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Under the Eye of Power: How Fear of Secret Societies Shapes American Democracy (Hardcover)
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From beloved cultural historian and acclaimed author of Ghostland comes a history of America's obsession with secret societies and the conspiracies of hidden power
The United States was born in paranoia. From the American Revolution (thought by some to be a conspiracy organized by the French) to the Salem witch trials to the Satanic Panic, the Illuminati, and QAnon, one of the most enduring narratives that defines the United States is simply this: secret groups are conspiring to pervert the will of the people and the rule of law. We’d like to assume these panics exist only at the fringes of society, or are unique features of the internet age. But history tells us, in fact, that they are woven into the fabric of American democracy.
Cultural historian Colin Dickey has built a career studying how our most irrational beliefs reach the mainstream, why, and what they tell us about ourselves. In Under the Eye of Power, Dickey charts the history of America through its paranoias and fears of secret societies, while seeking to explain why so many people—including some of the most powerful people in the country—continue to subscribe to these conspiracy theories. Paradoxically, he finds, belief in the fantastical and conspiratorial can be more soothing than what we fear the most: the chaos and randomness of history, the rising and falling of fortunes in America, and the messiness of democracy. Only in seeing the cycle of this history, Dickey says, can we break it.
About the Author
Colin Dickey is a writer, speaker, and academic, and has made a career out of collecting unusual objects and hidden histories all over the country. He's the author of multiple books, including Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places and The Unidentified: Mythical Monsters, Alien Encounters, and Our Obsession with the Unexplained. A regular contributor to the New Republic and Lapham's Quarterly, he is also the coeditor of The Morbid Anatomy Anthology. With a PhD in comparative literature from the University of Southern California, he is an associate professor of creative writing at National University.
"Roaming from the Freemasons to QAnon, this tour of American moral panics amid social upheaval and downturn is a bracing reminder that conspiratorial thinking is nothing new."--New York Times Book Review's "Editors' Choice"
“In his timely new book…Colin Dickey writes entertainingly about conspiracy theories, real and imagined.”--The Boston Globe
"[A] poignant argument on how belief in secret societies, from the KKK to QAnon, influences American democracy."--Chicago Tribune
"We can think of no better writer than Colin Dickey...to examine America’s foundational obsession with conspiracy. From Salem to John Birch to Pizzagate, the “paranoid style” has been a part of this country’s identity long before it was given name by John Hofstadter in 1964. But what are we to do when people would rather ascribe their ill fortune to shadowy cabals of powerful puppet masters than the randomness of the universe? For Dickey, the first step is admitting we have a problem."--LitHub's "10 Nonfiction Books to Read This July"
“A vivid and intriguing recontextualization of a misunderstood aspect of American history.”
--Publishers Weekly *Starred Review*
"An entertaining, elucidating, and disturbing trip off the beaten path."
--Publishers Weekly "2023 Summer Reads"
"The author of Ghostland and The Unidentified returns with a colorful history of conspiracy theories in the U.S...In an engrossing narrative, Dickey explains how the human search for purpose can become comical, weird, and/or dark."