that places a world of information at our fingertips, conditions hav We all do no end of feeling, and we mistake it for thinking. - Mark Twain You’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving … our press secretary gave alternative facts. - Kellyanne Conway In his 1963 book Anti-intellectualism in American Life Richard Hofstadter noted that, unique among the developed world, U.S. citizens were particularly impervious to factual information. A half century later, despite the prevalence of technology that places a world of information at our fingertips, conditions have only gotten worse. Want proof? Only a third of Americans are confident that anthropocentric climate change is real, that the creation tale in Genesis does not represent the literal truth and that ghosts and telepathy aren’t real. Two-thirds believe that angels and demons are active in the world. A third believe that humans were created in their present form, that the government is in league with the pharmaceutical industry to suppress natural cancer cures and that extraterrestrials have visited or are living on the Earth. A quarter believe that vaccines cause autism, that witches exist, that 9/11 was an inside job perpetrated by the U.S. government, that Trump won the popular vote and that Obama is the Antichrist. Also – forty percent of Americans believe we’re living in the end-times. I could go on … and on … and on … and on. If you believe in any of the above, then you too are a resident of Fantasyland, a delusional world where opinions and feelings are just as valid as facts. Where whatever you think is true … is true. No matter why or how you came to think it’s true. And best of all, nobody can tell you otherwise. Novelist and radio host Kurt Andersen covers many, many more examples in Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History. This is a problem. Diseases thought to be eradicated are making a comeback thanks to the efforts of anti-vaxxers. There are end-times believers who would actually applaud a nuclear exchange thinking it would hasten the return of their savior. And of course, if your goal is good governance and the development of successful public policy, it is doomed to failure if it was written by individuals who can’t distinguish between the real and the imaginary (which of course is why the political system in the U.S. is a disaster and America is in decline). So why are Americans so susceptible to magical thinking? There are likely many causes, but Andersen believes that the root of the problem is American religiosity. The U.S. is unique in the developed world for its high levels of religious belief (89% believe in God according to a June 2016 Gallup Poll vs. about 50% of Europeans). There are many scientific studies demonstrating that individuals who believe in one fantasy are more susceptible to belief in others. For example, an individual who believes in the healing power of crystals is more likely to believe that astrology is real. In other words, supernatural belief (of which religion predominates) is the great American gateway to magical beliefs of all kinds. So then, why is the U.S. so much more religious than other developed nations? Again, there are likely many causal factors … childhood indoctrination, the fact that the U.S. was founded by religious groups escaping persecution, the lack of a national church which has allowed churches to diversify and flourish. However, I suspect a key reason religion has been so persistent has to do with the way humans naturally respond to uncertainty. We know that superstition plays a role in all sports and gaming activities. Gamblers are particularly notorious for unreasonable beliefs in actions that supposedly affect luck for better or worse. Because gambling contains a significant element of chance, it is human nature to fall prey to irrational superstitions as a way of exerting control over a situation over which the individual no control. Here’s the thing … life in the U.S. is highly uncertain compared with our European counterparts thanks to Republican Party opposition to social safety programs. As such, 76% percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck and are one serious accident, illness or layoff away from bankruptcy and destitution. Religious beliefs (an all-powerful being loves and watches over me, and has a divine plan for my life etc.) likely provide Americans with some illusion of comfort and control in the face of this unrelenting uncertainty. Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said “You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.” It’s a great quote, and yet its truth is belied by today’s Republican Party. Whether it’s fears of a one-world government, U.N. black helicopters, that the government is coming to take away their guns, that climate change and evolution aren’t real, that Obama is a Muslim or was born in Kenya, that the Clintons are murderers or part of a child sex ring involving a pizzeria in Washington D.C., that the Sandy-Hook massacre didn’t occur, that the end-times are nigh, that democrats intend to impose Sharia Law, that FEMA is running secret concentration camps, that people can speak in tongues, that the Constitution established the U.S. as a Christian nation, that anti-white bias is more of a problem than anti-black bias, that voter fraud is rampant, that transgender people want to molest your child in a bathroom, that immigrants take away American’s jobs and cause more crime than U.S. citizens, that money is free speech, that Trump won the popular vote, that banks will police themselves if regulations are removed, that guns make you safer, that prayer works and the bible is literally true, that children of gay parents are less well-adjusted, that corporations are people, that charter schools perform better than private schools, that crime is on the rise or that tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% spur economic growth and reduce the deficit … the conspiracy and comforting lie win out over truth time and time again. Sure, there is sloppy thinking on the left (for example, somewhat higher percentages on the left think that vaccines cause autism, and GMO’s aren’t safe), but they are nowhere near as prevalent, widely believed or as damaging as those on the right (with regards to the vaccine issue it should be noted that 25% of conservatives think that vaccines shouldn’t be mandatory vs. 9% of liberals … because ‘freedom’ apparently). You can’t have a rational discussion, let alone effectively govern a country, if its citizens can’t discern the difference between objective reality and subjective fantasy. You’d think Americans, who pride themselves on their rugged individualism, would be somewhat less inclined to be the willing dupes of those who deliberately spread misinformation. But such is not the case. They seemingly have a bottomless appetite for demagoguery, outright falsehoods and idiotic nonsense regardless of their implausibility as long as it reinforces their preconceived beliefs. We’re a nation of suckers … and there are more being born every minute. Either a broad and focused re-commitment to enlightenment values and critical thinking must occur, or continued decline is inevitable. I suspect we’re in for the latter. Ok – so what about the book. It’s good, you should read it! I will, however, mention a few minor criticisms to demonstrate that I am a critical thinker and don’t reside in Fantasyland myself. 1. My main reproach is that the book was just too long. Andersen spends too much time on the history of irrationality in the U.S. recounting example after example, long past the point where it added any value to his larger argument. 2. Andersen paints an unfailingly bleak picture, neglecting to mention any of the organizations dedicated to the promotion of critical thinking. There are quite a few out there and they are having a measurable if modest effect. 3. He also has an unusual habit of referring to an individual without naming them. For example he states: “The surgical oncologist who edits Science Based Medicine has written that he has “yet to come across a study that provides serious objective evidence that placebos change ‘hard’ objective outcomes, such as survival in cancer.” The “surgical oncologist” in question is David H. Gorski. Why Andersen doesn’t refer to him by name is bizarre (and he does this again and again throughout the text). 4. This is a nitpick, but Andersen uses the term “blue-chip” recurrently to refer to something that exhibits excellence or high quality. There’s nothing wrong with the term, it’s just one that I don’t encounter in common parlance and I found it a bit odd since he uses it so frequently.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mal Warwick

    You will be amazed. In Kurt Andersen's shocking 500-year survey of US history, Fantasyland, you'll learn just how truly exceptional America is—and not in a good way. Who is responsible for "fake news?" If you think only Donald Trump, Fox News, anonymous online pundits, and Russian hackers have a monopoly on "fake news," guess again. Andersen relates countless incidents of purportedly true accounts of satanic cults, multiple personality disorder, recovered memory, vaccines causing autism, and other You will be amazed. In Kurt Andersen's shocking 500-year survey of US history, Fantasyland, you'll learn just how truly exceptional America is—and not in a good way. Who is responsible for "fake news?" If you think only Donald Trump, Fox News, anonymous online pundits, and Russian hackers have a monopoly on "fake news," guess again. Andersen relates countless incidents of purportedly true accounts of satanic cults, multiple personality disorder, recovered memory, vaccines causing autism, and other once-pervasive delusions on ABC and NBC News and other mainstream media over the years. Even that paragon of accurate journalism, The New York Times, has fallen prey to such nonsense from time to time. Is it any wonder, then, that ludicrous conspiracy theories should multiply on the World Wide Web, where any nut can say anything anonymously without fear of contradiction? Who spreads conspiracy theories? Equating The New York Times with Breitbart and Russian hackers as purveyors of fake news would be highly misleading. Andersen doesn't do that. As he notes in another context, "There are different degrees of egregious." However, he is clear that "fake news" and conspiracy theories are by no means limited to the so-called "Trump voters" pilloried by professional journalists and commentators. Huge numbers of other Americans have left the realm of rationalism for Fantasyland. Consider Scientology, the antivaccine movement, hysteria about GMO food, alien abductions, homeopathy, and the national missing-children panic of the early 1980s. None of these delusions and conspiracy theories are solely identified with any class, region, or race. And popular New Age gurus such as Marianne Williamson, Deepak Chopra, and Eckhart Tolle, all of whom sometimes spout nonsense, have not attracted notably large followings among the creationist set. Similarly, Oprah, Dr. Oz, Bill Maher, and other popular show business celebrities have promoted delusional beliefs. As the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously noted, "You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts." Unfortunately, as Andersen makes abundantly clear, far too few Americans take that sentiment seriously—and, in that respect, the United States stands out clearly in comparison with all other developed nations. The religious roots of America's infatuation with fantasy Andersen's account begins early in the sixteenth century with the establishment of English colonies in present-day Virginia and Massachusetts. In both cases, conventional wisdom has it that the search for religious freedom drove early colonists to American shores. That's only partly true, and only in the case of New England. Andersen explains that the primary motivations for all the earliest European expeditions were visions of gold and the Northwest Passage. And the Puritans—they only later called themselves Pilgrims—who landed south of Boston were in no way motivated by religious "freedom." They had set out to establish a theocracy intolerant of any religious practices that departed even slightly from the rigid prescriptions of their faith. However, in Protestantism, with its view that "every man [is] his own priest," there lurked a fatal flaw in its commitment to conformity: if "every man" was "his own priest," what was to stop them from inventing their own religions? In fact, as American history clearly shows, that is precisely what has happened over the five centuries since Jamestown and Plymouth Rock. Beginning not long after the landing at Plymouth Rock with Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson, Americans have demonstrated unending creativity in devising variations, often radical variations, on Christianity, from Mormonism, Christian Science, Seventh Day Adventism, and the Jehovah's Witnesses to the numberless evangelical Protestant denominations. In every case, these new belief systems rested on fantasy. And there, Andersen argues, lies the rub. Most Americans seem willing to suspend disbelief to worship on the basis of precepts any self-respecting science fiction writer would reject as improbable. (If you think I'm exaggerating, read The Book of Mormon as written by Joseph Smith, or Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by by Lawrence Wright.) Interestingly, Andersen cites studies by scholars at Yale and the University of Chicago that found "the single strongest driver of conspiracy belief [is] belief in end-time prophecies." Andersen frequently cites findings from public opinion surveys to telling effect. "Nearly all American Christians believe that Heaven (85 percent) and Hell (70 percent) are actual places," he writes. Focusing on "the solid majority of Protestants, he adds that "at least a quarter of Americans . . . are sure 'the Bible is the actual word of God . . . to be taken literally, word for word.'" And "more than a third of all Americans . . . believe that God regularly grants them and their fellow charismatics magical powers—to speak in tongues, heal the sick, cast out demons, and so on." Elsewhere, Andersen notes, "According to Pew, 58 percent of evangelicals believe that Jesus will return no later than the year 2050. (And only 17 percent of all Americans said they thought He definitely wasn't coming back during the next thirty-three years.)" With such beliefs so widely held, fake news and "alternative facts" can be no surprise. The problem is far broader than fanciful religious beliefs Fantasyland is far from limited to the religious sources of Americans' predisposition to fantasy. Andersen regards shopping malls, planned communities, Civil War reenactment and Renaissance Faires, fantasy sports, theme restaurants, People magazine, cosmetic surgery, pro wrestling, computer games, reality TV, and Disney theme parks as other signposts of our infatuation with the unreal and the impossible. It's difficult to argue with this on a strictly logical basis. Andersen makes the case. Yet I find it a stretch too far to imply that such phenomena are in any way equivalent to fantasies such as widespread voter fraud, hysteria about vaccines, and the pernicious practices of Scientology, all of which have real-world consequences and sometimes lead to physical harm and even death. However, Andersen implies that, because of conditioning by these seemingly inconsequential realities, Americans are peculiarly susceptible to dangerous conspiracy theories.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Book

    Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History by Kurt Andersen “Fantasyland” is a provocative book that describes how being being free to believe anything in America has metastasized out of control. Bestselling author, contributor to Vanity Fair and The New York Times, and radio show host Kurt Andersen provides compelling arguments from many angles that America in essence has mutated into Fantasyland and has led to the presidency of Donald J. Trump. This stimulating book includes 46 c Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History by Kurt Andersen “Fantasyland” is a provocative book that describes how being being free to believe anything in America has metastasized out of control. Bestselling author, contributor to Vanity Fair and The New York Times, and radio show host Kurt Andersen provides compelling arguments from many angles that America in essence has mutated into Fantasyland and has led to the presidency of Donald J. Trump. This stimulating book includes 46 chapters broken out into the following six parts: I. The Conjuring of America: 1517-1789, II. United States of Amazing: The 1800s, III. A Long Arc Bending Toward Reason: 1900-1960, IV. Big Bang: The 1960s and ‘70s, V. Fantasyland Scales: From the 1980s Through the Turn of the Century, and VI. The Problem with Fantasyland: From the 1980s to the Present and Beyond. Positives: 1. Engaging, and well-written book. This is an ambitious effort and succeeds on many levels. 2. Fascinating topic in the hands of a driven and detailed master. How did America get to this point? A historical look at how we have declined to this point. 3. The book flows nicely from topic to topic covering seamlessly politics, religion, social studies, history, etc. 4. Doesn’t waste time getting to the main point and thrust behind this book. “In other words: 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.” 5. Interesting insights and observations throughout. “No new technology, during the thousand years between gunpowder and the steam engine, was as disruptive as the printing press, and Protestantism was its first viral cultural phenomenon.” 6. Takes a look at the various religious groups and provides many detailed descriptions. “Four years later the several dozen Leiden ultra-Puritans sailed away from corrupt, contentious Europe for this latest Edenic piece of the New World, to create their New Jerusalem in New England. In other words, America was founded by a nutty religious cult.” 7. The credo of fantasyland and many compelling reason why it’s so. “As we let a hundred dogmatic iterations of reality bloom, the eventual result was an anything-goes relativism that extends beyond religion to almost every kind of passionate belief: If I think it’s true, no matter why or how I think it’s true, then it’s true, and nobody can tell me otherwise. That’s the real-life reductio ad absurdum of American individualism. And it would become a credo of Fantasyland.” 8. Not afraid to go after religion. “America was created by people resistant to reality checks and convinced they had special access to the truth, a place founded to enact grand fantasies.” 9. The battle between fantasists and realists, through history. “For most of its history, America had exactly such a dynamic equilibrium between fantasists and realists, mania and moderation, credulity and skepticism. But as much as we wish for a natural and inevitable balance between those competing forces, like the laws in physics, there’s no such mechanism governing civilizations. Societies and cultures can lurch out of balance. As ours eventually would do.” 10. A fascinating look at the Civil War. “The meteoric rise and fall of the Klan aside, white Southerners’ myth of their own special goodness—honorable, honest, humane, and civilized guardians of tradition, unlike the soulless Yankees—did not wither. It endured in new forms in the new century, with Daddy’s and Granddaddy’s Civil War a noble and glorious Lost Cause that tragically failed to preserve their antebellum golden age. Slavery qua slavery? No, no, no, the war hadn’t really been about that; slavery was a detail. In fact, white Southerners had fought the war to defend their right as Americans to believe anything they wanted to believe, even an unsustainable fantasy, even if it meant treating a class of humanity as nonhuman.” 11. Interesting and provocative conclusions. “For a great many white Southerners, defeat made them not contrite and peaceable (like, say, Germans and Japanese after World War II) but permanently pissed off. Which in turn led them to embrace a Christianity almost as medieval as the Puritans’.” 12. Looks closely at a number of fantasy-based creations: Las Vegas, Playboy, the Beats, Scientology, McCarthyism, and revived Christian evangelicalism. “The Beats’ self-conception descended from a particular American lineage—mountain men, outlaws, frontier cranks, lonely individualists, and narcissistic outsiders sounding their barbaric yawps over the rooftops of the world.” 13. The rise of Christianity in America. “In fact, all American Christian boats were rising. In his first year as president, at age sixty-three, Eisenhower was baptized. He appeared at the first National Prayer Breakfast, an event organized by a fundamentalist group, which became annual. The following year Congress and the president stuck “under God” into the eighty-seven-year-old Pledge of Allegiance, then gave America its first official motto, “In God We Trust,” to be printed on currency. Eisenhower made prayer a regular part of cabinet meetings, the first one led by his agriculture secretary, a leader of the Mormon Church.” 14. The differences of the left versus the right. “People on the left “still swear by the values of the ’60s,” Charles Reich, author of The Greening of America, recently said. They focus only on the 1960s legacies of freedom that they define as progress. And people on the political and cultural right still demonize the decade from around 1963 to 1973 as the source of everything they loathe.” 15. The rise of intellectualism. “Before Kuhn, the history of science had been understood as a steady march toward better approximations of the nature of existence, accomplished by observation, experiment, and scientists’ habitual criticism of one another’s work and all conventional wisdoms.” 16. Impactful Supreme Court decisions. “In 1962 and 1963 the Supreme Court decided in two cases, with only one dissenter in each instance, that it was unconstitutional for public schools to conduct organized prayer or Bible readings, and in 1968 the court finally ruled—unanimously—that states could not ban the teaching of evolution. Until the 1960s, biblical literalists (like white supremacists) had not been prohibited from imposing their beliefs on everyone around them.” 17. The rise of conspiracies. “Communism, according to the Birchers’ new line, was just one piece of a global master conspiracy, a tool of a much grander plot by a “clique of international gangsters.”” 18. An interesting look at gun views. “Gun nut became a phrase in the 1960s because gun nuts really didn’t exist until then—and they emerged on the far right and left simultaneously. The John Birch Society, Malcolm X, and the Black Panthers were our first modern gun rights absolutists. The Panthers’ self-conception, as a heavily armed and well-regulated militia ready to defend Oakland’s black community against the police, led quickly to a California law, sponsored by a Republican and signed by Governor Reagan, that made it illegal to carry loaded guns in public. Huey Newton, twenty-five-year-old cofounder of the Panthers, condemned it as part of “the plot to disarm” Americans.” 19. Chapters dedicated to fictional reenactments of various types. 20. Political impacts. “Just before the Clintons arrived in Washington, the right had managed to do away with the federal Fairness Doctrine, which had been enacted to keep radio and TV shows from being ideologically one-sided. Until then, big-time conservative opinion media had consisted of two magazines, William F. Buckley’s biweekly National Review and the monthly American Spectator, both with small circulations. But absent a Fairness Doctrine, Rush Limbaugh’s national right-wing radio show, launched in 1988, was free to thrive, and others promptly appeared, followed at the end of Clinton’s first term by Fox News.” 21. Many conspiracies debunked. “For instance, beginning in the 1990s, conspiracists decided contrails, the skinny clouds of water vapor that form around jet-engine exhaust, are exotic chemicals, part of a secret government scheme to test weapons or poison citizens or mitigate climate change—and renamed them chemtrails.” ““The likelihood of supporting conspiracy theories is strongly predicted,” they concluded, by two key pieces of our national character that derive from our particular Christian culture: “a propensity to attribute the source of unexplained or extraordinary events to unseen, intentional forces” and a weakness for “melodramatic narratives as explanations for prominent events, particularly those that interpret history relative to universal struggles between good and evil.” 22. Much, much, more… Negatives: 1. At over 400 pages it will require your time and focus. 2. No supplementary visual materials. 3. No formal bibliography. In summary, a very interesting topic covered from A to Z. Andersen stays focused on describing how America got to this point of fantasyland through time and does so with a luxury of examples and angles. Excellent writing that includes fascinating insights. I highly recommend it! Further recommendations: “Lesterland: The Corruption of Congress And How to End It” by Lawrence Lessig, “The Solution Revolution” by William D. Eggers & Paul MacMillan, “Price of Inequality” by Joseph Stiglitz, “Winner Take All” by Dambisa Moyo, “The Post American World” by Fareed Zakaria, "That Used to be Us” by Thomas L. Friedman, “War on the Middle Class” by Lou Dobbs, “Screwed” by Thom Hartmann, “Merchants of Doubt” by Naomi Oreskes & Erik M. Conway, and “The Spirit of Democracy” by Larry Diamond.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Radiantflux

    65th book for 2017. Andersen's book, by taking an almost encyclopedic view of all that has been crazy in America since it's foundation, offers a very useful frame to understand contemporary events in the United States. Although it could be described a breezy romp through 500 years of delusion, it's breadth is very useful in understanding how comprehensive the rot is, and its lightness of touch offers the necessary sugar-coating to swallow the bitter red pill he offers. The book is refreshingly ha 65th book for 2017. Andersen's book, by taking an almost encyclopedic view of all that has been crazy in America since it's foundation, offers a very useful frame to understand contemporary events in the United States. Although it could be described a breezy romp through 500 years of delusion, it's breadth is very useful in understanding how comprehensive the rot is, and its lightness of touch offers the necessary sugar-coating to swallow the bitter red pill he offers. The book is refreshingly hard about the crazy beliefs of most Christians in the US, and offers an interesting take on how the Republican Party became the fundamentalist Christian party it is today. Fun fact: Only 6% of the US population follows a religion other than Christianity (another 7% is agnostic/atheist). As he convincingly argues, at a cultural level the US is culturally much closer to Turkey (a country with a veneer of secularism, with a large population of religious fundamentalists) than it is to other rich Western countries like Germany, France, Australia, Japan. Whether this book is a take on how the US finally jumped the shark in the 2000s, or it's low point before it rebounds into something much better, only time will tell. A must read for any person living in the reality-based world. BTW: I heard this on audiobook, and was a real treat to hear the author read the book.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Cat

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