Adam Curtis (b. 1955 | English) isn’t a writer of books per se, but I place him in this category because I see his documentaries to be highly insightful and well worth learning from (incidentally, he describes himself as a historian). His pet theme can be summarised as: power and how it works in society. So, broadly speaking, his documentaries — that are noted for their music and pastiche of archive footage, focus on sociology, psychology, philosophy and political history.
Bidoonism’s six-bit Adam Curtis collection:
#1 — 2002
The Century of the Self
The Century of the Self is a four-part 2002 documentary series, produced for the BBC. In it, Curtis considers the rise of psychoanalysis as a powerful mean of persuasion for both governments and multinational corporations. In particular, it focuses on the work of (the psychoanalyst) Sigmund Freud and the PR consultant Edward Bernays. In the opening episode the following contention is made, “those in power [now use] Freud’s theories to try and control the dangerous crowd in an age of mass democracy.” View the episodes here:
#2 — 2004
The Power of Nightmares
The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear was produced as a BBC television documentary series. With the aid of lots of archive footage, Curtis explores the origins of contemporary Islamic fundamentalism. He draws parallels between it and Neo-conservatism in America and then considers the impact of both. It consists of three parts:
#3 — 2007
The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom was produced as a BBC television documentary series consisting of three 60-minute programmes which explore the modern concept and definition of freedom, specifically, “how a simplistic model of human beings as self-seeking, almost robotic, creatures led to today’s idea of freedom.” In this series, Curtis examines the rise of game theory during the Cold War and the way in which its mathematical models of human behaviour filtered into economic thought. He muses that Prozac — Happy Pills — are being used to normalise behaviour and make us behave more predictably… more like machines. He also looks at the concepts of positive and negative liberty — that were introduced in the 1950s by Isaiah Berlin — explaining how negative liberty might be defined as freedom from coercion, and positive liberty as the opportunity to strive to fulfill one’s potential. It consists of three parts:
#4 — 2011
All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace
All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace was was produced as a BBC documentary. In the three-part series, Curtis argues that computers have failed to liberate humanity, and instead have “distorted and simplified our view of the world around us.”
#5 — 2015
Bitter Lake was produced as a BBC documentary. It argues that Western politicians have manufactured a simplified story about militant Islam into a good vs. evil argument, informed by and a reaction to Western society’s increasing chaos and disorder, which they neither grasp nor understand.
#6 — 2016
HyperNormalisation was produced as a BBC documentary. It argues that governments, financiers, and technological utopians have, since the 1970s, given up on the complex “real world” and built a simpler “fake world” run by corporations and kept stable by politicians. It describes how — amongst others — technocrats and “Faustian internet entrepreneurs” have conspired to create an unreal world; one whose familiar and often comforting details blind us to its total inauthenticity.