Sunday, September 30, 2018

Fall Reading 2018 Spooked! How a Radio Broadcast and The War of the Worlds Sparked the 1938 Invasion of America


It seems, looking back into the dim recesses of the past, that a language arts teacher played the recording of the Orson Welles radio broadcast for us in class at some point. If you haven't heard it yet, you can find it online in a variety of places from YouTube to Audible. But what Gail Jarrow does in this book is trace the path of Welles to the Mercury Theater's time on air and their performance of The War of the Worlds. An excellent timeline in the back matter covers all the major steps along the way.

The narrative gives details of the major players in the adaptation and performance, the social setting (the Great Depression, the American fascination with radio, and fears based on Hitler's rise in Europe), and the reaction and aftermath of the broadcast. Images show the performers, families listening to their radios, headlines, excerpts from letters and telegrams sent in by listeners, and even a photo of the commemorative plaque from Grovers Mill. Illustrations from a 1906 French version of the H.G. Wells book are used to great effect as the radio broadcast is described.

Back matter has a lot to offer for readers who have their interest piqued. There is a section offering websites, DVDs, and books on the broadcast, Welles, Mars, other famous hoaxes, and related fiction. An author's note explains the process Jarrow used to research and write this account. Source notes, a selected biography, picture credits, and an index round out the helpful material.

In this day of fake news and the need for information users to practice discernment and a healthy level of skepticism, this is an amazing example from American history on what happens when people blindly accept media at face value. This book would be a solid way to launch a unit on vetting information sources and hoaxes in general. It is also a great gift for sci-fi fans or anyone interested in broadcasting and media careers.

I read a review copy provided by the publisher.

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