Conspiracy Theories in American History

An Encyclopedia

by Peter Knight, Editor


Rocked by assassinations and sneak attacks, roiled by political intrigues, economic gyrations, and witch-hunts of all kinds, America has seen its worst nightmares come true time and again. No wonder it is such a hotbed of conspiracy fears—some limited to the paranoid fringe, some accepted by the mainstream, some all too well founded.

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Cover image for Conspiracy Theories in American History

December 2003


Pages 925
Volumes 2
Size 8 1/2x11
Topics American History/General
  • Award Winner!




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The first comprehensive history of conspiracies and conspiracy theories in the United States.

Conspiracy Theories in American History: An Encyclopedia is the first comprehensive, research-based, scholarly study of the pervasiveness of our deeply ingrained culture of conspiracy. From the Puritan witch trials to the Masons, from the Red Scare to Watergate, Whitewater, and the War on Terror, this encyclopedia covers conspiracy theories across the breadth of U.S. history, examining the individuals, organizations, and ideas behind them. Its over 300 alphabetical entries cover both the documented records of actual conspiracies and the cultural and political significance of specific conspiracy speculations.

Neither promoting nor dismissing any theory, the entries move beyond the usual biased rhetoric to provide a clear-sighted, dispassionate look at each conspiracy (real or imagined). Readers will come to understand the political and social contexts in which these theories arose, the mindsets and motivations of the people promoting them, the real impact of society's reactions to conspiracy fears, warranted or not, and the verdict (when verifiable) that history has passed on each case.


  • Over 300 A–Z entries on various events, ideas, and persons, as well as crucial supporting and refuting evidence, and competing explanations for the origins, history, and popularity of this mode of political thought
  • Primary documents from organizations promoting conspiracy theories
  • Contributions from over 100 international scholars with a full range of historical expertise
  • Separate section containing about 100 illustrative extracts covering the full range of American history, each with a brief headnote placing it in context


  • The first comprehensive, scholarly reference on conspiracies and conspiracy theory in the United States
  • Rigorous for the scholarly community yet accessible to the general reading public
  • Focuses on the motives and political and social origins of the people arguing the conspiracy
Author Info

Peter Knight, PhD, is a lecturer in American studies at the University of Manchester, Manchester, England. His published works include Conspiracy Culture: From the Kennedy Assassination to the X-Files.



"The editors of this fine reference rightfully assert that 'conspiracy theories have played a vital role in shaping the course of American history.' . . . The first to cover the subject comprehensively, this work offers a dispassionate look at conspiracy theories, from the Boston Tea Party to September 11, 2001, placing each in the context of its time."Library Journal

"This is a fascinating reference . . . [A]n excellent addition to academic and large public libraries."Booklist

"The encyclopedia admirably accomplishes its goals . . . Articles are generally engaging and first rate in their scholarship. . . . Unique in both format and content, this is a serious and worthwhile effort, and will surely become one of the more popular reference titles in many library collections."American Reference Books Annual


Best Reference Source 2003 — Library Journal

In the News

The New Yorker, What's New About Conspiracy Theories?, 4/15/2019

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