Them: Adventures with Extremists

by Jon Ronson

Rating: ★★★★★

The first absolutely staggering read of the year, this was a present which I didn't expect much of until the blurb caught my interest. The book focuses on the author's experiences with a wide range of extremists around the world, straightly detailing a variety of bizzare (indeed, I often stared at the 'Non-Fiction' label with some suspicion) experiences, including the (lapsed) Jewish author chumming it up with Islamist preachers, neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members and various other charming yet strongly anti-Semitic people.

The situational humour (the top bit for me being David Icke insisting that when he called people lizards, he really meant 12 foot alien lizards, and not Jews) is not all the book has to offer, though it does fuel you through. Ronson, using what appears to be uncommon barefaced audacity, manages to deliver an up-close view of those people who have been labelled 'extreme', and their views.

The book is perhaps best described as a trip through the looking glass. It strips away some of the inhumanity of modern media portrayals, but not without underlining the reality of who these people still are, despite how they appear to a friendly journalist. That said, not all the crazies are crazy. Ronson's trip down the conspiracy theorist lane regarding the Bilderberg group drew me in (and fished me out) with him in a delightful manner which really underlined the power of cool-headed reflection (and its alternate).

The book's examination of conspiracy theories is underlined by the infiltration of the Bohemian Grove, where CEOs and world leaders gather to take part in a bizzare cultish ceremony involving the burning of an owl effigy and public urination (I kid you not). Overall, the message seems to be this: the world is full of weird people and weird clubs, but hyperbole and fear can make many things worse than they are.

Criticism is sparse - there are a few chapters that seemed a little isolated and pointless as anecdotes, but overall the construction was excellent. The only lasting negative impression I have is that I suspect the author is a bit of a distasteful person (is that even a criticism?). It doesn't matter. If my snippets of bizarreness and human examination haven't convinced you already, I'll resort to simple instruction: read this book. Read it. Read it