James McConnachie and Robin Tudge, The Rough Guide to Conspiracy Theories, Rough Guides/Penguin Books, 2005.
Michael Newton, The Encyclopedia of Conspiracies and Conspiracy Theories, Checkmark Books/Facts on File, 2006 (i.e. 2005)
In the wake of 9/11 conspiracy theories are making a major comeback; indeed the Collins and Brown encyclopedia here is a companion to a whole series, entitled Conspiracy Books, produced by that publisher. Between them, these books will take the reader on a gamut from well-documented cases of actual conspiracies, through conspiracy theories which might have at least some element of truth in them, to ones which are clearly the product of disordered minds.
Though international in scope, there is a clear emphasis on conspiracy theories originating in the United States. Whether that is because the US is a more conspiratorially minded country than most other places, or whether the First Amendment and fairly lax libel laws mean that one can get away with saying things there that on this side of the water would lead to m’learned friends being down on you like a ton of bricks.
This perhaps accounts for the relative absence of British conspiracy theories, particularly those surrounding the conflict in Northern Ireland. For example, you will not read in any of these books of how the Provisional IRA was set up by the CIA in 1969 with the connivance of the Irish government, and the at least tacit support of the British security services, and was supplied by funds from Saudi Arabia and Taiwan through an organisation called the World Anti-Communist League (British head, Patrick Wall, MP who later became President of BUFORA). The motivation was that the existing Official IRA was pro-Cuban and believed to be a front for the Irish Workers (i.e. Communist) Party. Given the situation there was going to an IRA anyway it was better that it was a good old Green Catholic IRA rather than a Red one.
I was also struck by the absence of any references to the conspiracy theories surrounding the Profumo affair.
Looking at the various conspiracy theories presented, they seem to fall into certain categories. The real conspiracies are either the product of ordinary greed and venality and protection of special interests, or follow from the old doctrine of my enemy’s enemy is my friend. Unfortunately, my enemy’s enemy is often just as unpleasant, and sometimes much more so, than my enemy of the moment. And of course, precisely who is my enemy and my enemy's enemy is always changing, yesterdays friend is today’s enemy and vice versa.
The grander conspiracy theories seem to echo either; the great do not die young by accident, or by their own vices, or at the hands of petty lunatics. Instead they are brought down by the incarnate forces of cosmic evil. If he rich, famous and powerful can be brought down in the most pointless and squalid fashion, what hope is there for the rest of us?
The clerks are traitors; those hired to protect us and our interests are really conspiring against us, they are the real enemy or are in league with the enemy. Mummy and daddy really do hate us. Or they hold secrets from us, because they know better; all these secrets perhaps are reflections of the big secrets of sex and reproduction that (at least used) to be hidden from children.
They have stolen the fairy gold which would end all our problems, whether it be free energy or the cure of cancer and other dread diseases. Perhaps indeed they are witches who have put spells on us.
They are in control, nothing happens by chance, someone is in control of the situation, a malevolent force in charge is better than no one at all.
The big one, all the heartache, pain and suffering in the world are caused by the terrible others, the children of perfidy and darkness, against who we, the children of light and righteousness, are in constant battle.
Of course the fact that real life politics is often a grubby, amoral game of power play, far removed from the claimed noble purposes of political actors only serves to exacerbate the situation.
For those who want guidance through the murky world of conspiracy theories, the Rough Guide is not only by far the cheapest it is the best of the three, with insightful commentary and almost always well balanced and sane. Conspiracy Encyclopaedia is a bit expensive but it is generally reasonable if a little whitewashy in its section on magazines and organisations. The Newton Encyclopedia is a typical Facts on File tome, ie written by a hack who doesn’t know much about the subject, is filled with irrelevant padding, and contains numerous factual errors, biases and tendentious commentary. -- Peter Rogerson, frm Magonia Supplement 60, February 2006.