Friday, April 26, 2013

PimPage: An Occasional Feature in Which I Call Attention to Books of Interest When Mars Attacked: Orson Welles, The War of the Worlds & the Radio Broadcast That Changed America Forever eBook: David Acord: Kindle Store

On October 30, 1938, Orson Welles broadcast a radio adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds…and the country would never again be the same. Written in a realistic style that mimicked “breaking news” bulletins, the play convinced listeners from coast to coast that the United States was actually being invaded by Martians. The ensuing panic made Welles an overnight sensation – and one of the most hated men in America. 

The War of the Worlds panic was one of the twentieth century’s defining moments, and remains an indelible part of our culture. But serious questions and misconceptions still linger. Did Orson Welles actually intend to “trick” the American public? Was the broadcast a hoax or an unfortunate accident? Did listeners commit suicide and drive their cars off of bridges, as rumors claimed? How exactly did he come up with the idea in the first place? And most importantly – why did so many people believe that what they were hearing on the radio was real? 

When Mars Attacked tells the riveting true story of the broadcast: Orson Welles’ sudden rise to fame in the mid-1930s; the social and political forces of the Great Depression and an impending World War that aligned to create a “perfect storm” of anxiety leading up to the broadcast; the massive controversy that followed in its wake; and the untold story of how close the country came to imposing sweeping restrictions on free speech in order to ensure that nothing like The War of the Worlds panic ever happened again. 

Incorporating never-before-seen government documents and rare correspondence locked away in the National Archives for decades, When Mars Attacked is a first-rate nonfiction account of a pivotal moment in American history. Author and veteran Washington, D.C. journalist David Acord offers a vivid retelling of that fateful night in 1938, essentially re-reporting the chaos minute by minute just as it unfolded, in a fast-paced, riveting “tick-tock” fashion. 

The War of the Worlds still haunts us, and offers a sobering lesson on what can happen when embattled citizens lose both hope and their sense of perspective in the midst of dismal economic conditions and international military threats. Although it was broadcast more than seven decades ago, Orson Welles’ radio play is more relevant than ever.

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