Cover image for The culture of fear : why Americans are afraid of the wrong things
The culture of fear : why Americans are afraid of the wrong things
Glassner, Barry.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York, NY : Basic Books, [1999]

Physical Description:
xxviii, 276 pages ; 25 cm
Reading Level:
1560 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HN59.2 .G58 1999C Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
HN59.2 .G58 1999C Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



There has never been another era in modern history, even during wartime or the Great Depression, when so many people have feared so much. Three out of four Americans say they feel more fearful today then they did twenty years ago. The Culture of Fear describes the high costs of living in a fear-ridden environment where realism has become rarer than doors without deadbolts.Why do we have so many fears these days? Are we living in exceptionally dangerous times? To watch the news, you'd certainly think so, but Glassner demonstrates that it is our perception of danger that has increased, not the actual level of risk. The Culture of Fear is an expose of the people and organizations that manipulate our perceptions and profit from our fears: politicians who win elections by heightening concerns about crime and drug use even as rates for both are declining; advocacy groups that raise money by exaggerating the prevalence of particular diseases; TV newsmagazines that monger a new scare every week to garner ratings.Glassner spells out the prices we pay for social panics: the huge sums of money that go to waste on unnecessary programs and products as well as time and energy spent worrying about our fears.

Author Notes

Barry Glassner is Professor of Sociology at the University of Southern California.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

In a provocative report, Glassner (Career Crash, etc.) contends that Americans' worries about crime, drugs, child abuse and other issues have been blown out of proportion by a mass media that thrives on scares. Exposing fear-mongering in many quarters, this University of Southern California sociology professor argues that trendy issues like road rage, workplace violence, teenage suicide, "granny dumping" (abandonment of the elderly by callous relatives) and sex crimes via the Internet are "false crises" manufactured by inflated statistics and hype. Lambasting liberals as well as conservatives who allegedly blame teen moms for the nation's social ills, Glassner contends that teenage pregnancy is largely a response to the nation's economic and educational decline. He also believes that America's expensive campaign against illegal drugs like cocaine, heroin and marijuana diverts attention from the far more serious problem of deaths from the abuse of legal drugs and physicians' gross negligence in prescribing them. The good news, he reports, is that airplane travel is safer than ever and that the incidence of child kidnapping has been wildly exaggerated. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he has his own axes to grind: he calls Gulf War Syndrome a "metaphoric illness," tweaks the hypocrisy of "those who single out rap singers as specially sexist or violent" and labels the FDA's 1992 ban on silicone breast implants "a grand victory of anecdote over science." Some of his arguments are fresher than others; in any case, this antidote to paranoia is a guaranteed argument-starter. Agent, Geri Thoma. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Why are many Americans afraid of crime, drug abuse, traffic fatalities, killer kids, monster moms, black men, cancer, AIDS, plane crashes, and terrorism? Based on extensive content analysis of the print and electronic media, Glassner shows how the news media bombard the public with sensational stories of isolated incidents and depicts them as dangerous trends. Although a string of incidents does not constitute a trend, as revealed by the recent decline in rates of homicide, drug use, and so forth, inflated fears caused by news reports lead to public spending of billions of dollars on police and prisons instead of dealing with problems of hunger, poverty, and inequality. Serious problems tend to be ignored because of a culture of fear created by journalists and politicians. The author explains why most Americans harbor misplaced fears. He identifies the vendors of these fears, their marketing methods, and incentives. Glassner argues that the use of poignant anecdotes in place of scientific evidence by the mass media has diverted attention from taking decisive action to deal with major social problems . A must read for journalists and politicians, this book is a valuable contribution to mass communication and culture studies as well as sociology. All levels. D. A. Chekki University of Winnipeg

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Introduction: Why Americans Fear the Wrong Thingsp. xi
1 Dubious Dangers on Roadways and Campuses: How Fears Are Soldp. 1
2 Crime in the News: Tall Tales and Overstated Statisticsp. 21
3 Youth at Risk: Faulty Diagnoses and Callous Curesp. 51
4 Monster Moms: On the Art of Misdirectionp. 85
5 Black Men: How to Perpetuate Prejudice Without Really Tryingp. 107
6 "Smack Is Back": When Presidents and the Press Collude, the Scares Never Stopp. 129
7 Metaphoric Illnesses: How Not to Criticize the Establishmentp. 151
8 Plane Wrecks: Small Danger, Big Scarep. 181
9 Final Thoughts: The Martians Aren't Comingp. 203
Notesp. 211
Indexp. 259