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9781572703544

The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things

Barry Glassner

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9781572703544: The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things

In this startling and widely acclaimed book, Barry Glassner exposes the people and organizations that manipulate our perceptions and profit from our anxieties. These peddlers of fear - politicians, advocacy groups, and TV newsmagazines, among others - cost Americans dearly, weighing us down with needless worries and causing us to squander billions of dollars on fixing fanciful problems. Glassner points out that scare topics like political terrorism, child-care sadists, and fire on the operating table get major play, even though statistically speaking, an American is far more likely to be killed by lightning than to experience these problems. Ultimately, national scares prevent us from correcting the true cause of a problem. The Culture of Fear diagnoses the predominant pathology of our age and provides a passionate cry for a return to rationality.

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Review:

Americans are afraid of many things that shouldn't frighten them, writes Barry Glassner in this book devoted to exploding conventional wisdom. Thanks to opportunistic politicians, single-minded advocacy groups, and unscrupulous TV "newsmagazines," people must unlearn their many misperceptions about the world around them. The youth homicide rate, for instance, has dropped by as much as 30 percent in recent years, says Glassner--and up to three times as many people are struck dead by lightening than die by violence in schools. "False and overdrawn fears only cause hardship," he writes. In fact, one study shows that daughters of women with breast cancer are actually less likely to conduct self-examinations--probably because the campaign to increase awareness of the ailment also inadvertently heightens fears.

Although some sections are stronger than others, The Culture of Fear's examination of many nonproblems--such as "road rage," "Internet addiction," and airline safety--is very good. Glassner also has a sharp eye for what causes unnecessary goose bumps: "The use of poignant anecdotes in place of scientific evidence, the christening of isolated incidents as trends, depictions of entire categories of people as innately dangerous," and unknown scholars who masquerade as "experts." Although Glassner rejects the notion that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, he certainly shows we have much less to fear than we think. And isn't that sort of scary? --John J. Miller

About the Author:

Barry Glassner is Professor of Sociology at the University of Southern California. He is the author of seven books, including Career Crash and Bodies. He has been quoted extensively or profiled in articles in dozens of newspapers and magazines. His own articles and reviews have appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and The London Review of Books.

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