The Martians are coming! At least that is what thousands of Americans thought when they heard Orson Welles and the other members of the cast of the Mercury Theatre group. The troupe, known for transforming popular literature, chose Halloween Eve to perform a radio version of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds.
The program sparked an immediate public reaction. Several police departments were over-run by phone calls. Some people panicked, calling loved ones in places named as being invaded. Others left their homes or headed to bomb shelters. Yet others were furious - some about being duped, some at the radio station for allowing such an event; and some about the "damage" it caused.
The author introduces readers to the people involved, including screenwriters, producers, and performers. Readers not only learn about the process and players but also can visualize the material with photos and illustrations.
Although I had certainly heard about Orson Welles' broadcast, I had not ever read much about it. I truly appreciated how the author helped set the context for the event - from explaining how radio programs worked to international events influencing people's thinking. I also liked how we move through the evening with a chance to read the script and see the points at which listeners should have been able to tell the broadcast was a fake.
The collection of photos is wonderful, the information about US culture fascinating, and the biography of Orson Welles and some of the other players, eye-opening. Don't dismiss this as a history book! It has great potential to be a launching point for discussions about the power of words, how we form our opinions/ideas about the world around us, and the responsibilities of those who are "gatekeepers" for publishing information. We think of "fake news" as something new - is it?
Exceptional writing and a slew of photographs immerse readers in one of the most notorious events in US radio history. The author does an exceptional job helping readers realize that history doesn't always mean "the past."
Through picture, narrative, and presentation of the actual script, readers experience the famous "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast.
There are lots of layers to explore with this book. The most obvious is the power of the spoken word and media (e.g., "fake news"). This happened in 1938, have there been other parallels in history? Here are some other discussion questions:
- How would officials respond to something like this happen today?
- Were there other ways to have prevented some of the dramatic reactions to the story?
- The show aired on Halloween Eve - would it have had the same reaction if presented at a different time of year?
- Should the actors, radio station, et al, have been punished for the unintended consequences?
The author also does an exceptional job explaining cultural activities and norms, as well as events that influenced their response to what they heard. What were they?
Readers are introduced to H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds and Orson Wells. Reading the book and watching some of Wells' movies can give readers an even deeper understanding of the times.
12 and Up
This is a buy for any reader who loves mysteries, media, or history.