American Panic: A History of Who Scares Us and Why

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Overview

In American Panic , New York Times bestselling author Mark Stein traces the history and consequences of American political panics through the years. Virtually every American, on one level or another, falls victim to the hype, intensity, and propaganda that accompanies political panic, regardless of their own personal affiliations. By highlighting the similarities between American political panics from the Salem witch hunt to present-day vehemence over issues such as Latino immigration, gay marriage, and the ...

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American Panic: A History of Who Scares Us and Why

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Overview

In American Panic , New York Times bestselling author Mark Stein traces the history and consequences of American political panics through the years. Virtually every American, on one level or another, falls victim to the hype, intensity, and propaganda that accompanies political panic, regardless of their own personal affiliations. By highlighting the similarities between American political panics from the Salem witch hunt to present-day vehemence over issues such as Latino immigration, gay marriage, and the construction of mosques, Stein closely examines just what it is that causes us as a nation to overreact in the face of widespread and potentially profound change. This book also devotes chapters to African Americans, Native Americans, Catholics, Mormons, Jews, Chinese and Japanese peoples, Communists, Capitalists, women, and a highly turbulent but largely forgotten panic over Freemasons. Striking similarities in these diverse episodes are revealed in primary documents Stein has unearthed, in which statements from the past could easily be mistaken for statements today. As these similarities come to light, Stein reveals why some people become panicked over particular issues when others do not.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
03/17/2014
Due to an enduring susceptibility to fear and a concomitant desire for certitude, waves of political panic will likely continue to shape American history, but the nation’s founding principles of equality and the rule of law—as well as faith in freedom and democracy—offer a check on the excesses of “alarmists,” argues Stein (How the States Got Their Shapes). In advancing his shaky thesis, Stein surveys 12 episodes of political panic, in roughly chronological order, beginning with the genocidal campaign against Native Americans and ending with post-9/11 fears. African Americans, Chinese immigrants, women, homosexuals, Catholics, Jews, anarchists, Communists, Latino immigrants, and (somewhat anomalously) corporations are among the objects of panic in this cursory assessment. Stein takes pains to show how the objects of political panic can reinforce one another, as when anti-Chinese sentiment among ethnically white laborers and their representatives dovetailed with opposition to capitalist corporations that thrive on cheap, nonunion labor. But the book’s catch-all thesis tends to skirt complexity, and the emphasis on panic skews the discussion toward the irrational bases of these cases, rather than material ones like class interest or job competition. While there are lessons to glean here, careful readers may balk at the book’s generalizations. (May)
From the Publisher
"If there is an American cultural DNA - Mark Stein is the guy who most ably picks apart the strands that tell us who we are — and in this case, what scares us and why — and puts them and ultimately us under a microscope for a rarefied, compelling, and unforgettable view." —Brian Unger, Writer, TV Host, Actor

 

“How refreshing!  Mark Stein does not look at our history through the familiar prism of presidents, battles, and laws; instead he uncovers and relates the behavior and fears of the populace that too often has set the course of history. A wonderful read filled with lessons so needed now.” —Stanley Kutler, Author The Wars of Watergate

 

“American Panic is a learned romp through American history, and the persistent bad habit a strong and free people has of worrying about other people. Mark Stein's careful research demonstrates how successive panics, over witches, Indians, Masons, Chinese, Socialists, Latinos, Muslims and more, share a kind of DNA of hysteria. Stein's work is a sobering reminder of who we were and who we are. American Panic is edifying, entertaining and important.” —Ray Suarez, Al Jazeera America, and author of Latino Americans: The 500 -ear Legacy That Shaped a Nation

 

"Through compelling narrative and intriguing research, Mark Stein shines a beacon into the midnight of the American soul and shows us what our deepest fears say about ourselves as individuals and as a people. The psychological gap between the ideal and reality of E Pluribus Unum is Stein’s theme, and he limns it with original and fascinating insight." —Mark Olshaker, coauthor of Law & Disorder, Mindhunter, and The Cases That Haunt Us; novelist and documentary filmmaker

Kirkus Reviews
2014-04-08
A fresh take on the outbursts of hysteria over witches, Catholics, women, communists, gays, Muslims, illegal aliens and others that have occurred throughout American history.Stein (How the States Got Their Shapes Too: The People Behind the Borderlines, 2011, etc.) explores the common source for political panics: the irrational fear that one's government is in danger. Beginning with the 1692 Salem witch trials, the author describes how Americans have acted out of fears of conspiracy and fears based on stereotypes in an effort to make the world comprehensible. The richly detailed episodes recounted here are often quite familiar, but Stein brings a new perspective to understanding how they came about, what they have in common and how the panics sometimes link to one another. In an early hallmark of political panic, Native Americans were deemed vile, and accusers engaged in heinous acts (ethnic cleansing) against them. Biblical justifications fostered hysteria over African-Americans, gays, women and Muslims. Secrecy, real or imagined, spurred fear of freemasons and the Chinese. The most enduring panic, over the danger of African-Americans, predates the American Revolution and soared after the 1915 film The Birth of a Nation reached a mass audience. There was never widespread panic over Jews, perhaps since they lacked a homeland and the equivalent of a pope. Most panics are fueled by unverified claims, an insistence on absolutes and the assertion that correlation is causation. Alarmists cannot be stereotyped: They include both the ignorant and the well-educated, and they are often opportunists—e.g., power broker Thurlow Weed, who benefited from the anti-Masonic movement, and Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, whose anti-Red raids of the 1920s factored into his presidential ambitions.Popular history that will appeal to readers of the author's How the States Got Their Shapes.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781137279026
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 5/20/2014
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 160,643
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 2.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Stein is the author of How the States Got Their Shapes , a New York Times bestseller that became the basis of the History Channel series of the same name, in which he frequently appears. He is also the author of How the States Got Their Shapes Too: The People Behind the Borderlines. He lives in Washington, DC, where he has taught at the Catholic University of America and American University.

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 16, 2014

    Another that wants to re-write history to suit their own narrow

    Another that wants to re-write history to suit their own narrow minded ideals.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 8, 2014

    Ametican panic

    Complete lunacy throughout book. Author injects his ideology among dubious facts to come to absurd conclusions. Waste of money.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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