Critical Insights: Conspiracies Review

CHOICE Editor's Top 75 Community College Resources for November 2020

“The current conspiracy and conspiracy-theory publishing landscape is dominated by those who promote conspiracies, those who debunk them, and those who try to explain why people believe them and how to convince them to stop. This collection differs by offering essays about conspiracy and conspiracy theories in classics and other novels, popular film, and graphic novels. As part of the "Critical Insights" series, the book adheres to the series' standard format: essays are arranged in sections titled "Critical Contexts" and "Critical Readings." Plath’s introductory essay provides historical context for conspiracy theories in the US and mentions many of the most persistent (e.g., the moon landing as hoax). Essays run from 14 to 20 pages and conclude with works cited. Among the cultural texts examined are Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, George Orwell's 1984, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale, Oliver Stone's film JFK, Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code, the James Bond films, and The Watchmen. The list of resources and bibliography that close out the book include writings from “academics, journalists, experts, [and] professionals” as well as “more biased information.” Plath explains that he includes works that “tend more toward propaganda than illumination” because they represent a large part of “conspiracy theory nonfiction currently being published.” Summing Up: Recommended. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates.”

"Conspiracies have been a topic of interest to our society for nearly as long as we have existed. Truth-seeking is in our nature as humans and so it is only natural that we sometimes suspect scheming. When one thinks of conspiracy theories it is easy to picture tin foil hats and wild leaps of logic, but this book focuses instead on logical questioning of the historical, political and literary. It encourages readers to see conspiracy theories not only as a literary theme but also as a critical thinking tool.

Editor James Plath is the R. Forrest Colwell endowed chair and professor of English at Illinois Wesleyan University where he teaches American literature, journalism, film and creative writing. Every chapter in Critical Insights: Conspiracies is an essay written by a different author, all centering around conspiracies present in novels, films, plays and graphic novels. The pieces each author writes about are either ones that are commonly used in high school AP classes or found on syllabi for undergraduate coursework. Each author’s dissection of their instance of conspiracy is unique and opens the readers eyes to the many ways in which conspiracy is and has been present in written media.

The “Critical Contexts” section consists of four chapters that introduce readers to a few of the different bases upon which conspiracy theories might build. It covers religion, politics, race and economics. This section provides a warm up for “Critical Readings” which dives into 10 essays based on incredibly varied texts from Shakespeare to Nineteen Eighty-Four to The Shining. It is a truly varied and well-rounded sample of scholarly analysis of conspiracy. The most thought provoking chapter was the one written by M. Katherine Grimes that centered around contemporary young adult fiction. She draws on commonalities in young adult literature and finds that conspiracy is inspirational in these texts. For young people in these books, they are “inspired to conspire” as a way of fighting against injustices perpetrated by adults in power. She makes connections between this theme and current events; particularly the involvement of young adults’ in various social justice causes. Her chapter sees conspiracy not as an overt theme but rather as an undercurrent that promotes critical thinking in young people.

Critical Insights: Conspiracies would serve as an excellent tool for English teachers at the high school and undergraduate level. It is thought-provoking and features essays that would be for great supplementary materials to compliment the original works that students might study. Overall, I would want to have this book around to reference if ever I needed to further explore any of the works featured in it.

ATG Reviewer Rating: I need this in my library. (I want to be able to get up from my desk and grab this book off the shelf, if it's not checked out.)."
- Against the Grain