Book Review – “Voodoo Histories, How conspiracy theory has shaped modern history.” By David Aaronovitch

I have no qualms about raving about this book (ISBN 978-0-099-47896-6 ) by David Aaronovitch, it’s brilliant and so very well written. It’s packed with data about everybody’s least favourite conspira-lunacy and is infused with Mr Aaronovitch’s sarky humour towards his subject.

Firstly, a short introduction to why I bought this book and why it appealed to me. Quite a few years back I used to have a job that gave me personal internet access at lunchtime. Not wanting to slip into the habit of having liquid lunches or eating in overpriced cafes, instead I took sandwiches to work and played with the internet at lunchtime. I got involved with arguing with various conspiracy theorists and became fascinated at how they would cling onto their ideas even when presented with evidence that contradicted them. I noticed how those who were believing in ‘chemtrails’, ‘Zionist plots’, ‘vaccine damage’ and ‘Illuminati’ seemed to have a lot in common with those who have an inflexible religious belief. For example: An atheist can produce evidence as they see it for the non-existence of a deity to a religious believer, but the believer will either blank them and continue on their own merry way or will try to deflect the issue back on to the critic. One type of response would be ‘You’ve been told/paid/forced to say that about (insert chosen religious belief/conspiracy theory here ) haven’t you?’ It’s fair to say that me and criticising conspiracy theories go a long way back.

David Aaronovitch and his writing is not everybody’s cup of tea. He’s without doubt a ‘man of the Left’ even though he is less on the extreme as he once was when he was a student and that may put some people off of him. I don’t like his views on immigration for example but that doesn’t at all put me off of being impressed by Voodoo Histories.

The book starts with how a person of Mr Aaronovitch’s acquaintance seriously believed that the Moon landings were faked, this fascinated him and spurred to write the book. The book is without doubt a comprehensive, although not complete journey through modern conspiracy theories. In it Mr Aaronovitch covers how the dislocations of the First World war to a certain extent encouraged modern Anti-Semitism, as both the Left and the Right attacked Jews for being both behind Communism and behind crony Capitalism. Of course in the real world Jews as a whole were victims of both unlimited crony Capitalism and unlimited Communism. Mr Aaronovitch details the Tzarist fraud: The Protocols of the Elders Of Zion’ and its incorporation into other strands of anti-Semitism of both the Left and the Right.

In another chapter, Dark Miracles, Mr Aaronovitch goes into the conspiracy theories that grew up in Soviet Russia under Stalin and how these false theories about the Communist Party being under attack, rumours of Trotskyite treason and alleged ‘plots’ against the State contributed to the Terror of Stalin. A paranoid man like Stalin would be all the more likely to believe that this or that party official was a secret Trot with predictable and tragic effects. If anybody is in need of a basic outline of the Stalinist Purges and the show-trials of the 1930’s then Dark Miracles will be an eye-opener.

Later on, Mr Aaronovitch tackles some of the more odd bits of conspiralunacy such as that Franklin Roosavelt deliberately let Pearl Harbour be destroyed and the conspiracy theories surrounding the non-revolutionary Left during the McCarthy years. Again Mr Aaronovitch writes lucidly and informatively about these interesting periods in American history. Some of the other conspiraloon favourites are also covered in this book such as the death of President Kennedy in 1963 and the death of the Princess of Wales in 1997.

Mr Aaronovitch turns his attention to Britain in several of his pieces and also covers the ‘Hilda Murrell’ case and explodes some of the myths that had grown up over the murdered CND member. He tackles the misinformation that was put out by those who wished to believe that Ms Murrell was murdered by the UK Govt or other similar person or persons unknown and not, as the truth turned out to be, which was that she was murdered by a scummy burglar.

In, what I think is one of the best chapters in the book, called ‘Holy Blood, holy grail, holy shit’, Mr Aaronovitch seriously sticks the boot into the writers of the conspiralunacy pot boiler ‘The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail’. Mr Aaronovitch rips to shreds the authors, their research, their facts and their assumptions like a hot knife through butter. I’d say that it’s worth getting hold of this book just to read Mr Aaronovitch rip the guts out of ‘The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail’.

Mr Aaronovitch doesn’t only cover the subjects that I’ve mentioned above, he does range widely across the field of conspiralunacy both of the Left and the Right.

I really love this book and I’m just about to start my third re-reading of it such do I enjoy it. I’d certainly encourage anyone who wants a sceptical look at conspiracy theories to give it a try. Never mind Mr Aaronovitch’s politics, just be impressed by the learning and the sometimes dripping with cynicism writing style in this book.

1 Comment on "Book Review – “Voodoo Histories, How conspiracy theory has shaped modern history.” By David Aaronovitch"

  1. Yet again, I feel the irresistible urge to head over to Amazon ….

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