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Strange Days Indeed: The 1970s: The Golden Days of Paranoia

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The 1970s were a theme park of mass paranoia. Strange Days Indeed tells the story of the decade when a distinctive “paranoid style” emerged and seemed to infect all areas of both private and public life, from high politics to pop culture. The sense of paranoia that had long fuelled the conspiracy theories of fringe political groups then somehow became the norm for millions of ordinary people. And to make it even trickier, a certain amount of that paranoia was justified. Watergate showed that the governments ...
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Overview


The 1970s were a theme park of mass paranoia. Strange Days Indeed tells the story of the decade when a distinctive “paranoid style” emerged and seemed to infect all areas of both private and public life, from high politics to pop culture. The sense of paranoia that had long fuelled the conspiracy theories of fringe political groups then somehow became the norm for millions of ordinary people. And to make it even trickier, a certain amount of that paranoia was justified. Watergate showed that the governments really were doing illegal things and then trying to cover them up.

Though Nixon may have been foremost among deluded world leaders he wasn’t the only one swept up in the tide of late night terrors. UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson was convinced that the security services were plotting his overthrow, while many of them were convinced he was a Soviet agent. Idi Amin and his alleged cannibalism, the CIA’s role in the Chilean coup, the Jonestown cult, the Indian state of emergency from ’75 to ’77 and more are here turned into a delicious carnival of the deranged—and an eye-opening take on an oft-derided decade—by a brilliant writer with an acute sense of the absurd.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Kirkus
“The author ably navigates the shattered landscape of the decade, which, for all its awfulness, has inspired a fair share of nostalgia…Literate, authentic to period detail and often entertaining.”

Booklist, STARRED review
“A hugely entertaining book that makes you laugh, think, and look over your shoulder—sometimes all at the same time.”

Publishers Weekly
“[W]riting like Hunter S. Thompson might have had he been English and sober, Wheen offers a vivid, entertaining guide to an era of fear and loathing.”

The New Republic
“Wheen slathers his prose with cleverness so cheerily that you could almost forget that this was the decade of Nixon’s air war and the Khmer Rouge.”

The Los Angeles Times
“[Strange Days Indeed] frames the 1970s as an era of institutional collapse, unstable officials, general irrationalism (widespread interest in UFOs, psychic phenomena, mad cults) and terror: the Irish Republican Army's bombing campaign in Britain, the Black September massacre at the Munich Olympics, the Zippy the Pinhead antics of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, and the Symbionese Liberation Army.”
 

CHOICE Magazine, January 2011 “A must read…highly recommended.”

Peter Carlson
If you judge a book by how many exclamation points you scrawl in the margins, Strange Days Indeed is a masterpiece indeed, a mind-blowing work of nonfiction black humor…Wheen doesn't explain what, if anything, all this madness means, but somehow that didn't bother me, perhaps because his anecdotes are so jaw-droppingly delicious…we need Francis Wheen to keep reminding us that humans are a loony species and that much of history is a record of the various forms of lunacy arising in different eras. I suggest that some great university endow a Distinguished Chair of Paranoia Studies and invite Wheen to sit in it while he continues his delightfully hilarious and frighteningly serious work.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
The 1970s is the most deranged of decades in this rollicking, lurid retrospective. Taking Richard Nixon’s paranoid persecution complex as the period’s zeitgeist, Private Eye deputy editor Wheen (How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World) finds it everywhere. Along with an amusing rehash of Watergate, his panorama of ’70s nuttiness encompasses conspiracy theories, Hollywood thrillers, the Baader-Meinhof gang, sci-fi novelist Philip K. Dick’s letters to the FBI denouncing his literary agent as a Communist, and tawdry political intrigues in a Britain beset by strikes, power outages, IRA bombings, Trotskyist dramaturgy, and coup whisperings. Anthropomorphized, Wheen writes, the decade would be “a meth-swilling vagrant waylaying passers-by to tell them that the Archbishop of Canterbury had planted electrodes in his brain.” Wheen thinks the period’s ravings were both laughably lunatic and on to something important in a world of covert ops and oil embargoes, but his paranoia diagnosis is too pat to fully capture the politico-cultural chaos. Still, writing like Hunter S. Thompson might have had he been English and sober, Wheen offers a vivid, entertaining guide to an era of fear and loathing. (Mar. 2)
Kirkus Reviews
The '70s was an odd decade, writes political historian and Private Eye deputy editor Wheen (Marx's Das Kapital: A Biography, 2007, etc.). People didn't even have cell phones. In a move guaranteed to make anyone who was there feel old, the author opens by noting the disbelief of a young BBC producer that Harold Wilson, then prime minister of the United Kingdom, did not have a mobile phone at his disposal. "The scene was deleted," he writes. The '70s were a grim period, with aftertastes of the Altamont tragedy at the beginning and the evils of disco and the frightening visage of Ronald Reagan near the end. In the middle there was Vietnam, Richard Nixon and a host of other maladies. The meat of Wheen's lucid discussion is what can be considered a golden age of the paranoid style of politics, as the historian Richard Hofstadter put it, and of widespread paranoia in general. There were plenty of reasons to be paranoid, from Watergate-era wiretapping to the freewheeling antics of a host of terror-inducing groups, including the Symbionese Liberation Army, the Red Brigades, Scientologists and many more. In response, writes the author, came various emotional reactions manifested in the culture, from the anger epitomized by punk rock to the desperation of John Cleese's TV character Basil Fawlty. Wheen has a pronounced talent for finding little tidbits of historical data that speak volumes. Few others would remember that Tom Hayden, ex of Jane Fonda, once belonged to a commune that worshipped North Korean dictator Kim Il-Sung, head of a state that Wheen dutifully visited once and pronounces about the worst place in the world. The author ably navigates the shattered landscape of the decade, which,for all its awfulness, has inspired a fair share of nostalgia. How else to explain another terror like Mamma Mia?Literate, authentic to period detail and often entertaining-a sight more interesting than David Frum's How We Got Here (2000) and other historical treatments of a soul-testing decade.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586488451
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 3/2/2010
  • Pages: 343
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author


Francis Wheen is deputy editor of Private Eye and the editor of Lord Gnome’s Literary Companion, the author of the bestselling How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World and Karl Marx: A Life, and a former columnist in the London Guardian. He has contributed to Vanity Fair, the Nation, the New Yorker, LA Times, and Washington Post, and has appeared on C-SPAN’s Booknotes and National Public Radio.
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