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Monsters in America
Our Historical Obsession with the Hideous and the Haunting
Salem witches, frontier wilderness beasts, freak show oddities, alien invasions, Freddie Krueger. From our colonial past to the present, the monster in all its various forms has been a staple of American culture. A masterful survey of our grim and often disturbing past, Monsters in America uniquely brings together history and culture studies to expose the dark obsessions that have helped create our national identity.
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.
Monsters in America is now online at www.monstersinamerica.com. Visit the new website for more about the book, upcoming events, and to keep up with Scott Poole's blog.
Introduction: The Bloody Chords of Memory
1. Monstrous Beginnings
2. Goth Americana
3. Weird Science
4. Alien Invasions
5. Deviant Bodies
6. Haunted Houses
7. Undead Americans
"Poole's connection of the monster to American history is a kind of Creature Features meets American cultural history. Here we not only meet such monsters but also discover America's cultural monstrosity."
—John W. Morehead, editor, www.TheoFantastique.com
"An unexpected guilty pleasure! Poole invites us into an important and enlightening, if disturbing, conversation about the very real monsters that inhabit the dark spaces of America’s past."
—J. Gordon Melton, Director, Institute for the Study of American Religion
"A well informed, thoughtful, and indeed frightening angle of vision to a persistent and compelling American desire to be entertained by the grotesque and the horrific."
—Gary Laderman, Professor of American Religious History and Cultures, Emory University
"Monsters in America is lively and entertaining throughout. The book's unusual range is one of its contributions; its freshness of juxtaposition is another."
—Elizabeth Young, Mount Holyoke College, American Historical Review (February 2013)
"With Monsters in America, W. Scott Poole has given us a guidebook for a journey into nightmare territory. Insightful and brilliant!"
—Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of Patient Zero and Dead of Night
"From 19th century sea serpents to our current obsession with vampires and zombies, ... Poole plots America's past through its fears in this intriguing ... sociocultural history."
"Poole ... has set the bar ridiculously high for any future research exploring the locus of historical and cultural studies, particularly as it pertains to the horrific. ... Monsters In America challenges, enlightens, and, quite honestly, frightens in its prescient view of American history, as well as the seeming ubiquity of the monsters of our past and probable future."
"... one of the best reads of the year."
—Dave Canfield, Fangoria
"Monsters in America does a bang-up job of demonstrating how our culture helps us achieve some sort of understanding about our world and our lives. Poole's examples are well-chosen and well-explicated. It is a frightening world we live in, yet the horrific things in our literature and culture play a vital part in helping us reach some understanding, and even some peace about them."
—Greg Garrett, Faithful Citizenship blogger and author of One Fine Potion: The Literary Magic of Harry Potter
"Numerous scholars explore the cultural and political implications of monster and horror films for the times from which they emerge.... Few scholars connect such implications across broader expanses of time to reveal how intrinsically monsters and the horrific have been bound up in the history of America. Even fewer scholars do so as adeptly and as entertainingly as W. Scott Poole."
—J. Ryan Parker, Pop Theology
"... incredibly rewarding and fulfilling reading.... Monsters in America has without a doubt earned a spot on my favorite books of 2011. Highly recommended."
"Poole brings to life American horror stories by framing them within folk belief, religion, and popular culture, broadly unraveling the idea of the monster. Thanks to Poole's insights we see the ubiquity of the monster lurking in and around us."
—John David Smith, Charles H. Stone Distinguished Professor of American History, The University of North Carolina at Charlotte
W. Scott Poole grew up in love with monsters. Now a tenured professor of American History at the College of Charleston, South Carolina, he teaches popular courses on America and its monsters as well as on the image of the Devil in religion and popular culture. He is the author of several books including Satan in America: The Devil We Know and is a regular contributor to www.popmatters.com, an international magazine of cultural criticism.