THEM: Adventures with Extremists
U.K. journalist Ronson offers a look into the world of political, cultural and religious "extremists" who dwell at the edges of popular culture—and the conspiracy theorists who love them. His only criteria for groups' inclusion as extremists is "that they have been called extremists by others," which may explain why the Anti-Defamation League is profiled along with the modern-day KKK, radical Northern Ireland Protestant spokesperson Dr. Ian Paisley and a former BBC sportscaster who believes the world is ruled by a race of alien lizards. The best as well as most timely and unsettling of these essays follows Omar Bakri Mohammed, a radical Islamic militant, on his often bumbling effort to organize British Muslims into a jihad. (Bakri was arrested after September 11.) Ronson's journalism is motivated less out of a duty to inform the public than a desire to satisfy his own curiosity. At the heart of the book is Ronson's quest to find the Bilderberg Group, a secret cabal said to meet once a year to set the agenda of the "New World Order." Fortunately for the reader, his efforts lead somewhere: an informant tracks Bilderberg to a golf resort in Portugal; later, a prominent British politician and Bilderberg founder discusses it on the record. Once viewed up close through Ronson's light, ironic point of view, these "extremists" appear much less scary than their public images would suggest. It is how he reveals the all-too-real machinations of Western society's radical fringe and its various minions that makes this enjoyable work rather remarkable. (Jan.)
Forecast:In the U.K., Ronson's book was accompanied by a five-part BBC documentary, which helped make him into a star. If he can capitalize on media appearances here, this may turn into a quick cult hit.