Book Review – Them: Adventures with Extremists

Jon Ronson takes us into the world of paranoid conspiracists, hopping from neo-Nazis to a Ku Klux Klansmen leader attempting an image makeover

From Islamic fundamentalists to those who believe the world is ruled by lizards, we are offered a glimpse into the world of extremists through the eyes of a documentary maker, Jon Ronson. His journey is full of bizarre conversations and awkward moments as he attempts to engage with them, at times having to hide his own Jewishness in order not to cause any offense. Quite amusingly, it turns out it’s not only the anti-semites that he needs to be careful with, as the word ‘Jew’ can be a code word for non-Jews or even a synonym for the ‘lizard’ politicians depending on which extremists you are hanging out with.

Each chapter chronicles Ronson’s encounters with different, seemingly unrelated sets of extremists, but what gradually emerges amidst their collective paranoia  is the common belief in the existence of the Bilderbergs – the secretive ultimate power group that allegedly controls the affairs of the world. And it is in the course of attempting to unveil this conspiracy theory that Ronson gets chased by mysterious men in shades, and gets chucked out of the hotel where the Bilderbergs are rumoured to be staying. The more the Bilderbergs are explored, the truer the theory of the extremists seems to be.

The thinly running common thread of the Bilderbergs aside, the chapters are disjointed and feel more like a collection of short journals. The subjects in the book are indeed interesting, although often I felt it would make for better reading if each chapter began with an introduction of its protagonists. Instead, the readers are plunged into the middle of a scene and are left to work out the identity of these eccentric characters from the snippets of information scattered throughout the chapter. All this amounts to the book failing to hook the reader to what could have been a fascinating topic.

For all its quirks and awkwardness, it is a light hearted book that only manages to capture some amusing moments stemming from the extremists’ stubborn beliefs. The ironic and cynical tone Ronson subtly adopts in the book ultimately makes them the butt of a joke, unfairly depriving them of a chance to be objectively questioned on the rationale behind their perspectives. Considering Them is written by a journalist, its total lack of objective exploration into the subjects is utterly disappointing.

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