Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History

Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History

by Kurt Andersen


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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • “The single most important explanation, and the fullest explanation, of how Donald Trump became president of the United States . . . nothing less than the most important book that I have read this year.”—Lawrence O’Donnell

How did we get here?

In this sweeping, eloquent history of America, Kurt Andersen shows that what’s happening in our country today—this post-factual, “fake news” moment we’re all living through—is not something new, but rather the ultimate expression of our national character. America was founded by wishful dreamers, magical thinkers, and true believers, by hucksters and their suckers. Fantasy is deeply embedded in our DNA.

Over the course of five centuries—from the Salem witch trials to Scientology to the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, from P. T. Barnum to Hollywood and the anything-goes, wild-and-crazy sixties, from conspiracy theories to our fetish for guns and obsession with extraterrestrials—our love of the fantastic has made America exceptional in a way that we've never fully acknowledged. From the start, our ultra-individualism was attached to epic dreams and epic fantasies—every citizen was free to believe absolutely anything, or to pretend to be absolutely anybody. With the gleeful erudition and tell-it-like-it-is ferocity of a Christopher Hitchens, Andersen explores whether the great American experiment in liberty has gone off the rails.

Fantasyland could not appear at a more perfect moment. If you want to understand Donald Trump and the culture of twenty-first-century America, if you want to know how the lines between reality and illusion have become dangerously blurred, you must read this book.


“This is a blockbuster of a book. Take a deep breath and dive in.”—Tom Brokaw

“[An] absorbing, must-read polemic . . . a provocative new study of America’s cultural history.”Newsday

“Compelling and totally unnerving.”The Village Voice

“A frighteningly convincing and sometimes uproarious picture of a country in steep, perhaps terminal decline that would have the founding fathers weeping into their beards.”The Guardian

“This is an important book—the indispensable book—for understanding America in the age of Trump.”—Walter Isaacson, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Leonardo da Vinci

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400067213
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/05/2017
Pages: 480
Sales rank: 216,596
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 8.80(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

Kurt Andersen is the bestselling author of the novels Heyday, Turn of the Century, and True Believers. He contributes to Vanity Fair and The New York Times, and is host and co-creator of Studio 360, the Peabody Award–winning public radio show and podcast. He also writes for television, film, and the stage. Andersen co-founded Spy magazine, served as editor in chief of New York, and was a cultural columnist and critic for Time and The New Yorker. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College, where he was an editor of The Harvard Lampoon. He lives in Brooklyn.

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 Now Entering Fantasyland

Excerpted from "Fantasyland"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Kurt Andersen.
Excerpted by permission of Random House Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

1 Now Entering Fantasyland 3

Part I The Conjuring of America: 1517-1789

2 I Believe, Therefore I Am Right: The Protestants 15

3 All That Glitters: The Gold-Seekers 18

4 Building Our Own Private Heaven on Earth: The Puritans 24

5 The God-Given Freedom to Believe in God 32

6 Imaginary Friends and Enemies: The Early Satanic Panics 37

7 The First Me Century: Religion Gets American 43

8 Meanwhile, in the Eighteenth-Century Reality-Based Community 50

Part II United States of Amazing: The 1800s

9 The First Great Delirium 57

10 The All-American Fan Fiction of Joseph Smith, Prophet 68

11 Quack Nation: Magical but Modern 74

12 Fantastic Business: The Gold Rush Inflection Point 82

13 In Search of Monsters to Destroy: The Conspiracy Theory Habit 88

14 The War Between States of Mind 92

15 Ten Million Little Houses on the Prairie 98

16 Fantasy Industrialized 104

Part III A Long Arc Bending Toward Reason: 1900-1960

17 Progress and Backlash 117

18 The Biggest Backlash: Brand-New Old-Time Religion 122

19 The Business of America Is Show Business 135

20 Big Rock Candy Mountains: Utopia in the Suburbs and the Sun 142

21 The 1950s Seemed So Normal 150

Part IV Big Bang: The 1960s and '70s

Introduction 173

22 Big Bang: The Hippies 176

23 Big Bang: The Intellectuals 189

24 Big Bang: The Christians 198

25 Big Bang: Politics and Government and Conspiracies 209

26 Big Bang: Living in a Land of Entertainment 221

Part V Fantasyland Scales: From the 1980s Through the Turn of the Century

Introduction 237

27 Making Make-Believe More Realistic and Real Life More Make-Believe 239

28 Forever Young: Kids "R" Us Syndrome 247

29 The Reagan Era and the Start of the Digital Age 252

30 American Religion from the Turn of the Millennium 265

31 Our Wilder Christianities: Belief and Practice 272

32 America Versus the Godless Civilized World: Why Are We So Exceptional? 286

33 Magical but Not Necessarily Christian, Spiritual but Not Religious 293

34 Blue-Chip Witch Doctors: The Reenchantment of Medicine 300

35 How the Mainstream Enabled Fantasyland: Squishies, Cynics, and Believers 306

36 Anything Goes-Unless It Picks My Pocket or Breaks My Leg 317

Part VI The Problem with Fantasyland: From the 1980s to the Present and Beyond

37 The Inmates Running the Asylum Decide Monsters Are Everywhere 325

38 Reality Is a Conspiracy: The X-Filing of America 342

39 Mad as Hell, the New Voice of the People 356

40 When the GOP Went Off the Rails 362

41 Liberals Denying Science 376

42 Gun Crazy 381

43 Final Fantasy-Industrial Complex 390

44 Our Inner Children? They're Going to Disney World! 401

45 The Economic Dreamtime 409

46 As Fantasyland Goes, So Goes the Nation 413

Acknowledgments 441

Index 443

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