SUMMARY: (4 of 5 stars) A really fascinating — if a bit cynical — review of American history mapped along hoaxes, scams, (false) conspiracy theories, religion, cults, post-modernism, and other false beliefs in an attempt to describe and explain our current cultural and political state.
I think he makes a bit too much of some points — his denigration of libertarianism, video games, LARPing, Disney, Las Vegas, etc. — but the overall thrust of his thesis is quite thought-provoking. And I do appreciate that he attempts to balance his commentary slightly to avoid coming off as TOTALLY motivated in his reasoning.
SPOILER WARNING: From this point forward, I’m going to discuss this book without any concern about spoilers. So, if you don’t like spoilers you should stop reading now.
WOW! Although Andersen’s account of American history does culminate with Donald Trump and a characterization of the GOP as the more “fantasist” of our two major parties, he does talk about problems with truth and facts on all sides of the political spectrum.
His underlying premise seems to be that the DNA of America is sewn with a propensity for fantastical beliefs and the processes of cultural natural selection at play in our country have selected for less rationality and more fantasy. And that, he explains, is how we have ended up with Donald Trump as president.
It’s a really interesting premise and the way he traces the path from Martin Luther through the pilgrims through the Salem witch trials through the Enlightenment and the Founding Fathers through the Civil War through the Gilded Age and into contemporary history is REALLY entertaining. I have several friends to whom I will recommend this book.
I listened to the audiobook, so I don’t know how well cited the work is. I want it to be very well-cited because some of his references are really oblique and a lot of what he says could bear some scrutiny by folks who are interested in an academic review of his argument.
I do appreciate that he attempts to be “balanced” in his criticisms. He’s also self-conscious of how even his own production of this book illustrates some aspects of his argument.
Affiliate Link: Buy Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History on Amazon