While the results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election weren’t as surprising around here, if they came as a shock to you, be sure and add Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History by Kurt Andersen to your reading list.
While Andersen’s book might not be an academic work, it is well researched and immensely enjoyable. The author’s background as a fiction writer and radio show host has likely helped make this book the easy read it is, but it is the wealth of information packed into this book that really makes it worth the while. (For a bigger treat, try the audio version which is narrated by Andersen himself.)
The overall thesis of this book is that Americans have long held some curious, if not fantastical, beliefs that have shaped national narratives since the Puritans arrived on the land’s eastern shores. From the promises of gold deposits encouraging financing for the first European settlers to growing fears of child abductions in the late 20th century, Andersen presents a long list of misguided beliefs with examples spanning hundreds of years, and from across the political spectrum. Despite the vast time frame and variety of case studies, Andersen stays true to his main thesis and brings it all together nicely. Throughout it all, the author paints an informative and entertaining picture of how fantasy and reality have long intersected in American thought, not just shaping perspectives, but also affecting decision-making sometimes at the highest level of government.