Author: W. Scott Poole
Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell's Books):
"Monsters are not just fears of the individual psyche, historian Scott Poole explains, but are concoctions of the public imagination, reactions to cultural influences, social change, and historical events. Conflicting anxieties about race, class, gender, sexuality, religious beliefs, science, and politics manifest as haunting beings among the populace. From Victorian-era mad scientists to modern-day serial killers, new monsters appear as American society evolves, paralleling fluctuating challenges to the cultural status quo. Consulting newspaper accounts, archival materials, personal papers, comic books, films, and oral histories, Poole adroitly illustrates how the creation of the monstrous 'other' not only reflects society's fears but shapes actual historical behavior and becomes a cultural reminder of inhuman acts."
Thoughts: What makes a monster a monster? More importantly, what is the definition of a monster? In Monsters in America, Scott Poole asks these thought-provoking questions while traveling through American history following the evolution of the monster over time.
Separated by significant eras in American history, a reader gets a clear picture of how the definition of a monster changes depending on the cultural and political events of an era. Poole presents his findings methodically through well-documented facts and similar studies. Starting with the Puritan era and the fear of witches and ending with the modern-day fascination with the monsters within us, i.e. serial killers, each generation faced its own challenges and highlighted its fear within its own monsters. Especially enlightening is the the animistic portrayal and subsequent fear of African-Americans that has permeated society since they were first brought to the Americas on slave ships. What's worse is how these monster images exist even until today.
Mr. Poole's evidence is as intriguing as it is informative. It is an alternative view of history through something that is not necessarily studied in such depth and over such a long period of time. Monsters highlight both the positives and negatives in any society, and as such, require the reader to open one's mind and accept that the history taught in history books may not be the truth. The fear of anything not considered "normal" or not well-understood - e.g. Indians, the physically disabled, African-Americans, deep-sea animals or mammals, science - is a powerful motivator and caused society to vilify those that do not fit the acceptable mold. Anything outside the norm brought about the birth of a monster, which can differ depending on the social, economic, cultural, or political influences of the time.
After reading Monsters in America, a reader will view monsters in a completely different light. No longer just something that goes bump in the night, Mr. Poole showcases that monsters have more meaning and shed more insight into society than one might have previously suspected. Well-written and engaging, Monsters in America is a must-read for anyone fascinated by history or monsters or both.
Acknowledgements: Thank you to Kelly Hughes from Dechant-Hughes for my review copy!