Journalist and broadcaster Jon Ronson's first book Them: Adventures With Extremists is a mostly hilarious, occasionally chastening romp through the shadowy world of paranoid conspiracists. It proves a neat conceit. Ronson, a consummate faux-naïf, inevitably treads similar ground to Louis Theroux, though perhaps with a lighter, more disingenuous patter, which sustains him in encounters that veer from the extraordinary to the mundane at dizzying pace, and blur the space between. He meets Omar, the infuriatingly likeable Islamic fundamentalist organising a jihad from a North London semi, despite a more real struggle with the reprographic world, and PR-conscious Klu Klux Klan leader, Thom Robb, who unaccountably has Jewish mannerisms. Others who allow Ronson to share a window in the life, and possibly into their soul, include David Icke, still believing that the world's ruling elite are descended from reptiles (no, really), Dr Ian Paisley, and Tony Kaye, a Hollywood director, determined to sabotage his own movie, American History X, rather than see it publicly released without his approval. These are easy pickings, but Ronson picks them with unobtrusive and gentle irony.
His main mission, though, is to track down the Bilderberg Group, who reputedly comprise the world's leading figures, and who, it is believed by the likes of Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam Hussein and "Soho Bomber" David Copeland, want to enforce global capitalism. As if. However, the alleged sighting of Peter Mandelson, attending a Bilderberg gathering, surely portends more for the British reader. Ronson's escapades--"I am a humorous journalist out of my depth", he informs the British Embassy in Portugal when his car is tailed--uncovers more truth than one would expect, though none greater than the depressing but crushingly realistic notion that even the most powerful public figures are, at play, little more than preppies or undergraduates, who enjoy worshipping owl effigies, wearing false breasts and urinating in public. Luckily, Ronson tires of the corkscrewing paranoia and subterfuge before the reader, leaving a rich impression of a world affirmingly varied and absurd, if endearingly familiar. But, having attended a Bilderberg meeting, perhaps he would, wouldn't he?--David Vincent [via]