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Easily Led
A History of Propaganda

Thomson, Oliver
Publisher:  Sutton Publishing, United Kingdom
Year Published:  1999  
Pages:  360pp   ISBN:  0-7509-1965-5

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"The plain truth will influence half a score of men at the most in a nation while mysteries will lead millions by the nose."

So is quoted Henry St John, Lord Bolingbroke, in Oliver Thomson's impressive overview of perhaps the third oldest profession, the propagandist. From Ancient Sumer to modern Poland, Thomson traces the use of propaganda and its influence on human events. Thomson defines the art of manipulation to include not only the newspaper coverage, polemical tracts and cartoons the modern viewer is familiar with, but also looks at architectural, rhythmic and poetic means of swaying the emotions and the intellect.

Thomson's attempt to profile the history of propaganda is not an unqualified success. Perhaps the task is more than a 300 page book is capable of. There are frequent moments when the reader feels hurried through room after room of an enormous museum with little time to study the individual exhibits. Easily Led is at its most successful when Thomson illustrates the role of propaganda in a particular historical moment. The marshalling of forces to sway public opinion during Julius Caesar's infamous affair with the Egyptian queen Cleopatra is a notable example. Here the picture is painted of the emotions surrounding a specific public spectacle, the geopolitical ramifications of it, and the methods used, or abused, by polemicists on all sides.

[Review by Kirsten Cowan]

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