Atlantis, Lost Tribes, Christian Identity,
Satan's Spawn, White Devils, Catastrophism,
Sea Kings, Ancient Astronauts, Black Athena
Into the Wilds of History
Obsolete and antiquated scholarship is reshuffled
and recombined with older pseudohistorical works
to create new ideas and hypotheses or often simply to reinvent even older semi-forgotten pseudohistorical ideas.
As fast as historians, archaeologists and scientists debunk pseudohistorical hypotheses, new ones emerge
out of the cultic milieu like rejuvenated heads on a hydra.
— Ron Fritze, Invented Knowledge, 2009
False and Spurious Accounts
Let's begin with a simple question: What is the book about? One word answer: pseudohistory. The prefix is rooted in the Greek pseudesthai, "to lie." So, Invented Knowledge is a selective study of false and spurious accounts of history. Many of these accounts are the focus of various popular subcultures, each tied to an alternative perspective on a particular aspect of the vast wilderness of the past. Some pseudohistorical texts are downright fantastic and very much fun to contemplate. Others are troubling interpretations of the human condition.
Steven Poole's analysis of Invented Knowledge appeared in The Guardian of 25 April 2009. Mr. Poole writes:
Lincoln rewritten: "Fellow citizens, we cannot escape pseudohistory." In heroic resistance, Fritze dives into the Augean stables of popular pseudoscholarship on pseudotopics such as Atlantis, aliens who built the pyramids, ancient catastrophes caused by near-misses with Venus, or the Israelite origin of Britons.
It's unfortunate that, by way of contrast, Fritze proffers a dubious ideal of authentic scholarship: it's not true, as he claims, that real history and science always proceed from evidence to hypothesis. Still, in his tireless analysis of the bloodlines of some of modernity's most successful claptrap — from Immanuel Velikovsky to Erich von Däniken to Heaven's Gate — Fritze does vindicate his claim that "Pseudohistory has its historiography and its genealogy of ideas". Nonsense now has its Nietzsche.
In taking exception to Ronald H. Fritze's philosophy of history, "real history," Mr. Poole stands the author side-by-side with Nietzsche and compares Ron's task in Invented Knowledge to one of the labors of Heracles. That's downright clever, though Ron wrote in an e-mail that being linked to Nietzsche is "probably a dubious distinction for a Lutheran."
From Atlantis to Black Athena
We ask again: What is the book about? Here is Ron's overview from the Introduction:
The six chapters of this book look at various aspects of pseudohistory. Chapter One begins with what is probably the oldest theme in the annals of pseudohistory, Atlantis. The original and most famous lost continent has inspired myriad pseudohistorical hypotheses by the beguiled, hoaxers, cultists, nationalists and racists. People coming to America before Columbus is another perennial topic of pseudohistorians. All sorts of nationalistic, ethnocentric and racial motivations lie behind these hypotheses of pre-Columbian exploration and colonization, discussed in chapter Two. Chapters Three and Four look at how pseudohistory has inspired some racist religions: Christian Identity and the Nation of Islam. Chapter Five is a case study of the inter-connections and mutual influences that have occurred among a select group of pseudohistorians. Finally a case study of the Black Athena controversy comprises chapter Six and shows that a thin and fuzzy line can separate academic history from pseudohistory.
Alison George's review appeared in the New Scientist of 14 April 2009. She writes:
The lost island of Atlantis, the discovery of America by a Chinese fleet in 1421 and the intelligent aliens who brought civilisation to Earth. How did these ideas enter the public consciousness, and why are so many people convinced they are true? In Invented Knowledge, Ronald Fritze makes a level-headed and well-researched investigation into pseudo-knowledge, revealing the tricks used by purveyors of false and sensational ideas. He also shows how attempts to debunk the myths can add fuel to the fire.
Fritze also relates how relatively benign ideas about lost continents mingle with more sinister racist ideologies and Nazi beliefs in a bogus version of European history. His main focus is false history and pseudo-religions, so I hope he will next turn his sharp gaze on homeopathy, the "detox" industry, and pseudo-science.
Ms. George's mention of "pseudo-science" reminds us of the vastness of the field before us, where all things pseudo grow like weeds and wildflowers, where agenda-driven histories and theoretical scientific disciplines often intermingle, where one man's historical narrative is another man's mythological fantasy, and where that which is reproved and discredited in one age can be reprised and revived by succeeding and forgetful generations.
What Shall We Call It?
The word "science" figured prominently in the creative and calculated process of transforming Ron's manuscript into a book ready for the printing press. That's a convoluted way of stating that the book needed a title to resonate with the book-buying public and help generate sales. Three proposed titles became early favorites:
Lost Continents, Pseudo-religions and Other Enduring Scientific Myths.
Lost Continents, Pseudo-religions and Other Enduring Scientific Myths.
The Twilight Zone:
Fake Science, Pseudohistory, and Apocrypha
Ron opined early last autumn that he wanted to "get the history back into the title somewhere," proposing a revised subtitle, Lost Continents, Pseudo-Religions, and Other Enduring Myths of Science and History. But he added that "I will gladly go along with whatever they come up with." Ron is never one to piddle over the trivials. Like a competent film director who understands both audience and producer, author Fritze cuts directly to the chase. In Ron's field of historical scholarship, the chase is defined by valid, credible, and timely text, which explains in part why Invented Knowledge represents Ron's eleventh successful effort at bringing a manuscript to print.
What intrigues me about Invented Knowledge is the chance that the book might crossover from the genre of history book into the stream of pop culture of the kind espoused late nightly on George Noory's syndicated radio show, Coast to Coast AM. If so, then Invented Knowledge would become an item on the topical scene and allow the author to enjoy a ray or two of limelight. And why not?
In the quest for a title, I was invited into the discussion. At the time my suggestions seemed suitable enough. Now, in the cold eye of retrospection, they look very USA American, perhaps even trivial. But in the finest traditions of ego, I'll share three of the six also-rans I proffered.... On second thought, looking at my list, I don't think so. Maybe just one: Believe Me It's True! Pseudo-History for Any Occasion. I heard nothing more about the title-making process until Ron presented me with the fait accompli in January. How the brain trust arrived at Invented Knowledge remains a mystery to me, but it makes good sense. Reaktion Books of London and their USA associates at the University of Chicago Press obviously know their business.
'Picnic-Spread of Tonic Scepticism'
"How the book world is taking on the false idols of our time," an essay by Boyd Tonkin, first surveys a slough of "ridiculous ideas .... celeb-endorsed baloney ... and false and fanciful beliefs about the natural world and the human past," then discusses the wave of scholarly debunkering and informed skepticism (yes, we spell it differently over here in the Colonies) now washing upon the literary scene. Mr. Tonkin's full-bodied review of the "picnic-spread of tonic scepticism" appeared in The Independent on 17 April 2009. Though we grimace at The Independent's headline style, where the capital letters in a title are abandoned after the first word — much like the academic typography favored by scholars attuned to the conventions of the American Psychological Association (social sciences) — we appreciate Mr. Tonkin's thoughtful, chatty, and incisive treatment of Invented Knowledge.
Invented Knowledge is one of five new books featured in Mr. Tonkin's essay. "In this new age of intellectual chaos," he writes, "hype-resistant readers ... can relish the prospect of hooting from the sofa as lean and hungry sceptics (whether academics or journalists) hunt down the peddlers of pseudo-history or pseudo-science and sink rhetorical incisors into the flabby flesh of their prey." After a mention of journalist Marina Hyde's Celebrity: How entertainers took over the world and why we need an exit strategy, the reviewer turns to Invented Knowledge. He writes:
A neat complement to Hyde's romping turkey-shoot, Invented Knowledge: False history, fake science and pseudo-religions, by the US historian Ronald H Fritze (Reaktion, £19.95), goes in for a more forensic dissection of modern myths about the past. Fritze — who tells the story of Einstein's niggling sympathy for "alternative" history and geology — selects a few choice myths and fads from the fringes of scholarship. He inspects enduring canards, from the Atlantis tales that took hold after the American Civil War, through the centuries-long quest for the 10 Lost Tribes of Israel, up to today's taste for Chinese eunuch admirals whose fleet toured the entire globe in 1421, or the black-African ancient Egyptians whose profound wisdom gave Greece all its glory.
If Fritze seeks to unearth the social origins of the "cultic milieu" that embraces weird history, he also points to its sometimes tragic outcomes. In the American South, the far-right fundamentalists of the Christian Identity movement may have developed a mind-bendingly flaky "fusion of Paradise Lost and Star Wars" in their theology. But our smiles fade once we know what they planned — and sometimes enacted — as a violent racist underground that Fritze calls "the Ku Klux Klan at prayer." As for the 39 members of the Heaven's Gate cult who committed suicide in San Diego in 1997, they yearned to join their watching "Space Brothers," whom they thought had kick-started human evolution from afar. These victims "died for, and from, pseudohistory."
The Independent review digs pretty darn deep into Ron's text — and does so in a style very much of the moment, mixing references to pop culture icons with characters drawn from the pages of Invented Knowledge, and peppering the text with clever innuendo and in-the-know colloquialisms. It makes for a good read.
Publishers Weekly in its "Web Exclusive Reviews" feature
refers to Invented Knowledge as an "enlightened diatribe," stating that "Fritze incorporates a wealth of background information and insider baseball while buttressing his own provocative contentions, making this a hearty treat for history buffs."
Known, Unknown, and Nonsense
A brief mention in the Times Higher Education supplement appeared on 1 January 2009 as part of a survey of "works of intellectual substance promised between January and June." It reads:
Known knowns, unknown knowns and nonsense: what better time than the post-Bush era to shine a light on the murky world of the unabashedly made-up? Ronald H. Fritze brings a seriously large torch on his journey through spurious narrative, conspiracy theories and bestselling twaddle in a veritable encyclopaedia of folly, Invented Knowledge: False History, Fake Science and Pseudo-Religions (Reaktion, March). Read it and giggle. Or weep.
'Delusions of Cosmic Destiny'
"The book opens a window onto various bizarre facets of the contemporary zeitgeist, charting the shadowy borders between respectable academia and the extremist worldview of the fanatic on the one hand, and popular culture on the other," A.C. Evans writes in a considered, deliberate, and idiosyncratic review under the title "Delusions of Cosmic Destiny," which appears in Stride Magazine, an online journal posted from Great Britain. Sometimes incredulous in tone and thoroughly secular in outlook, A.C. Evans expands on several of Ron's ideas about pseudohistory, introducing new characters and following established lines of thought onto divergent paths of inquiry.
Another significant theme of Invented Knowledge is the idea of the 'cultic milieu', a quasi-technical term borrowed from sociologist Colin Campbell's paper 'The Cult, the Cultic Milieu and Secularisation' (1972). Fritze subscribes to the description of cults as 'ephemeral, loosely structured and rather individualistic organisations that follow a belief system.' Clearly the jargon of the 'cultic milieu' forms the basis of the principle of the 'pseudo-religion' which, in its in 'hardcore' manifestation takes the form of movements like Theosophy, Christian Identity, The Nation of Islam and the UFO religion Heaven's Gate. The 'softcore' manifestations of the milieu are taken to encompass the entire field of pseudohistory, including the species of post-colonialist, post-modernist scholarship purveyed by academic insiders, exemplified by Bernal's Black Athena or, alternatively, purveyed by the works of Gavin Menzies which are essentially opportunistic publishing escapades.
All of these phenomena operate as cultural micro-environments with permeable borders, constantly feeding from each other, constantly evolving in a protean manner. Cults, says Fritze, 'are in a constant process of beginning, thriving and dying out, so do pseudohistorical ideas arise, reach a level of popular acceptance and fade away.' Ominously, he adds, 'there are always cults around'. It is not made explicit, but one is aware that the word 'cult' has sinister and pejorative overtones and is being used here to differentiate the inferior 'pseudo-religion' from the genuine article.
Intellectual to the max, digressive and wide ranging, A.C. Evans' review presents more than a thorough examination of Invented Knowledge. It also illuminates a distinct and particular style of critical thinking, one firmly rooted in the traditional genre of academic literary criticism, strident in its mission of expanding on a set of premises established in the work under review, and hopeful of contributing to scholarly dialogue. The review is an instructive antipode to the clever, kitschy voice of Boyd Tonkin's piece in The Independent.
So, a new work among tens of thousands of new works, Ronald H. Fritze's Invented Knowledge: False History, Fake Science and Pseudo-religions ($29.95 312pp ISBN 9781861894304,) is launched upon the universe of publishing this spring, beginning its search for readers. Become one.
Invented Knowledge: False History, Fake Science, and Pseudo-Religions. London: Reaktion Books, March 2009.
Reference Sources in History: An Introductory Guide. With Brian Coutts and Louis Vyhnanek. Second Edition. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 2004.
New Worlds: The Great Voyages of Discovery, c.1400-1600. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing/Westport, CT: Praeger, 2002. Translation rights have been sold for Estonian.
Historical Dictionary of Late Medieval England. With William B. Robison as co-editor. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002.
Travel Legend and Lore: An Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 1998.
Historical Dictionary of Stuart England. With William B. Robison as co-editor. Westport, Ct: Greenwood Press, 1996. Selected by Library Journal as one of the best reference books published in 1996.
Reflections on World Civilization: A Reader. By Ronald Fritze, Randy Roberts and James Olson. New York: HarperCollins, 1993.
Legends and Lore of the Americas before 1492: An Encyclopedia of Visitors, Explorers and Immigrants. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 1993.
Historical Dictionary of Tudor England. Editor-in-Chief, Ronald Fritze. Advisory Editor, Sir Geoffrey Elton. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1991. Selected one of the best reference books published in 1992 by Library Journal.
Reflections on Western Civilization: A Reader. By Ronald Fritze, Randy Roberts, and James Olson. Glenview, IL: Scott Foresman and Company, 1990.
Reference Sources in History: An Introductory Guide. By Ronald Fritze, Brian Coutts, and Louis Vyhnanek. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, Inc., 1990. Selected as one of the best historical bibliographies published in 1989 and 1990 by the Reference and Adult Services Division of the American Library Association. A second edition was published in 2004. Selected as one of the best historical bibliographies published in 2003 and 2004 by the Reference and User Services Association of the American Library Association.