Off the Edge
Flat Earthers, Conspiracy Culture, and Why People Will Believe Anything
Since 2015, there has been a spectacular boom in a centuries-old delusion: that the earth is flat. More and more people believe that we all live on a pancake-shaped planet, capped by a solid dome and ringed by an impossible wall of ice.
In Off the Edge, journalist Kelly Weill draws a direct line from today’s conspiratorial moment, brimming not just with Flat Earthers but also anti-vaxxers and QAnon followers, back to the early days of Flat Earth theory in the 1830s. We learn the natural impulses behind these beliefs: when faced with a complicated world out of our control, humans have always sought patterns to explain the inexplicable. This psychology doesn’t change. But with the dawn of the twenty-first century, something else has shifted. Powered by Facebook and YouTube algorithms, the Flat Earth movement is growing.
At once a definitive history of the movement and an essential look at its unbelievable present, Off the Edge introduces us to a cast of larger-than-life characters. We meet historical figures like the nineteenth-century grifter who first popularized the theory, as well as the many modern-day Flat Earthers Weill herself gets to know, from moms on vacation to determined creationists to neo-Nazi rappers. We discover what, and who, converts people to Flat Earth belief, and what happens inside the rabbit hole. And we even meet a man determined to fly into space in a homemade rocket-powered balloon—whose tragic death is as senseless and absurd as the theory he sets out to prove.
In this incisive and powerful story about belief, Kelly Weill explores how we arrived at this moment of polarized realities and explains what needs to happen so that we might all return to the same spinning globe.
"Veteran narrator Sands is an ideal voice for this nonfiction title. Her careful pacing favors that of natural speech, which helps the listener stay connected . . . Sands brings just enough of the author's opinions into her narration to convey the tone without going overboard, even as sometimes disturbingly outlandish claims are recounted. A pleasant and engaging presentation of a topic that will be high on the list of contemporary concerns for many library patrons."
"Xe Sands is the perfect narrator here as she navigates these unbelievable beliefs with a touch of tongue-in-cheek in her tone while still exuding empathy...Those who value information literacy will love hearing what this book reveals. Recommended." —Library Journal's Audio Newsletter
“A deep dive into the world of flat Earth conspiracy theorists . . . that brilliantly reveals how people fall into illogical beliefs, reject reason, destroy relationships, and connect with a broad range of conspiracy theories in the social media age. Beautiful, probing, and often empathetic . . . An insightful, human look at what fuels conspiracy theories.”
"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."
"Insightful and surprisingly empathetic . . . an illuminating take on a much scrutinized subject."
“An illuminating study that locates the common human psychological impulses behind conspiracy culture.”
“In lively prose, Weill untangles the most complicated webs, revealing the real people who believe the unbelievable.”
"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