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 this oddly comforting audiobook, Glassner (Derailing Democracy) deconstructs many commonly held beliefs about the threats of the modern world and aims to expose the media's role in keeping citizens fearful. Frightened citizens, he posits, make better consumers and more easily swayed voters. In a methodical fashion, he raises a series of public safety threats-the prevalence of road rage, middle-class heroin addiction and husband abuse, to name just a few-and then systematically tries to strike them down with statistics. More provocative are later chapters when he attempts to debunk such modern phenomena as Gulf War Syndrome and illnesses caused by breast implants. Glassner's delivery is serious but not emotionless; he keeps an even keel most of the time, but emotion does seep into his voice, most notably when talking about gun control. His reading style stands in sharp contrast to filmmaker Michael Moore, whose apparently improvised introduction is passionate and compelling; in fact, Glassner, who was featured in Moore's film Bowling for Columbine, sounds a bit dull coming right after Moore. But he is clearly a man on a mission, and even though many listeners might disregard some of his explanations as oversimplifications, virtually everyone will leave this book with a more realistic, guardedly optimistic world view. Based on the Basic Books hardcover. (Dec. 2003) (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