A Colorful History of Popular Delusions

Robert E. Bartholomew and Peter Hassall. Prometheus Books, $19 trade paper (340p) ISBN 978-1-63388-122-8
Medical sociologist Bartholomew (Mass Hysteria in Schools) draws on years of research with coauthor Hassall (The NZ Files: UFOs in New Zealand) to offer brief summaries of some of the most notable panics, fads, and manias from around the world. The authors begin by pointing out that crazes aren’t harmless passing events confined to pet rocks, Jesus appearing on a tortilla, or the “Paul is dead” rumors that swirled around the Beatles in the 1960s. Some, such as the horrific stampede at the Shiloh Negro Baptist Church in 1902 and Zoot Suit Riots in Los Angeles, had serious and even deadly consequences. Others, such as the Stonewall Riots, were harbingers of lasting social change. The book examines the evolution of get-rich-quick schemes, including the Klondike gold rush in the late 19th century; urban legends of the deep-fried rat variety; and the puzzling case of the alleged Satanic cult operating at a California preschool. Bartholomew and Hassall go beyond simple debunking, providing easily digestible segments that explain the hows and whys behind sensational events. Though this overview is far from comprehensive, the authors’ enthusiasm and assertion that “humans can deal with just about anything, but they cannot cope with uncertainty” carry the book and make for a fun and illuminating read. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 07/27/2015
Release date: 10/13/2015
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 363 pages - 978-1-63388-123-5
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