By Megan Harlan
Updated July 16, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

The ”epidemics” of crack babies, road rage, unwed teenage mothers, and flesh-eating bacteria made for some of the most frightening — and memorable — news stories of the ’80s and ’90s. But what’s really chilling, says sociologist Barry Glassner, is how baseless many such ”trends” actually were. In The Culture of Fear: Why Americans are Afraid of the Wrong Things he lucidly exposes how the media and politicians play to Americans’ fears, presenting anomalous incidents as rampant dangers. Nevertheless, Glassner claims that there is more to fear than fear itself: While we’re distracted by flashy frights like the latest ”killer” microbe, the deeper, less hype-worthy threats to society — such as higher rates of poverty and underperforming schools — remain scarily underreported. B+