Saturday, February 02, 2008

Five best: books about conspiracy theories

Max Holland, author of The Kennedy Assassination Tapes, named five books which "help untangle the mysterious popularity of conspiracy theories" for the Wall Street Journal.

One title on his list:
The Lincoln Murder Conspiracies
By William Hanchett
University of Illinois, 1983

To understand conspiratorial thinking, it is instructive to study how explanations for a historical event evolve over time. No work is more useful in this regard than William Hanchett's "The Lincoln Murder Conspiracies." Lincoln's assassination was, of course, part of a real conspiracy aimed at decapitating the federal government. Most of the schemers were caught and executed. But the chief mover, John Wilkes Booth, was killed before he could be arrested, denying the country the catharsis of a courtroom drama and a definitive account of what occurred. Thus competing theories about the assassination began to appear. By tracing them during the century following Lincoln's death, Hanchett illustrates an immutable truth: Ultimately, conspiracy theories tell us more about their authors and about human nature than they do about the event itself.

Read about Number One on Holland's list.

--Marshal Zeringue