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Off the Edge

Flat Earthers, Conspiracy Culture, and Why People Will Believe Anything

By Kelly Weill

Since 2015, there has been a spectacular boom in a nearly two-hundred-year-old delusion—the idea that we all live on a flat plane, under a solid dome, ringed by an impossible wall of ice. It is the ultimate in conspiracy theories, a wholesale rejection of everything we know to be true about the world in which we live. Where did this idea come from? Weill draws a straight line from today’s conspiratorial moment back to the early days of Flat Earth theory in the 1830s, showing the human impulses behind divergences in belief. Faced with a complicated world out of our individual control, we naturally seek patterns to explain the inexplicable. The only difference between then and now? Social media. And, powered by Facebook and YouTube algorithms, the Flat Earth movement is growing.
 
At once a definitive history of the movement and a readable look at its expansive, absurd, and dangerous present, Off the Edge introduces us to a cast of larger-than-life characters, from 19th-century grifters to 20th-century small-town tyrants to the provocateurs of Alex Jones’s early-aughts internet, whose rancor sowed the early seeds of our modern division. We accompany Weill to Flat Earther conferences, where we meet moms on vacation, determined creationists, scammy YouTube celebrities and their victims, neo-Nazi rappers, and even a man determined to fly into space in a homemade rocket-powered balloon—whose tragic death proves as senseless and absurd as the theory he set out to prove.
 
Incisive and clear-eyed, Off the Edge tells a powerful story about belief, exploring how we arrived at this moment of polarized realities and explaining what needs to happen so that we might all return to the same spinning globe.

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Kelly Weill headshot

Kelly Weill

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Review quotes
"This provocative book is sure to inspire debate about conspiracy theories as well as how citizens of a fractured world can learn to overcome their fear of radical planetary change. A timely and disturbing study of flawed, dangerous thinking."
Kirkus Reviews

"Insightful and surprisingly empathetic . . . an illuminating take on a much scrutinized subject."
Publishers Weekly

"An inquisitive, empathetic, deeply reported, and disturbingly funny tour through the furthest reaches of the most fringe possible conspiracy community. While Weill's subjects frequently risk falling off the edge of their own self-created map of the known universe, she follows them deftly to the brink, showing what their delusional explorations can teach us about belief, community, and the long history of pseudoscience around (sorry!) the world."
Anna Merlan, author of Republic of Lies

"In this delightful deep dive into flat earth culture past and present, taking in YouTube recommendation algorithms, amateur rocketry, and a rat’s nest of conspiracy theories, Kelly Weill explains why, after several millennia of setbacks, the idea that the earth is flat is burgeoning once again."
—Michael Strevens, author of The Knowledge Machine

"Weill's elegant writing, informed by both historical research and deep-delving reporting, offers a complex and vivid portrait of a conspiracy community that serves as a metonym for this moment—when so many of us are in dispute about the very nature of reality. An essential and enjoyable read." 
Talia Lavin, author of Culture Warlords
 
“Kelly Weill is one of the best observers of the fringes of modern American life, making her the perfect chronicler of the Flat Earth movement. Her deep reporting and gift for storytelling make Off The Edge a gripping read— but what sets Weill apart is her ability to cover her subjects with great empathy, all without losing sight of the enormous damage and personal consequences of their actions.”
Charlie Warzel, co-authorof Out of Office
Product Details
Categories
Number of pages
256
Publication date
February 22, 2022
ISBN
9781643750682