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Fantasyland
Cover of Fantasyland
Fantasyland
How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History
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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • “The single most important explanation, and the fullest explanation, of how Donald Trump became president of the United States . . . nothing less than the most...
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • “The single most important explanation, and the fullest explanation, of how Donald Trump became president of the United States . . . nothing less than the most...
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  • NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • “The single most important explanation, and the fullest explanation, of how Donald Trump became president of the United States . . . nothing less than the most important book that I have read this year.”—Lawrence O’Donnell
    How did we get here?
    In this sweeping, eloquent history of America, Kurt Andersen shows that what’s happening in our country today—this post-factual, “fake news” moment we’re all living through—is not something new, but rather the ultimate expression of our national character. America was founded by wishful dreamers, magical thinkers, and true believers, by hucksters and their suckers. Fantasy is deeply embedded in our DNA.
    Over the course of five centuries—from the Salem witch trials to Scientology to the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, from P. T. Barnum to Hollywood and the anything-goes, wild-and-crazy sixties, from conspiracy theories to our fetish for guns and obsession with extraterrestrials—our love of the fantastic has made America exceptional in a way that we've never fully acknowledged. From the start, our ultra-individualism was attached to epic dreams and epic fantasies—every citizen was free to believe absolutely anything, or to pretend to be absolutely anybody. With the gleeful erudition and tell-it-like-it-is ferocity of a Christopher Hitchens, Andersen explores whether the great American experiment in liberty has gone off the rails.
    Fantasyland could not appear at a more perfect moment. If you want to understand Donald Trump and the culture of twenty-first-century America, if you want to know how the lines between reality and illusion have become dangerously blurred, you must read this book.
    NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
    “This is a blockbuster of a book. Take a deep breath and dive in.”—Tom Brokaw
    “[An] absorbing, must-read polemic . . . a provocative new study of America’s cultural history.”Newsday
    “Compelling and totally unnerving.”The Village Voice

    “A frighteningly convincing and sometimes uproarious picture of a country in steep, perhaps terminal decline that would have the founding fathers weeping into their beards.”The Guardian
    “This is an important book—the indispensable book—for understanding America in the age of Trump.”—Walter Isaacson, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Leonardo da Vinci

Excerpts-

  • From the book  Now Entering Fantasyland
      
    This book has been germinating for a long time. In the late 1990s I wrote a few articles pointing toward it—about American politics morphing into show business and baby boomers trying to stay forever young, about un- true conspiracy theories being mainstreamed and the explosion of talk radio as it became more and more about the hosts’ wild opinions. In 1999 I published a novel about a TV producer who created two groundbreaking shows— a police drama in which the fictional characters interact with real police arresting real criminals, and a news program featuring scenes of the anchors’ private lives.

    But the ideas and arguments really started crystallizing in 2004 and 2005. First President George W. Bush’s political mastermind Karl Rove introduced the remarkable phrase reality-based community. People “in the reality- based community,” he told a reporter, “believe that solutions emerge from judicious study of discernible reality. That’s not the way the world really works anymore.” He said it with a sense of humor, but he was also deadly serious. A year later The Colbert Report went on the air. In the first few minutes of his first episode, Stephen Colbert, playing his right-wing populist character, per- formed a feature called The Word in which he riffed on a phrase. “Truthiness,” he said.
     
    Now I’m sure some of the “word police,” the “wordinistas” over at Webster’s, are gonna say, “Hey, that’s not a word!” Well, anybody who knows me knows that I’m no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They’re elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn’t true. Or what did or didn’t happen. Who’s Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was finished in 1914? If I wanna say it happened in 1941, that’s my right. I don’t trust books—they’re all fact, no heart. . . . Face it, folks, we are a divided nation . . . divided between those who think with their head and those who know with their heart. . . . Because that’s where the truth comes from, ladies and gentlemen—the gut.
     
    Whoa, yes, I thought: exactly. America had changed in this particular, peculiar way, I realized. Until the 2000s, truthiness and reality-based community wouldn’t have made much sense as jokes.

    My understanding of how this change occurred became clearer a few years later, when I started work on a novel about a group of kids who in the early 1960s role-play James Bond stories, and then in 1968, as college students, undertake a real-life Bond-like antigovernment plot. During the 1960s, reality and fantasy blurred problematically, for my characters and for plenty of real Americans. In the course of researching and thinking through that story, I came to understand the era and its impacts in a new way. For all the fun, and all the various positive effects of the social and cultural upheavals, I saw that it was also the Big Bang moment for truthiness. And if the 1960s amounted to a national nervous breakdown, we are mistaken to consider ourselves over it, because what people say about recovery is true: you’re never really cured.

    I realized too that this complicated American phenomenon I was trying to figure out had been not just decades but centuries in the making. In order to understand our weakness for fantasy of all kinds, I needed to follow the tendrils and branches and roots further back—all the way back, to...

About the Author-

  • Kurt Andersen is the bestselling author of Evil GeniusesFantasyland and the novels True Believers, Heyday andTurn of the Century, among other books. He contributes to The New York Times and was host and co-creator of Studio 360, the Peabody Award–winning public radio show and podcast. He also writes for television, film, and the stage. Andersen co-founded Spy magazine, served as editor in chief of New York, and was a cultural columnist and design critic for Time, New York and The New Yorker. He graduated from Harvard College and lives in Brooklyn.

Reviews-

  • Kirkus

    July 1, 2017
    When did Americans come to shun reality? When did the American experiment become a congeries of solipsisms?"As I pass by fish in barrels," writes Studio 360 host Andersen (True Believers, 2012, etc.) at the outset of this entertaining tour of American irreality, "I will often shoot them." Indeed he does, but then, as writers as various as H.L. Mencken and Christopher Hitchens long ago discovered, American society offers endless targets. Andersen finds a climacteric in Karl Rove's pronouncement, a dozen years ago, that those people who live in "the reality-based community" need to understand that "that's not the way the world really works anymore." True enough: Andersen closes with the rise of Trump-ism and its "critical mass of fantasy and lies" that is in danger of becoming "something much worse than nasty, oafish, reality-show pseudoconservatism." It's not just the Trumpies who are ruining things for everyone; by the author's account, the nice liberals who refuse to vaccinate their children are as much a part of the problem as those who flock to creation museums and megachurches. All are waystations of Andersen's "Fantasyland," an assemblage not just of scattered false beliefs, but whole lifestyles cobbled from them, which lands us in the 1960s and its ethos: "Do your own thing, find your own reality, it's all relative." It's not, but that's where we are today, at least by Andersen's account, though he hastens to add that approving nods to political correctness are not necessarily the same thing as endorsing perniciousness. Throughout, the author names names--Dr. Oz, for one, won't be happy, and neither will Oprah--and takes no prisoners, offering incitement for the rest of us to do the same. "We need to become less squishy," Andersen writes, and instead gird up for some reality-based arguments against the "dangerously untrue and unreal." A spirited, often entertaining rant against things as they are.

    COPYRIGHT(2017) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    September 1, 2017

    Andersen (True Believers) interprets American history, beginning with the Puritans, in part as a myth-driven, religiously fundamental mental, antiscientific engine that ultimately paved the way for the presidency of Donald Trump. According to the author, the 18th century's "First Great Delirium" ushered in utopian fantasies, religious and supernatural cults, and spurious medical treatments, which resurfaced with a vengeance with the 1960s counterculture and continues unabated. In the 21st century, the Internet fuels the "fantasy-industrial complex," which has made entertainment the force behind pop culture, the media, and politics. Trump's appeal, claims Andersen, is his skill at invoking American myths of greatness and opportunity, historically limited to mostly wealthy, white males. He asserts that the president has become the leader of the United States of Fantasyland, with his reality TV and Art of the Deal credentials. Andersen's spirited, thought-provoking narrative provides a compelling view of the current polarized state of U.S. politics, although the author holds out some hope that Fantasyland has peaked with the Trump administration. VERDICT This engaging work will find a wide and appreciative audience among general readers and scholars alike. [See the author Q&A on p. 130.--Ed.]--Karl Helicher, formerly with Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA

    Copyright 2017 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    August 1, 2017
    We have elected a President who regularly spews out alternate facts and conspiracy theories. According to writer and popular broadcaster Andersen (True Believers, 2012), this isn't an aberration but a logical culmination of an evolving trend in our national DNA. America was founded on the freedom of the individual, a laudable concept with a dark side: everyone has license to believe and propagate a personal version of reality. That, combined with the dramatic acceleration of information-sharing over the Internet, has given rise to a segment of our society that is living in a fantasy land in which verifiable facts are forbidden. To support this assertion, Andersen takes readers on a long, chronological tour, beginning with the religious certainty and intolerance of sixteenth-century Protestants. He then proceeds to savage colonial witch scares, Mormonism, fake medicinal cures, and a wide variety of contemporary political delusions. Andersen paints with a broad brush, and his efforts to connect dots seem flawed at times. Still, this disturbing examination of how fringe and crackpot ideas enter the mainstream makes worthy, provocative reading.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2017, American Library Association.)

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