With restrained but eloquent prose, Merlan unblinkingly documents our age of conspiracy. The book is filled with bizarre situations—Merlan moves from a conspiracy-theorist cruise to UFO conferences to Pizzagate rallies—and the author’s droll voice buoys us through it all, bringing in expert commentary and academic research along the way. While primarily focused on a conspiracy-drunk right wing, the book doesn’t confine itself to one side of the political aisle; nor does it focus only on theories broadcast and consumed by white audiences. Rather, the through line of the book is an investigation of the impacts that this kind of thinking can have on both its proponents and those unlucky enough to become fixations ... Merlan casts a merciless look at the Alex Joneses and Sean Hannities and Newt Gingriches of the world, who spread lies about a dead young man for clicks and political convenience. But her narrative is augmented by a tender, thoughtful treatment of the agonies undergone by Rich’s family ... Republic of Lies paints a portrait of epistemic breakdown, in which American discourse is riddled with unbridgeable chasms ... Against this formidable social trend, Merlan offers herself—a rock-steady narrator with a ready command of history, nerves of steel, and incisive social insights—as both guide and antidote ... a comprehensive sketch of where the rifts lie, and how much the paranoid American mind has changed in the age of instant communication.
Merlan...provides horrifying details about conspiracies ... If you want more detail on a parade of horrifying twists of truth, read the book ... Merlan's recitations are chilling, as are her warnings that fringe beliefs tend to go mainstream ... Republic of Lies would have been strengthened with deeper analysis of the extent to which these theories take hold and the weight our society accords them. Where do these theories fall in the metrics of our political discourse? Are we comparing apples and oranges when we talk about falsehoods versus reality, or are we comparing apples and dump trucks? How potent are the false equivalencies?
For the uninitiated, Merlan’s book is a riveting tour through the tangles of some of the most prominent conspiracy theories in circulation today. Blending first-person reporting from a variety of conspiracist gatherings with a measured survey of the existing research on conspiracy theories, she explores why and how demonstrably untrue ideas germinate. Behind each quack theory she finds groups of people who feel powerless or alienated in some significant way.