Them: Adventures with Extremists by Jon Ronson (Audiobook)


A humorous book about a serious topic.  Both sides of that appealed to me – I am always interested on a new perspective on a serious issue and often humour stimulates thought in novel and inventive ways.  For this to be done effectively, the humour has to be intelligent and sharp, treading a fine line between acceptability and exploitation.  This book, whilst amusing, doesn’t really hit the mark.

Ronson spent time with a cross-section of individuals that spanned some of the extremist spectrum from Islamic to neo-Nazi, mislabelled white extremists who are really conspiracy theorists dropping out of the mainstream to conspiracy theorists tracking down organisations rumoured to be running the world from behind the scenes who are really anti-Semitic extremists blaming world issues on a secretive Jewish conspiracy.  Oh, and David Icke, who is just a little bit barking.  It was by no means an exhaustive or balanced list.  In fact, it seemed to be a random cross-section of people that could actually put up with Ronson for a significant period of time (he does, I hate to say, come across as a bit whiney and spineless).   This randomness, despite the attempt to weave a slightly unifying recurring conspiracy theory throughout, was the book’s real failing.  While it starts out engagingly informal in Ronson’s interaction with his subjects, the lack of any concrete direction or aim behind his work wears thin as the book moves on.  It seems that Ronson is happy to let his subjects dictate the direction of the book – unfortunately, these are people who are in sore need of a GPS.  By the end of the book, I was finding it hard to maintain any interest in what the next extremist up had to say.

I don’t mean to imply that it was all bad.  It was interesting to see how much sympathy Ronson can generate for essentially unsympathetic characters.  It could be that I am prone to the peculiarly English trait of underdog supporting, but I couldn’t help but feel some form of pity for many of these people, all of whom were undeserving.  I think this is  a side effect of seeing people being obviously ridiculed but failing to grasp it fully.  There is a serious side to this in that it highlights that no-one is completely evil to everyone around them.  I guess, everyone’s Mother loves them.  Ronson can also be very funny on occasion and I did crack many a wry smile at his descriptions of certain events.

As with all audiobooks, the narrator is key to the enjoyment of the book.  I hate to say it but this is one book where the author would have been better left to write.  Ronson’s narration didn’t ruin the book but brought nothing to the audio presentation of it.  There were moments where it was funny to hear Ronson recount an event but they were far outweighed by the times that I wished someone with a greater oratory skill had had charge of the text.

Not a bad book but not quite as good as I thought it might be.  Worth a listen for a smile but without any of the depth that may have made it something more than simply playground ridicule.


4 thoughts on “Them: Adventures with Extremists by Jon Ronson (Audiobook)

    • I’m not put off enough to avoid the lure of the psychopaths one, I have to say. Probably going for print though on that one …

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