How America Went Haywire : A 500-year History

Book - 2017
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Explains how the influences of dreamers, zealots, hucksters, and superstitious groups shaped America's tendency toward a rich fantasy life, citing the roles of individuals from P.T. Barnum to Donald Trump in perpetuating conspiracy theories, self-delusion, and magical thinking.
Publisher: New York : Random House, 2017
ISBN: 9781400067213
Characteristics: xiii, 462 p. ; 25 cm


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Apr 14, 2019

Unfortunately on the light-weight and superficial side. Exemplified the sort of thinking the author complains about in others. We all have our fantasies, but this was a missed opportunity to say something constructive. “The Age of American Unreason in a Culture of Lies” by Susan Jacoby is a more bracing look at the same subject, although sadly a book with too many typos and some awkward sentences, which is disappointing in a book that complains of the dumbing down of traditional literary and intellectual qualities.

Dec 08, 2018

Glib, snarky, superficial. Fails in what it claims to do: to show that Americans all too often succumb to especially severe forms of mental influenza. But similar books could be written about England, or Germany, or China, or Japan. People everywhere get the flu, in some instances with many more fatalities than here. Also fails to differentiate between local outbreaks and national epidemics, between short-lived crazes and longstanding and deep-seated illusions and prejudices. No citations of sources, and at times even the authors of quotations are not identified.

OPL_DavidD Sep 25, 2018

An interesting and engaging book. Well worth the read. I really enjoyed the historic overview. I think by going through history and showing the magical thinking in America from the colonial period through the 1950's, he undercuts his case that the 1960's pushed America further into unreality, but it is handy to have a comprehensive guide to our past. There were things in it that I disagreed with, such as I don't see adults wearing Halloween costumes as a big deal (full disclosure, I am one such adult). I also wish he would have gotten more into how reason can be misused to confirm our own biases. I did enjoy it, however. The writing was funny and it has given me a lot to think about and talk over.

Apr 17, 2018

An extremely valuable book. Just finished it and haven't quite digested it yet. I wish I could have written it; however, the book contains wider scope of popular history than I would have thought to include. I've been thinking about these specific topics even since I studied 18th and 19th century American literature, and have been utterly fascinated by Herman Melville's, "The Confidence Man". Kurt Anderson wrote a non-fiction book in the same spirit as Melville wrote his novel more than hundred fifty years ago: looking at the root of con games and gullibility of the Americans. Anderson's conclusion might be a little more optimistic than Melville's, but, wisely, both leave it open-ended.

Mar 25, 2018

"Spy" magazine co-founder and "Heyday" author Kurt Andersen has some things to say about America. But, then again, doesn't everybody these days? I read an excerpt from his new book in "The Atlantic" and it intrigued me enough to pick up this doorstop of a book. His not entirely novel premise is that Americans have always embraced illusions, delusions, alternate facts, pseudo-realities, fantasies, dreams, schemes, and the lot. He traces his master narrative through the centuries, with a perhaps undue emphasis on religion. Although Andersen is a liberal, there is something deeply conservative and reactionary about the book, which recalls both "The Paranoid Style in American Politics" and "The Culture of Narcissism." It's a book that seems to be very much of the moment, but will be irrelevant in a year. There is good material in here and Andersen is a sometimes entertaining, if cranky, guide, but he could have cut the book by a good 100 pages and it would've been stronger. You might also like Kevin Young's "Bunk."

Mar 16, 2018

Excellent dissection of the long-term trend of pathological thinking that has existed in the United States.

Mar 07, 2018

I love how Andersen namechecks his previous, more interesting book 'Haywire' in the subhead for the title. This is a brick without footnotes, smells like contract fulfillment, and perfectly useful for throwing at those nasty kids on my lawn. How the co-founder of 'Spy' Magazine could become such an old crank is a lesson for the youth of today. I am unclear on when and how he became an authority on US cultural history, but here it is. Is this where I mention I LIKE Kurt Andersen? I might not anymore. Zzzzzzzz.

Feb 20, 2018

I thought it was a fair and balanced account of the delusions and illusions of America from the beginning of European Invasion to the current lunatic asylum. He reveals the causes of illusions and lies from both sides. That being said, he has more to write about on the Right wing side of the looney bin than the left, just because there's a bigger volume of garbage. No real solutions offered for the middle of the road or sane way of going forward, and he is sometimes repetitive, but there are a lot of eye-opening revelations for the average person in this book. It was fun to go through and figure out what lies you had been a victim of, and which ones you didn't know were lies and who started them.

Jan 22, 2018

Interesting concept. Alas, it is a complete and total failure. I would give it zero stars if I could. There are so many falsehoods in this book that I stopped keeping count by Chapter 9. I just skimmed the rest, because I won't waste precious time on revisionist history. I have to wonder how this even got published. There are no sources, no notes, and nothing to back up his claims. Those pesky things called FACTS get in the way of this book being anything but pure satire. I recommend skipping this book entirely.

Jan 21, 2018

I see a lot of negative reviews and I can understand why.

He gores everybody's ox. He does get preachy! He repeats himself. It's not an easy read.

I don't always agree with him; but, he's telling American History from a useful point of view.

He makes a strong case for the magical thinking that pervades our society. It is worth the self-reflection.

I read it while Bitcoin was grabbing the headlines. Perfect case in point.

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Nov 04, 2017

"..,the GOP more than any other U.S. institution, helped convince white people of an extraordinary falsehood underlying the others. For almost a generation now, according to a new study by professors at the Harvard Business School and Tufts, the average white American has subscribed to the fantasy that anti-white bias is a more serious problem in the the United States than anti-black bias" page 370


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