The country’s initial devotion to religious and intellectual freedom, Andersen argues, has over the centuries morphed into a fierce entitlement to custom-made reality. So your right to believe in angels and your neighbor’s right to believe in U.F.O.s and Rachel Dolezal’s right to believe she is black lead naturally to our president’s right to insist that his crowds were bigger.—New York Times’ Hanna Rosin
According to author Kurt Andersen, America is a nation of grifters and the grifted. His historical survey
of America’s credulous embrace of the superstitious and various forms of magical thinking begins with Martin Luther’s break with the Catholic Church and quickly transitions to a scrutinizing inquiry into the extremely bizarre practices of the puritans and pilgrims. They were arguably the Islamic State of the 17th Century when one considers their extremism. He finishes this readable, breezy examination of uncritical, irrational cult thinking, by arguing that America has long had a unique and troubling relationship between fact and fiction, reality vs fantasy—a bond between utter nonsense and the social and legal freedoms to defend that very nonsense. Example after example, from religious hocus pocus to New Age fads marketed as science, Andersen rips apart America’s infatuation with constructed realities. There are uneven, somewhat sloppy areas of argument when Andersen attempts to draw threads of historical continuity that when situated under the microscope, possess reductive claims. He clearly needs to read a bit further about postmodern thinking and its leading thinkers because he does a disservice to the reader when attempting to link them to various cultural and social developments of the 1970’s. However, Andersen’s book will appeal to skeptics who have grown weary of America’s ‘if you can invent and sell it to the masses, well, then it must be true’ bar for reality.