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Off the edge : flat Earthers, conspiracy culture, and why people will believe anything

by Weill, Kelly, 1994-

Format: Print Book 2022
Availability: Available at 9 Libraries 9 of 16 copies
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Since 2015, there has been a spectacular boom in a nearly two-hundred-year-old delusion - the idea that we all live on a flat plane, under a solid dome, ringed by an impossible wall of ice. It is the ultimate in conspiracy theories, a wholesale rejection of everything we know to be true about the world in which we live. Where did this idea come from? Weill draws a straight line from today's conspiratorial moment back to the early days of Flat Earth theory in the 1830s, showing the human impulses behind divergences in belief. Faced with a complicated world out of our individual control, we naturally seek patterns to explain the inexplicable. The only difference between then and now? Social media. And, powered by Facebook and YouTube algorithms, the Flat Earth movement is growing.

At once a definitive history of the movement and a readable look at its expansive, absurd, and dangerous present, Off the Edge introduces us to a cast of larger-than-life characters, from 19th-century grifters to 20th-century small-town tyrants to the provocateurs of Alex Jones's early-aughts internet, whose rancour sowed the early seeds of our modern division. We accompany Weill to Flat Earther conferences, where we meet moms on vacation, determined creationists, scammy YouTube celebrities and their victims, neo-Nazi rappers, and even a man determined to fly into space in a homemade rocket-powered balloon - whose tragic death proves as senseless and absurd as the theory he set out to prove.

Incisive and clear-eyed, Off the Edge tells a powerful story about belief, exploring how we arrived at this moment of polarised realities and explaining what needs to happen so that we might all return to the same spinning globe.
Published Reviews
Booklist Review: "No amount of scientific proof will convince a dedicated Flat Earther that the earth is round; this is because they believe that behind every fact is a vast conspiracy to hide the truth. Weill traces the growth of the Flat Earth movement, from nineteenth-century Cambridgeshire to early-twentieth-century Illinois to its explosion on the internet. From the beginning, the movement was marked by earnest but shoddy science, often rooted in Christian literalism, and the belief that either godless or government forces (or both) were suppressing the truth. Also, the moon landing was a hoax. Weill uses Flat Earth to explain the spread of conspiracy theories in the age of the internet, where algorithms prioritize popularity (and ad revenue) over relevance, leading innocuous YouTube searchers to slickly produced radical content. She explores the intersection of Flat Earth with QAnon, fascism, antisemitism, and COVID misinformation, and the mainstreaming of conspiracy theories under President Trump and his Twitter feed. In lively prose, Weill untangles the most complicated webs, revealing the real people who believe the unbelievable."
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Publisher's Weekly Review: "Daily Beast reporter Weill focuses this insightful and surprisingly empathetic survey of conspiracy theories on the history of Flat Earth theory, "the ultimate incarnation of conspiratorial thinking." She traces the belief's origins to a 19th-century utopian English commune and profiles modern-day believers including "Mad Mike" Hughes, who died in February 2020 while attempting to reach the earth's upper atmosphere in a homemade rocket. According to Weill, conspiratorial thinking is not some "weird pathology," but part of the same "powers of abstraction that make humans good at detecting patterns." She documents spikes in conspiracy thinking during historical periods of "rapid industrialization and income inequality," and links the resurgence of Flat Earth theory in the early 2000s to Y2K paranoia and 9/11 trutherism. Weill also delves into Pizzagate and QAnon, arguing that the "flat earth and pro-Trump movements share strands of the same conspiratorial, counter-factual DNA"; details how Big Tech's efforts to stop the spread of misinformation have backfired; and notes that "real-world communities" can pull people out of the rabbit holes they find online. Weill's immersion in the Flat Earth community and acknowledgment of her own conspiratorial thinking gives her reporting a refreshingly compassionate slant. The result is an illuminating take on a much scrutinized subject. (Feb.)"
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Additional Information
Subjects Conspiracy theories -- United States.
Earth (Planet) -- Figure.
Earth (Planet) -- Philosophy.
Publisher Chapel Hill, North Carolina :2022
Edition First edition.
Language English
Description 245 pages ; 24 cm.
Bibliography Notes Includes bibliographical references (pages 219-245).
ISBN 9781643750682
Other Classic View