Cults, Conspiracies, and Secret Societies

Cults, Conspiracies and Secret Societies has been out for a few weeks and it has already touched some raw nerves. An angry reviewer on writes “I am not sure which is more frightening, the fringe nuts who think everything is a alien conspiracy, or this guy, who thinks there are no real secrets, or hidden cloaked sinister agendas out there floating through our present.” Another wittily remarks that the book is “one entire flat and tasteless pudding or worse — unpalatable poo. Definitely a read for the bathroom.” I can’t blame them for being so angry; I provoked them by calling their beliefs into question–worse yet, by treating them as a sort of pathology. A sympathetic blog (Curled up with a Good calls it “a must have resource for the student of human nature, sociology, or popular culture,” though it predicts that my accuracy and even-handedness won’t be enough to dissuade “members of the included cults from….suing Goldwag for libel.” Gulp. Another blog (Hugh says “it reads like a Grisham novel.” The MSM has been weighing in as well. Michael Shermer called it “a marvelous new book” in Scientific American; I’ve extracted a few more choice blurbs below:

The kind of reference manual that the Internet cannot supplant…..Goldwag keeps the facts straight and gives the rumors — no matter how lurid and entertaining — about as much respect as they deserve.”—The Washington Post

“A messy book about messy ideologies….And here’s the beauty of it….[Goldwag is] such a damn good writer that you don’t really mind….[he] is also one of those rare authors who can write about fringe topics in a way that sounds respectful and fun without him coming across like he’s out of his mind.” –Jackson (Mississippi) Free Press

“Delightful.” –The Weekly Standard

“Goldwag is a colorful writer who makes good use of his material as he aims to explain, rather than debunk or expose, a fascinating diversity of beliefs.”—The Boston Globe

A good friend and fellow writer who is unfortunately incarcerated at the moment wrote to thank me for sending him a copy of Cults. “You’ll be pleased to know,” he related, “that this is actually the 2nd copy of the book to get into MDC [Metropolitan Detention Center]. A…..leader of a China Town gang (tong?) saw me carrying it and pointed out to me that he had it in his footlocker and had just finished reading it. He’d ordered it from When he heard I knew the author he made me promise to tell you how much he enjoyed the volume. This is the God’s honest truth!”


Hello everybody

So today it’s been one week since I completed the first draft of my third book, CONSPIRACIES, CULTS, & SECRET SOCIETIES (not the final title). If all goes well, Vintage will publish it next fall. If it goes anything like the last book did, I’ll get a few opportunities to talk about it on the radio and maybe even on TV–to join the great national conversation, as it were, to hoist up my flag and see who salutes. Hopefully between now and then I’ll be able to think up a few all-purpose tidbits that I can quickly deploy to make a memorable impression, because it turns out that most of these interviews go by really quickly. If you’re not careful, you can still be figuratively clearing your throat when they’re already winding you down. You don’t want to waste your opportunities. Sadly, even the smallest media market is likely to yield more listeners than will ever read the book. Here’s a random thought on the subject for today. I remember somewhere in Don DeLillo’s Libra, a character asks David Ferrie what he believes in (or maybe it was if he believed in hypnotism…). Ferrie replies, “I believe in everything.” Somehow I’m going to have to get across the notion that “belief” itself is the issue, that the division between conspiracy theorists and the rest of us isn’t that they believe in one thing and we believe in another, but that they believe and we don’t. Period. Though faith and intellect come from different parts of the brain, they both have intellectual consequences. For a passionately believing religious person, for example (I’m simplifying radically, of course–I know that there are many intelligent, critical-minded believers), the opposite of belief in God is a belief in Satan. For a non-believer, the opposite of faith is secularism. Secularism and Satanism are too different things, but for some believers, they balance the same equations.