There are a number of overviews of modern conspiracy thinking. David Aaronovitch’s Voodoo Histories offers the perspective of a British journalist and writer. He looks at many of the traditional conspiracy theories prevalent in U.S. society, including the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Communism, and JFK. The value of Aaronovitch’s work, I think, is in his examination of British conspiracies (the deaths of Princess Diana and Hilda Murrell, for example) and the Truther/Birther movements of the past decade. As someone looking at U.S. society from the outside, he gives a different slant on the more common conspiracy theories embraced by Americans.

As one might expect from a non-academic book, the footnotes and bibliography are a bit light. I’ve read several analyses of conspiracy theories, so I was able to fill in some of the gaps in scholarship on more traditional and well-known conspiracy theories that are absent from this book. Aaronovitch’s writing is engaging, though, and I expect newcomers interested in conspiracism would find Voodoo Histories compelling enough to read more theoretical works.

2 thoughts on “Brief Review of David Aaronovitch, Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History

  1. By a strange coincidence, I was today thinking about conspiracy theories. Seeing that today is Martin Luther King day, I was going over (in my memory) the museum across from the Civil Rights museum in Memphis that has a rather comprehensive collection of items dedicated to reconstructing an alleged (and quite vast) conspiracy to kill MLK.

    What are your thoughts on this? I found it odd, to say the least. It seems – almost – that we need to have such a large network (international, as it turns out) of conspirators (apart from just one motivated redneck) to bring down such an important man of such stature in the national memory.

    1. Keith,

      I haven’t seen the exhibit, but it doesn’t surprise me.

      The historians I’ve read universally agree that conspiracy theories are an attempt to make logical and understandable what seems illogical and incomprehensible. With JFK and MLK Jr. in particular, it seems that you’re right–how could one person possibly eliminate such an important world figure?

      Of those two assassinations, I can buy JFK’s being a conspiracy more than MLK Jr.’s. Hampton Sides wrote a great book about the latter, a good enough read that I might assign it to a modern U.S. survey course next spring.

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