Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

All reviews copyright 1984-2015 Evelyn C. Leeper.


COUNTERKNOWLEDGE: HOW WE SURRENDERED TO CONSPIRACY THEORIES, QUACK MEDICINE, BOGUS SCIENCE AND FAKE HISTORY by Damian Thompson:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 12/19/2008]

COUNTERKNOWLEDGE: HOW WE SURRENDERED TO CONSPIRACY THEORIES, QUACK MEDICINE, BOGUS SCIENCE AND FAKE HISTORY by Damian Thompson (ISBN-13 978-0-670-06865-4, ISBN-10 0-670-06865-9) is all about "fake knowledge", by which Thompson means creationism, pseudo-history, alternative medicine, and so on. The most interesting part (for me) was Thompson's description of how some of the pseudo-history came about. In 1982 Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln wrote HOLY BLOOD, HOLY GRAIL, upon which Dan Brown based THE DA VINCI CODE. In the 1990s the Priory of Sion upon which the premise of HOLY BLOOD, HOLY GRAIL was based was revealed to be a hoax concocted in the 1940s, which even Baigent and Leigh acknowledged. Yet even this did not seem to change the general public's mind--when THE DA VINCI CODE came out after the hoax was exposed, HOLY BLOOD, HOLY GRAIL was reprinted with nary a word about the hoax. And Thompson also describes how 1421: THE YEAR THE CHINESE DISCOVERED AMERICA was created and marketed.

However, I am not convinced that Thompson doesn't get some things wrong either. In his section on creationism, he writes, "Muslims are not young-earthers, since the idea that the world is 6,000 years old is extracted from genealogies in the Old Testament and is therefore explicitly Judaeo-Christian." (page 39) But Muslims also accept and revere the Old Testament, so I have no idea why I should believe what Thompson says.

To order Counterknowledge from amazon.com, click here.


SMILE WHEN YOU'RE LYING: CONFESSIONS OF A ROGUE TRAVEL WRITER by Chuck Thompson:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/14/2008]

And speaking of the travel/tourist industry, in SMILE WHEN YOU'RE LYING: CONFESSIONS OF A ROGUE TRAVEL WRITER by Chuck Thompson (ISBN-13 978-0-8050-8209-8, ISBN-10 0-8050-8209-3) the author seems to have two purposes. First, he wants to convince the reader that everything they read from established "travel writers" is hype--and overwritten hype at that. The first example he gives is:

"Renaissance funhogs, brace yourselves: This trip, combining three days of mountain biking with five days of whitewater rafting on the Colorado River, may be the tastiest pairing since chocolate and cabernet. It takes you straight into the heart of Canyonlands' high-desert rock garden, defined by the goose-necking canyons of Green and Colorado and an almost hallucinogenic symphony of spires, buttes, mesas, hoodoos, fins, arches, and slickrock."

Thompson's goal in this is to convince the reader that travel writers--and the sorts of vacations they promote--are not to be trusted. They are too insulated from the destination, too controlled, and so on. This goal is somewhat undercut by what seems to be Thompson's other purpose: to tell the most hair-raising stories about his travels that he can. While he claims to be trying to convince readers that the Philippines is the friendliest country in the world, I can't help but feel that telling a long story of how a bus trip left him standing on a deserted country road at 3:30 in the morning to change buses, and that while waiting he was approached by eight men with machetes soliciting him for gay sex, saved only by the sudden (and fortunate) arrival of the bus--well, this story is not going to get Americans traveling to the Philippines in droves, and certainly not on trips involving independent bus travel.

Not everything he says is accurate. For example, he also claims that you can recharge dead batteries by rubbing them briskly on your pants leg for a minute or two, and this may make them last as long as an hour or two. While resting the battery may help it recover slightly, and heating it by rubbing may add a little more, one cannot actually recharge a battery this way.

But once in a while, he does get it right, such as when he writes, "Spicy Is Almost Never Spicy: In the United States when they tell you it's spicy, it's not spicy. In the rest of the world when they tell you it's spicy, there's a 20 percent chance it's spicy. In Thailand when they tell you it's spicy, it's going to taste like someone shoving a blowtorch down your throat for the next twenty-five minutes."

To order Smile When You're Lying from amazon.com, click here.


THE FRODO FRANCHISE by Kristin Thompson:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/12/2010]

THE FRODO FRANCHISE by Kristin Thompson (ISBN-13 978-0-520-24774-1) is not about the film trilogy "The Lord of the Rings" as about the whole phenomenon that grew up around it, and how it changed Hollywood. For example, when they started filming it, the only actor with any real web site was Ian McKellen (McKellen.com). Studios and movie producers had no idea of what to do on their web sites. Harry Knowles of "Ain't It Cool News" said, "When I consulted with LucasFilms on StarWars.com, they asked me, 'What is it that fans really want?' And I said, 'Fans want to know if you're using Phillips head or flat-head screws on your set, don't you understand!? Fandom wants to know everything. There isn't enough information you can give them.'" I'll add that as proof of this, this book will be bought by lots of fans with only peripheral interest in the business end, but who are as completist as their budget allows. DVDs were just getting started; what extras to provide and how was a question still unanswered.

Something somewhat peripheral to the LOTR phenomenon was the comment made by an anonymous Disney executive when asked why so many leading directors make R-rated films when PG-13 films are the most financially successful: "You can't get directors of the caliber of Anthony Minghella, Martin Scorsese, and Quentin Tarantino to work on movies designed to get kids to buy toys and drag their parents to theme parks. And these are the directors who win Academy Awards."

To order The Frodo Franchise from amazon.com, click here.


FEAR AND LOATHING ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL '72 by Hunter J. Thompson:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/06/2015]

FEAR AND LOATHING ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL '72 by Hunter S. Thompson (ISBN 978-0-87932-053-9) is proof that the more things change, the more they remain the same. Even when they are different, they are part of a continuing trend. For example, Thompson starts his series of articles eleven months before the election and thinks *that* is very early, yet we are having debates *fifteen* months before the election. I am sure that a graph of when campaigning for a Presidential election started would show a monotonically increasing function since campaigning began.

Some changes just make us smile, though. Thompson expresses outrage that he has to pay $1.50 an hour for parking in Washington, DC, or that a club would charge $1.75 for drinks.

However, I gave up about halfway through--I found Thompson's style very off-putting, and I also found his description of the political process very depressing. Probably accurate, but depressing.

To order Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 from amazon.com, click here.


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