Stories Are Weapons: Psychological Warfare and the American Mind (Hardcover)
A sharp and timely exploration of the dark art of manipulation through weaponized storytelling, from the best-selling author of Four Lost Cities.
In Stories Are Weapons, best-selling author Annalee Newitz traces the way disinformation, propaganda, and violent threats—the essential tool kit for psychological warfare—have evolved from military weapons deployed against foreign adversaries into tools in domestic culture wars. Newitz delves into America’s deep-rooted history with psychological operations, beginning with Benjamin Franklin’s Revolutionary War–era fake newspaper and nineteenth-century wars on Indigenous nations, and reaching its apotheosis with the Cold War and twenty-first-century influence campaigns online. America’s secret weapon has long been coercive storytelling. And there’s a reason for that: operatives who shaped modern psychological warfare drew on their experiences as science fiction writers and in the advertising industry.
Now, through a weapons-transfer program long unacknowledged, psyops have found their way into the hands of culture warriors, transforming democratic debates into toxic wars over American identity. Newitz zeroes in on conflicts over race and intelligence, school board fights over LGBT students, and campaigns against feminist viewpoints, revealing how, in each case, specific groups of Americans are singled out and treated as enemies of the state. Crucially, Newitz delivers a powerful counternarrative, speaking with the researchers and activists who are outlining a pathway to achieving psychological disarmament and cultural peace.
Incisive and essential, Stories are Weapons reveals how our minds have been turned into blood-soaked battlegrounds—and how we can put down our weapons to build something better.
About the Author
Annalee Newitz is a journalist and author of science fiction and nonfiction, including the national best-seller Four Lost Cities. They write for the New York Times and New Scientist and co-host the Hugo Award–winning podcast Our Opinions Are Correct. They live in San Francisco.
Annalee Newitz always sees to the heart of complex systems and breaks them down with poetic ferocity.
— N.K. Jemisin, author of the Broken Earth trilogy
Annalee Newitz’s thoroughly researched and masterfully crafted book gives us something hopeful—a way to disarm the narratives that have been used against us and reclaim better ones.
— Ed Yong, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of An Immense World
A brilliant historical deep-dive into psyops, military covert influence operations, and the corporate attempts to conquer the mind. This will change the way you understand America.
— Molly Crabapple, author of Drawing Blood
Well-researched, accessible, and grounded in history, Stories Are Weapons is at once clarifying, terrifying, and forward-looking. An important contribution to a particular moment in time when so many of us are desperate to try to understand the precarious societal moment and peril in which we find ourselves.
— Anna Holmes, author of The Book of Jezebel
A penetrating, passionately-reasoned analysis of how propaganda and disinformation have been used as tactics of both hard and soft wars, and how we continue to be manipulated today. This is a storyteller’s account of the devastating force of storytelling.
— Angela Saini, author of The Patriarchs
Annalee Newitz shows how words can have more power than even bullets and bombs. A read very much worth your time, as much to make you rethink the world around you.
— P.W. Singer, author of LikeWar
Illuminating and energizing, Stories Are Weapons can help us defuse the propaganda bombs going off all around us. It also shows how we can come together to tell different stories—stories to shed light in the darkness, make sense amid chaos, and forge hope and community instead of fear and isolation.
— Astra Taylor, author of The Age of Insecurity