August Book Review - "Fantasyland: How American Went Haywire...A 500 Year History

Aug 14, 2018

Is the hunger for far-out religions, fake news and fantasy embedded in our national DNA? Author Kurt Anderson lays out a case for that possibility in his book FANTASYLAND: HOW AMERICA WENT HAYWIRE...A 500 Year History. Here’s Barb Bretz with this month’s book review.

Merriam-Webster defines “HAYWIRE” as “being out of order or having gone wrong” and “emotionally or mentally upset or out of control." New York Times Best-selling author Kurt Anderson, feels both definitions apply to our country right now - and perhaps have - since the very beginning.

In his timely book FANTASYLAND: HOW AMERICA WENT HAYWIRE, Anderson compiles a 500 year history of the United States and our “exceptionality”  from the break-away religious fanatics who adventured to our shores - to the current conspiracy theorists and how the perfect storm of “magical thinking," unregulated truthless “news” and super technology have produced a large demographic who eat it up with a spoon and beg for more.

Anderson’s extensive research is laid out chronologically beginning with Part 1 entitled: Conjuring of America 1517-1789 through Part 6: The Problem With Fantasyland From 1980’s to Present and Beyond...with everything from Salem witch trials to Scientology in between and a 17 page index with entries from ABC News to Zuckerburg. 

Much focus is on capitalism and religious zealotry and rightly so - since searching for gold and religious freedom drove those original Europeans to the new world.

I don’t watch reality shows or unfair and unbalanced news. I’m not a gamer. I’ve never been to Farmville so I patted myself on the back for not getting sucked into “fantasyland” like the rest of the populous. Perhaps I was “above” being manipulated by “magical thinking?" BUT THEN, the author mentioned Fantasy Football. Dang! I’m a team owner in two different leagues! Guess I had a hook in me after all.

Alarmed by what I’ve observed developing in our culture the past 20 or so years, I’m somewhat calmed knowing we’ve been on this path for 500 years and managed not to implode - yet. HOWEVER, current technology allows the weaponization of untruths, rapid dispersal of prejudices and incitement of panics. The more we pick up speed, the more likely we are to go off the rails.

Informative and entertaining, no matter where you stand politically or religiouslty, this book is worth your time. It’s a great discussion starter.

FANTASYLAND: HOW AMERICA WENT HAYWIRE…A 500 Year History is available at the Park City Library in print version. This is Barbara Bretz, friend of the Park City Library.