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
- Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Gr
- Date: Sept 2017
From the cover
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 America's beginnings.
You're not going to agree with me about all the various mental habits and beliefs and behaviors I classify here as imaginary or fantastical. You may find me too judgmental about matters of...