Fantasyland Book Summary - Fantasyland Book explained in key points
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Fantasyland summary

Kurt Andersen

How America Went Haywire

3.2 (101 ratings)
15 mins

Brief summary

'Fantasyland' by Kurt Andersen is a provocative and insightful exploration of America's history of magical thinking and unbounded optimism, revealing how our uniquely American brand of credulity has played a crucial role in shaping our country's identity and culture.

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    Envious of Spain’s new wealth, early English colonists fantasized about finding gold in North America.

    In 1492, Christopher Columbus set out on an expedition to find a better shipping route between Europe and Asia and failed spectacularly. But he didn’t come home empty-handed. Instead, he found the Americas, a “New World” that promised great wealth and splendor for the big European powers.

    Shortly after Columbus’s discovery, more explorers were sent across the Atlantic by the king of Spain, and as they traveled down into Mexico and South America, they finally found what everyone craved: gold.

    Specifically, the Spanish explorers stumbled upon the Aztec and Inca empires and their impressive gold supplies, which they promptly began pilfering and mining on a massive scale. These ill-gotten gains quickly turned Spain into a powerful transatlantic empire, much to the seething jealousy of England.

    Soon, the English court was dreaming up its own American discoveries, with visions of giant boats filled with gold arriving in the Thames.

    In the late 1500s, the English aristocrat Sir Walter Raleigh commissioned a report designed to persuade Queen Elizabeth I that the soil in North America was surely filled with untold quantities of gold. Although the report was nothing more than a collection of baseless hearsay and secondhand information, it was all Elizabeth needed to launch several English gold-seeking expeditions.

    Ship after ship of English colonists were sent with orders to find gold and send it back. But they found nothing but death. On the first expedition, large numbers died in their fruitless search for gold, and during the second, every last colonist died.

    Undeterred by this string of disasters, England’s next ruler, King James, wasn’t about to let England’s fantasies of gold go unrealized. So more colonists were dispatched to set up a base on the east coast of North America and send back whatever riches they could produce.

    These were the colonists who founded Jamestown in Virginia, and after half of them died miserable deaths they eventually found one successful product to ship home: tobacco.

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    What is Fantasyland about?

    Fantasyland (2017) takes readers on a journey through the past 500 years of American history to show just how often this land has been home to people with a bewildering take on reality. Through a wealth of examples, Andersen tells us how Americans have indulged in some far-fetched fantasies in their excuses for gun ownership, slavery and new religions.

    Fantasyland Review

    Fantasyland (2017) explores the rise of America's obsession with unreal narratives and the consequences of blurring fact and fiction. Here's why this thought-provoking book is worth reading:

    • It delves into the peculiar and fascinating history of how America became a society where belief in the fantastical is deeply entrenched.
    • Through a wide range of examples, it unveils the distorted realities and ideologies that flourish in America, shedding light on our current cultural landscape.
    • Using a blend of insightful analysis and engaging storytelling, Andersen challenges readers to question their own beliefs and confront the roots of our shared fantasyland.

    Best quote from Fantasyland

    The hobby of collecting baseball cards, which used to be primarily a childhood activity, became an  adult activity in the 1980s.

    —Kurt Andersen
    example alt text

    Who should read Fantasyland?

    • Students of American history
    • Readers interested in politics or current affairs
    • Anyone skeptical of American culture

    About the Author

    Kurt Andersen is the bestselling author of the novels Heyday and Turn of the Century, and his writing has also appeared in the New York Times and Vanity Fair. Aside from his novels and journalistic work, he’s also the host of the Peabody Award-winning radio program Studio 360.

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    Fantasyland FAQs 

    What is the main message of Fantasyland?

    The main message of Fantasyland is that America has always been a country of dreamers, where imagination and belief in the impossible have shaped its identity.

    How long does it take to read Fantasyland?

    The reading time for Fantasyland varies depending on the reader's speed, but it typically takes several hours. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Fantasyland a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Fantasyland is a thought-provoking read that challenges our understanding of American history and the power of belief. It's definitely worth exploring.

    Who is the author of Fantasyland?

    The author of Fantasyland is Kurt Andersen.

    What to read after Fantasyland?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Fantasyland, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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    • Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche
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    • The Third Chimpanzee by Jared Diamond
    • The 5 AM Club by Robin Sharma
    • Skin in the Game by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
    • A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
    • Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari