Thursday, May 6, 2010

Book Review: Voodoo Histories by David Aaronovitch

Title: Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History
Author: David Aaronovitch, journalist
Rating: 8/10
Publication Year:2010
Borrowed from the Library
Similar books: Why People Believe Weird Things by Michael Shermer

It all began with Kevin. Kevin was a cameraman with a conspiracy theory, the theory that the NASA lunar landing was a hoax- a motion picture masterpiece filmed by the government. A conversation with Kevin inspired British journalist David Aaronovitch to write a book.

“It wasn’t that I was forearmed with arguments to disprove his theory,” Aaronovitch writes “it was just that it offended my sense of plausibility . A hoax on such a grand scale would necessarily involve hundreds if not thousands of participants.”

Drawing from this experience, Aaronovitch set out to provide a resource for those who also find themselves on the wrong end of a conspiracy conversation. The result is
Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History, an intelligent promotion of logic, clear-thinking and research over insinuation and 'woo'.

From tracing the origins of the 'holy bloodline' of Jesus myth (the basis for The Da Vinci Code) to re-hashing the details of Princess Diana's death, Aaronovitch points out flaws in the counter-arguments of conspiracy buffs and considers their role in popular culture.

More than just a good beach-read for Skeptical Inquirer subscribers, Voodoo Histories examines the story behind each theory-- it
isn't just a matter of whether Oswald shot Kennedy but also when people begin to doubt that he did.

After reading Voodoo Histories, do I consider myself "forearmed"? an extent. Aaronovitch doesn't even address the lunar landing 'hoax', which was the inspiration for the book. It wouldn't be hard to do- Wikipedia has an excellent page on the subject and if Wikipedia can do it...

It should be a rule in the skepticism/debunking genre: never leave something unaddressed.

A book that tried to deal with all conspiracy theories would be huge- like the Encyclopedia Britannica. But if the idea was to examine their role in modern history, there were more important theories the author could have examined-- the idea that HIV does not cause AIDS (& those perpetuating the belief that it does are part of a grand "hoax") has caused thousands of deaths but it doesn't merit a mention.

Still, Voodoo Histories was a nice book to curl up with. It's informative, strengthens your powers of inquiry and debate and arms you with answers to the minor details that only obsessive conspiracy theorists usually have. It's a great addition to an anemic genre- if there were as many debunkers as there are peddlers of nonsense, the world would be a better place.

1 comment:

Trisha said...

This sounds absolutely fascinating; I vary from believer to skeptic depending on the theory... :)