This is Jon Ronson’s first book, appearing in 2001 after a few years of writing and research (and hijinks) gathering materials. The book involves Ronson spending time with various extremists of multiple bents, but especially Islamic extremists and Right-Wing extremists, with some ??? extremists thrown in. On this last point for example, Jon spends a long part of the book with an extremist who really seems to be using anti-Semitic codewords about new world orders and lizard people, but also really might possibly be talking about actual beliefs in lizard people. A conversation that’s been happening in the last few days for me involves how trafficking in anti-Semitic tropes not realizing or not intending them to be anti-Semitic doesn’t exactly make them ok. But for Jon’s book, one of the questions that does come up is whether or not such speech is held to legal standard of anti-racism laws in various countries.
Like with all Jon Ronson books, especially the audiobooks, Jon Ronson’s voice and tone are the major selling points. His rendering and reading of dialog is always hilarious and wonderful, and how “down” he is to listen and participate in the conversations mean we end up with a lot more understanding and knowledge than otherwise. It’s harder with this specific topic because of how dangerous it could end up being. For example, this book was published right before 9/11 and while there’s a significant conversation to be had (or had to be had) about the various complex causes of the attacks, they were real, dangerous, and deadly. Separate from this comes the question of emboldening the conspiracy theorists. I know they don’t actually need any encouragement, but platforming them does raise ethical questions. This is most prominent in this book for me with Jon tooling around with a baby Alex Jones in this book. But that’s also what Jon Ronson is good at — treating radical and often ridiculous ideas with a fair mind, asking the kinds of questions that are necessary to those ideas, and spending time with the people who espouse them, mostly so we don’t have to.