We Americans like our conspiracy theories. Everything from terrorist attacks to the proliferation of GMOs in our food and from assassinations to climate change is tied with conspiracy theories.
And lest you think only certain types of people are stuck in believing conspiracy theories, research shows quite the opposite. In fact, University of Miami political scientists Joseph E. Uscinski and Joseph M. Parent, the authors of the 2014 book American Conspiracy Theories, found that conspiracy believers come from all walks of life and cross age, race, gender, economic and socio-political groups.
What researchers have found is that believing in a conspiracy theory helps gives someone a sense of control of an otherwise uncontrollable situation. Uscinski and Parent have found evidence in their research, for example, that high-stress situations including natural disasters and economic uncertainty can prompt people create and believe in conspiracy theories.
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In their book, the researchers say a conspiracy theory is characterized by a “group acting in secret to alter institutions, usurp power, hide truth, or gain utility at the expense of the common good.”
List of books on conspiracy theories
We’ve put together a list of some of the compelling books that deal with four of our nation’s most enduring conspiracy theories. They are the Lincoln assassination, the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy assassination and the events of 9/11.
Blood on the Moon: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln by Edward Steers Jr. (University Press of Kentucky, 2005)
Most school kids learn about a crazy actor who acted on his own to murder the President Abraham Lincoln. This book clams that not only did John Wilkes Booth not act alone but that his co-conspirators included key members of the Confederate leadership. A former research scientist at the National Institutes of Health, Steers builds a strong case, weaving facts and descriptions and debunking long-held beliefs as he goes.
Not just for die-hard historians, this book reads in large part like a good old-fashioned detective story.
Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor by Robert B. Stinnett (The Free Press, 1999)
This book, based on decades of research, is written by a journalist who also happens to be a World War II veteran. Did President Franklin Roosevelt, who called Dec. 7, 1941 a “date which will live in infamy,” and his chief military advisors know of the Japanese attack well in advance?
Robert Stinnett uses his research, including his examination of formerly declassified documents to conclude that not only did FDR know about the attack, but that he steered Japan into war with the United States.
After presenting his evidence, Stinnett concludes that Roosevelt felt that the attack and the resulting was “something that had to be endured in order to stop a greater evil–the Nazi invaders in Europe who had begun the Holocaust and were poised to invade England.”
A Cruel and Shocking Act by Philip Shenon (Henry Holt and Co. 2013)
Former New York Times journalist takes on one of the most enduring questions of the 20th century: who killed President John F. Kennedy? Was Lee Harvey Oswald part of a conspiracy? Did the Warren Commission find out what really happened on November 22, 1963?
With a cast of characters including the Kennedy family, Lyndon Johnson, J. Edgar Hoover Chief Justice Earl Warren and the CIA’s Allen Dulles, Richard Helms and James Jesus Angleton, this book has the feel of a taut crime novel.
Although time has taken away many of the individuals involved in that fateful day in November 1963, Shenon logged dozens of interviews with surviving key players. Burned autopsy notes, a note from Oswald flushed down the toilet, Oswald’s romantic escapades and a rush to get the “whole affair” (the Warren Commission decision) over before the next percentile election are some of the details that make this book a fascinating read.
9/11: The Simple Facts by Arthur Naiman and Gregg Roberts (Soft Skull Press, 2011)
There are dozens of 9/11 conspiracy theory books. Many of them center on the idea the towers were brought down by a controlled demolition rather than by structural failure and fire that resulted from the impact of the passenger jets.
Like the Pearl Harbor theory, other 9/11 theories claim authorities had advance knowledge of the attacks and either ignored the warnings or assisted the attackers.
Instead of focusing on theories, this book examines the official explanation issued by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (Known as the 9/11 Commission). In doing so, Naiman and Roberts find flaws and raise some disturbing questions.
A few of the main questions are:
- Why has no other skyscraper ever been destroyed by fire, even ones that raged for far longer?
- How could the towers have fallen so evenly through 160,000 tons of structural steel?
- Why did World Trade Center Building 7 also down that day when it was not hit by a plane?
This is not a complex book, and it at times is too simplistic and vague, but it does bring to the forefront some of the questions of physics and timing. It can prepare you (or not) to read some of the more heavy hitter conspiracy writers such as David Ray Griffin (The New Pearl Harbor) and Jim Marrs (The Terror Conspiracy Revisited).
Another place to start would be by going in the opposite direction and reading the official report first. It is available for download at National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.