Book List – June 2011

Here’s what I read this past month:

Machine of Death, edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki !, © 2010. Finished June 18.

An anthology of short stories all based on the premise of a machine that, given a small blood sample, can predict with 100% accuracy how a person will die. You might think there’d be a lot of similarity between the stories given that unifying concept, but there’s a huge variety in how each of the authors build on that premise to create interesting and compelling stories. Thankfully, the only thing you’ll be hard-pressed to find is the obvious twist-ending-where-the-prediction-was-being-interpreted-incorrectly. Besides, any book that can enrage Glenn Beck has got to be worth something!

Them: Adventures with Extremists, by Jon Ronson, © 2002. Finished June 30.

A description of Jon Ronson’s experiences shadowing various fringe conspiracy theorists and trying to track down the truth, if any, underlying their beliefs. Despite the variety of groups he spends time with, from Islamic extremists to KKK leaders, he finds them unwittingly unified by the common belief that somewhere there’s a small cabal of wealthy Western businessmen secretly pulling the strings to control the world (and, to a lesser extent, the belief that many other conspiracy theorists are puppets of that cabal, trying to discredit them). He finds that it’s difficult to keep track of what’s real and what’s not once you go down that rabbit hole, when it becomes uncertain what is really a code word for what, or when you find yourself being tailed after trying to infiltrate a suspected Bilderberg meeting. The book reminded me of Michael Shermer‘s book Why People Believe Weird Things, in that once you get past the people who are just flat out crazy and/or evil, a lot of the conspiracy theorists fixated on a particular theory, and then became adept at finding ways to interpret any facts encountered after that as supporting their theory. This is particularly evident in the climax of the book, where Ronson and a couple conspiracy-theory radio hosts sneak into Bohemian Grove and come away with vastly different interpretations of what they saw.