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The Unidentified: Mythical Monsters, Alien Encounters, and Our Obsession with the Unexplained

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America's favorite cultural historian and author of Ghostland takes a tour of the country's most persistent "unexplained" phenomena In a world where rational, scientific explanations are more available than ever, belief in the unprovable and irrational--in fringe--is on the rise: from Atlantis to aliens, from Flat Earth to the Loch Ness monster, the list goes on. It seems t America's favorite cultural historian and author of Ghostland takes a tour of the country's most persistent "unexplained" phenomena In a world where rational, scientific explanations are more available than ever, belief in the unprovable and irrational--in fringe--is on the rise: from Atlantis to aliens, from Flat Earth to the Loch Ness monster, the list goes on. It seems the more our maps of the known world get filled in, the more we crave mysterious locations full of strange creatures. Enter Colin Dickey, Cultural Historian and Tour Guide of the Weird. With the same curiosity and insight that made Ghostland a hit with readers and critics, Colin looks at what all fringe beliefs have in common, explaining that today's Illuminati is yesterday's Flat Earth: the attempt to find meaning in a world stripped of wonder. Dickey visits the wacky sites of America's wildest fringe beliefs--from the famed Mount Shasta where the ancient race (or extra-terrestrials, or possibly both, depending on who you ask) called Lemurians are said to roam, to the museum containing the last remaining "evidence" of the great Kentucky Meat Shower--investigating how these theories come about, why they take hold, and why as Americans we keep inventing and re-inventing them decade after decade. The Unidentified is Colin Dickey at his best: curious, wry, brilliant in his analysis, yet eminently readable.


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America's favorite cultural historian and author of Ghostland takes a tour of the country's most persistent "unexplained" phenomena In a world where rational, scientific explanations are more available than ever, belief in the unprovable and irrational--in fringe--is on the rise: from Atlantis to aliens, from Flat Earth to the Loch Ness monster, the list goes on. It seems t America's favorite cultural historian and author of Ghostland takes a tour of the country's most persistent "unexplained" phenomena In a world where rational, scientific explanations are more available than ever, belief in the unprovable and irrational--in fringe--is on the rise: from Atlantis to aliens, from Flat Earth to the Loch Ness monster, the list goes on. It seems the more our maps of the known world get filled in, the more we crave mysterious locations full of strange creatures. Enter Colin Dickey, Cultural Historian and Tour Guide of the Weird. With the same curiosity and insight that made Ghostland a hit with readers and critics, Colin looks at what all fringe beliefs have in common, explaining that today's Illuminati is yesterday's Flat Earth: the attempt to find meaning in a world stripped of wonder. Dickey visits the wacky sites of America's wildest fringe beliefs--from the famed Mount Shasta where the ancient race (or extra-terrestrials, or possibly both, depending on who you ask) called Lemurians are said to roam, to the museum containing the last remaining "evidence" of the great Kentucky Meat Shower--investigating how these theories come about, why they take hold, and why as Americans we keep inventing and re-inventing them decade after decade. The Unidentified is Colin Dickey at his best: curious, wry, brilliant in his analysis, yet eminently readable.

30 review for The Unidentified: Mythical Monsters, Alien Encounters, and Our Obsession with the Unexplained

  1. 4 out of 5

    Bryan Alkire

    I have a soft spot for books which attempt to explain the culture behind fringe ideas. This books lays out the origins of various ideas and the culture thereof. I’d heard about many of them, but there was some new material as well.The writing is balanced and non-judgemental about the topics, but does point out where factors such as illness and confirmed hoaxes play their part. I especially enjoyed reading about the changes within the topics as they reflect the trends and worries of the day. In s I have a soft spot for books which attempt to explain the culture behind fringe ideas. This books lays out the origins of various ideas and the culture thereof. I’d heard about many of them, but there was some new material as well.The writing is balanced and non-judgemental about the topics, but does point out where factors such as illness and confirmed hoaxes play their part. I especially enjoyed reading about the changes within the topics as they reflect the trends and worries of the day. In short, a book on an odd subject, but worth reading if you’re interested in the area.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    Thoughts soon.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ross Blocher

    As a huge fan of all things paranormal, cryptozoological and Fortean, I thoroughly enjoyed The Unidentified: Mythical Monsters, Alien Encounters, and Our Obsession with the Unexplained. Colin Dickey takes on a huge topic and jumps enthusiastically from one representative example to the next with just enough information to help us understand the foundational stories, the characters involved, the data available, the resulting mythos and the underlying psychology. As someone who reads a lot about t As a huge fan of all things paranormal, cryptozoological and Fortean, I thoroughly enjoyed The Unidentified: Mythical Monsters, Alien Encounters, and Our Obsession with the Unexplained. Colin Dickey takes on a huge topic and jumps enthusiastically from one representative example to the next with just enough information to help us understand the foundational stories, the characters involved, the data available, the resulting mythos and the underlying psychology. As someone who reads a lot about these topics, I was impressed at just how often Dickey could surprise me with fun anecdotes and insights I hadn't heard before. Oliver Wendell Holmes gave us the term "crank". Lemuria (a hypothetical disappeared continent slightly less well known than Atlantis) was originally conceived as a solution to the geographical distribution of lemurs. Bigfoot legends encode elements of racism and appropriation. Betty and Barny Hill's original abduction experience gave us gray aliens as a race-less compromise between black and white. The Kentucky Meat Shower... well, that's just a fascinating story period, and I only vaguely knew about it before. All along the way, Dickey draws fascinating connections between important figures in the paranormal world. His commentary is insightful and thought-provoking. There's just enough scientific explanation to keep us grounded in reality, but also some unresolved mysteries that we'll never get fully satisfactory answers to. He explores why we want those answers so badly, and why it's not enough for many of us just to say, "I don't know." I listened to this as an audio book, but I've already reserved the ebook from the library so I can give it another pass and absorb the factual pieces more thoroughly. Don't expect an encycopedia of all things unexplained, but a delicious sampling platter that will leave you wanting more. Highly recommended for anyone who's already a fan of the unexplained, or for those who would like a spirited guide to lead them on a tour of the topic.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Lyn❤Loves❤Listening #AUDIOBOOKADDICT

    Audio - 5 Stars Story - 4 Stars Interesting and entertaining listen. I appreciate that the author doesn't try to persuade or dissuade the reader's/listener's of the accounts presented in the book. I also liked his theories on why some people are believers and why some aren't. Audio - 5 Stars Story - 4 Stars Interesting and entertaining listen. I appreciate that the author doesn't try to persuade or dissuade the reader's/listener's of the accounts presented in the book. I also liked his theories on why some people are believers and why some aren't.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Bandit

    There’s a certain fascination I have with all these mythical things Colin Dickey writes about, but that fascination never reaches the levels he addresses in the book. I’d like to live in a world shared with prehistoric sea (lake) monsters and Yetis and Sasquatches, but I’d never go hunt for them. I’m fascinated by the concept of extraterrestrial life, but realistic enough to know that probably wouldn’t go around grabbing people of the roads and poking their butts. I’m hugely entertained by the A There’s a certain fascination I have with all these mythical things Colin Dickey writes about, but that fascination never reaches the levels he addresses in the book. I’d like to live in a world shared with prehistoric sea (lake) monsters and Yetis and Sasquatches, but I’d never go hunt for them. I’m fascinated by the concept of extraterrestrial life, but realistic enough to know that probably wouldn’t go around grabbing people of the roads and poking their butts. I’m hugely entertained by the Ancient Aliens theories but know enough historical facts to make sure my entertainment is just that. But…the thing is a lot of people don’t have that sort of balance. There are statistics that speak to the considerable increase of all manner of supernatural and otherworldly believes sin the recent years In the US, specifically since 2016. Gee, imagine that, as if there were no other tells about just how much dumber the general population is getting. Anyway…the author takes them all on, or at least does an excellent job of explaining why this is occurring. Oh, what? Did you expect a fun cozy read about Yetis and ETs? Nah, Colin Dickey’s too serious and too smart of an author for that. Instead, much like with his terrific Ghostland, he presents a sociocultural anthropology on the culture of belief. And the theory he posits goes something like this…once upon a time science and religion were intertwined, one informed the other and so on, but starting in 18th century science took a more rigorously empirical and subsequently more secular approach, the two diverged and the world became gradually more and more explained and explicable. Some people took comfort in that, some thought the modern world lacked mystery, so much so that they invented their own. The latter, the cranks, gave us all or most of the notions that populate this book and speculative gossip rags of the supermarket checkout lanes fame. To me, this is absolutely fascinating, social psychology at its best. Much like cults, the mentality behind these believes is a sort of self perpetuating, self reinforcing loop that’s all but impervious to empirical evidence of scientific facts. Moreover, when people are distrusting of their governments (and why wouldn’t they be, really, especially these days), these ideas become even more prevalent. So there’s really no way to debunk or convert or rationalize with the genuine believers, because for them it’s a matter of faith not logic and for them the two appear to be mutually exclusive. And that’s just…wild, isn’t it. The willingness to so completely abandon all reason, all sorts of balanced skepticism and just…go for it. To thoroughly ignore all findings or (as they, the cranks, so often do) subvert their meaning to fit or prove their theories…really, really interesting. Psychologically speaking, at least. Time and again, the author debunks this theories, shows that they originates in bunkum or forgeries or outright fiction and yet…it doesn’t seem to matter to the foilhatted mystery chasers. And, frankly, of all the misinformation out there (government perpetuated and otherwise) poised to do real damage, this is the very least of it, the easiest to live and let live sort of thing. But it is so interesting to read about. And Colin Dickey’s an excellent author, so smart, so clever with the connections he makes and explanations he presents, a sceptic, for sure, but a well informed intelligent one, the best kind. This book, like Ghostland, is some percent travelogue, some science, some historical facts, some theory. A well balanced pie chart for a well balanced pie. Yummy I especially love the way the author traces back the origins of all these conspiracy and otherwise theories. It’s more serious that some might expect from the title, so serious that once again it features no photos even and not much on the amusing asides, but it’s very good and well worth a read, especially for us, zombies, as in creatures interested in people’s brains, how they work, taste, etc. Edifying educational entertainment at its best. Recommended.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Rachelle

    "If there is a lesson here, it is to cling to the wonder, to the possibilities, without allowing your doubt to become its own certainty. The goal should never be to narrow the world, but to enlarge it." In an honest and unbiased look Dickey takes some of the biggest of these encounters and systematically takes them apart to the core. This is a well researched book, but it sometimes read rather dry to me. Dickey is a pretty good writer but the amount of quotes in this book is overwhelming. Overal "If there is a lesson here, it is to cling to the wonder, to the possibilities, without allowing your doubt to become its own certainty. The goal should never be to narrow the world, but to enlarge it." In an honest and unbiased look Dickey takes some of the biggest of these encounters and systematically takes them apart to the core. This is a well researched book, but it sometimes read rather dry to me. Dickey is a pretty good writer but the amount of quotes in this book is overwhelming. Overall though a good read, very informative and interesting.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Drew

    Man, this disappointed the hell out of me. I loved Dickey's first book, Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places, and the way that he navigated the question not of whether or not ghosts are real but rather why we seek to believe in them and why certain spaces seem to call them forth (literally or otherwise). I was eager to see him take on cryptozoology and UFOs and conspiracies with that same tone -- which, in many ways, he does! But I found this book far less effective. The short sketch Man, this disappointed the hell out of me. I loved Dickey's first book, Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places, and the way that he navigated the question not of whether or not ghosts are real but rather why we seek to believe in them and why certain spaces seem to call them forth (literally or otherwise). I was eager to see him take on cryptozoology and UFOs and conspiracies with that same tone -- which, in many ways, he does! But I found this book far less effective. The short sketches of stories, while still presented without judgement, often felt like just that: sketches. The general tone of the book felt flat, as though he'd tried to expand a few essays (call it one each about monsters, UFOs, etc) into something that it wouldn't quite sustain. While it was interesting (and, yes, a bit disheartening) to hear about the various ways that some of our formative cultural myths (the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, the beginnings of the wave of UFO sightings in the 30s and 40s) are in fact fake, and that we simply still (as the saying goes) want to believe, his thesis seemed unfocused and I found myself annoyed at how some of the entries were essentially gussied-up Wikipedia or Reddit articles. Lightning not striking twice here, I'm afraid.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Caidyn (he/him/his)

    I received an ARC through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review! 3.5/5 One thing I don't mention a lot on my various reviewing platforms is that I'm really big into the supernatural/paranormal/cryptids. Like, ever since I was a little kid, I've been fascinated. I would watch tons of shows about this and yeah. Big old nerd about these things, even if I don't read about it often. This is an interesting book because while it covers cryptozoology and aliens, it also talks about the various governm I received an ARC through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review! 3.5/5 One thing I don't mention a lot on my various reviewing platforms is that I'm really big into the supernatural/paranormal/cryptids. Like, ever since I was a little kid, I've been fascinated. I would watch tons of shows about this and yeah. Big old nerd about these things, even if I don't read about it often. This is an interesting book because while it covers cryptozoology and aliens, it also talks about the various governmental conspiracy theories and how our obsessions have changed over the years, including the reasons why we might have been interested as well. It's a very interesting read for that reason because a lot of the historical things weren't things I necessarily knew, although when Dickey connected things it made sense for the current social events going on at that time. While I did lose interest at times -- I like cryptozoology, but I don't find aliens and government conspiracies as interesting -- it was still an informative read. Dickey is definitely an author I'll be checking out again!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

    I thought I’d enjoy the book more. It discusses beliefs in the supernatural and why they come about. The first chapters explain how the Western culture changed from being religious to more scientific and that prompted beliefs that were different. Science were for the Ivy League students with the first Bachelor’s of Science given at Yale. The latter chapters recount instances of people seeing UFOs, Loch Ness monster, Yeti, and falling meat. Some stories are better than others but most aren’t that I thought I’d enjoy the book more. It discusses beliefs in the supernatural and why they come about. The first chapters explain how the Western culture changed from being religious to more scientific and that prompted beliefs that were different. Science were for the Ivy League students with the first Bachelor’s of Science given at Yale. The latter chapters recount instances of people seeing UFOs, Loch Ness monster, Yeti, and falling meat. Some stories are better than others but most aren’t that compelling. The one connection among the many is hidden a continent called Lumeria which once sank according to common beliefs. Not interesting.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Em

    I can’t say enough good things about this book. Dickey is so smart and writes with such clarity of thought and voice. He also has no interest in proving or disproving the existence of extraterrestrials, cryptids, lost civilizations, etc - the point here is to situate these fringe beliefs in the societies from which they arose and examine what they tell us about the believer through the lens of culture, science, epistemology, the psychogeography of America, and the very human need for answers. A I can’t say enough good things about this book. Dickey is so smart and writes with such clarity of thought and voice. He also has no interest in proving or disproving the existence of extraterrestrials, cryptids, lost civilizations, etc - the point here is to situate these fringe beliefs in the societies from which they arose and examine what they tell us about the believer through the lens of culture, science, epistemology, the psychogeography of America, and the very human need for answers. A must-read for anyone who grew up on The X-Files, whether you’re a Mulder or a Scully.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Scott Rhee

    What transpires in a person’s brain to go from “Sure, it’s possible that the Loch Ness monster, Bigfoot, the lost continent of Atlantis, and alien UFOs may exist” to “Oh, they exist for sure, and anybody who tells you differently is somebody who is trying to suppress the truth”? What causes that mental switch to be flipped from everyday wonder and curiosity to radicalized fanatical belief? Colin Dickey attempts to explain this phenomenon in his book “The Unidentified: Mythical Monsters, Alien Enc What transpires in a person’s brain to go from “Sure, it’s possible that the Loch Ness monster, Bigfoot, the lost continent of Atlantis, and alien UFOs may exist” to “Oh, they exist for sure, and anybody who tells you differently is somebody who is trying to suppress the truth”? What causes that mental switch to be flipped from everyday wonder and curiosity to radicalized fanatical belief? Colin Dickey attempts to explain this phenomenon in his book “The Unidentified: Mythical Monsters, Alien Encounters, and Our Obsession with the Unexplained”. Dickey, like most rational-minded people, is a skeptic who also happens to be, like most rational-minded people, fascinated by stories of the unexplained. It’s a very human thing to be captivated by “true” stories of events that have no scientific explanation. Indeed, one aspect of those people who become radicalized true believers is an almost-pathological mistrust and fear of science. Many of us are all too aware of the anti-intellectual, anti-science beliefs that warp people’s views and can be a danger to society. We have seen it at its peak in the Trump Era, with politicians who completely ignore or deny the evidence supporting global climate change, parents who completely ignore the societal health benefits of childhood vaccinations, and people who blatantly disregard the state mandates for wearing masks and practicing social distancing due to Covid-19 because they believe that the pandemic is a government-created hoax. But this anti-science conspiracy-theory paranoia has been around for decades, if not longer. Dickey starts out by examining the history of the theory of Lemuria, an ancient lost continent (similar to Atlantis) that sank in the Indian Ocean thousands of years ago. It is a fascinating theory that is based on what any and all reputable scientists now considers an indisputable hoax and egregious pseudo-science. And yet there are still millions of people today who believe that Lemuria once existed. The same is true for the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, and most stories of UFOs. All of these started out as hoaxes perpetrated by, in most cases, people who just wanted a few bucks from newspapers that would publish their photos. Most of these people later went on record claiming that it was an elaborate lie, that their photos were doctored or faked. And yet, today, there are pseudo-scientists, calling themselves cryptozoologists, whose life goal is the search for these mythical creatures and millions of “UFOlogists” seeking the truth of alien visitors. It’s both funny and sad, depending on how one looks at it. Regardless of how one looks at it, though, it also attempts to satisfy a human need, according to Dickey. That need is the sense of mysticism and the divine that humanity is losing in this world of ever-increasing scientific and technological knowledge. Where nearly every inch of our planet has been mapped, we no longer have places on our maps that say “here there be monsters”, and, according to biologist John Napier, “[m]an needs his gods—-and his monsters, and the more remote and approachable they are, the better.” It is this need that is embodied in the now-famous poster of a UFO over the desk of Fox Mulder, the FBI agent investigating alien conspiracies in the iconic TV show The X-Files, which reads, “I want to believe.” But why, in the face of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, do some people continue to believe in things that simply aren’t true? In the book “When Prophecy Fails”, researchers Leon Festinger, Henry W. Rieckon, and Stanley Schachter studied doomsday cults and what happened to believers after the “end-of-the-world” deadlines came and went. Oftentimes, these believers double down on their beliefs rather than face the possibility that their beliefs are wrong. Quite simply, Festinger et al “argue that once you’ve irrevocably begun down a path, it becomes increasingly harder to admit you’re wrong, and you’ll increasingly distort the facts and adopt ever more fantastical ideas rather than change course. [p. 165]” It’s a very believable and understandable defense mechanism. It certainly helps to understand why some people deny the facts about global climate change or the existence of Covid-19. In some ways, it even helps to understand the irrational beliefs that some people have about the unverified, and unverifiable, “facts” of Joe Biden secretly hordeing billions of dollars of bribe money from the Russians or the “facts” of rampant voter fraud throughout the United States in this past election. They want to believe so badly that not believing is simply not an option. It’s okay to keep an open mind. It’s even okay to occasionally question science and scientific findings. It’s this ability to question and refute findings that has, for the most part, helped humanity by keeping things on the up and up. But one can go too far in refuting the science, and this, according to Dickey, is extremely dangerous: “[G]radually but inexorably, a search for wonder and mystery, for the sublime, for the enchanted world just out of our grasp, can descend into paranoia. The longer that sublime remains unknown, unseen, felt but not reached, the more the mind spins for explanations. [p.222]” Until one starts finding explanations in the unverified, the unverifiable, and “alternative facts”. And we’ve all seen, in the past four years, where that’s gotten us…

  12. 5 out of 5

    Elaine

    This is not what I expected. I thought this was going to be chapter after chapter of examples of mythical monsters, alien encounters, and the unexplained in general. It's not. It's how these things became part of the world's folklore - where the stories all started. In every example so far, it's almost always been attributed to a misunderstanding of indigenous cultures or an outright scam. I won't rate this with a star since the fault is mine - I should have read the blurb closer. This is very we This is not what I expected. I thought this was going to be chapter after chapter of examples of mythical monsters, alien encounters, and the unexplained in general. It's not. It's how these things became part of the world's folklore - where the stories all started. In every example so far, it's almost always been attributed to a misunderstanding of indigenous cultures or an outright scam. I won't rate this with a star since the fault is mine - I should have read the blurb closer. This is very well written, if dull and dry as a bone.

  13. 4 out of 5

    SpookyBird

    Really entertaining read. Dickey has a great way of covering the weird and outlandish and showing both why it’s important to be skeptical but to maintain a sense of wonder about the world. He also spends equal time showing the dangers of taking that skepticism too far. If you enjoyed Ghostland, this is a great companion.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Lori L (She Treads Softly)

    The Unidentified: Mythical Monsters, Alien Encounters, and Our Obsession with the Unexplained by Colin Dickey is a highly recommended look at the followers of cryptozoology, UFO-ology, and other pseudoscientific fields. In the past few years there has been an increasing number of people who believe in fringe topics like Atlantis, or cryptids (Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, etc.), or UFOs, or ancient aliens. It seems that the more rational, scientific explanations are readily available to us, the The Unidentified: Mythical Monsters, Alien Encounters, and Our Obsession with the Unexplained by Colin Dickey is a highly recommended look at the followers of cryptozoology, UFO-ology, and other pseudoscientific fields. In the past few years there has been an increasing number of people who believe in fringe topics like Atlantis, or cryptids (Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, etc.), or UFOs, or ancient aliens. It seems that the more rational, scientific explanations are readily available to us, the more some of us embrace unsubstantiated things and fringe beliefs. We like the idea of strange creatures, ancient races, and aliens. They are akin to the unknown on maps labeled "here be monsters" as a notation to say "we don't know what scary things may be here." Who doesn't like to hear stories about Bigfoot or Lemurians or the great Kentucky Meat Shower or alien abductions or the New Jersey Devil. I vividly remember being riveted by the whole aliens draining the blood from cows in the 70's. Dickey discusses many of the beliefs and visits many sites where many of the stories proliferate or originated and examines how these stories and myths take hold of our imagination and have us chanting "I want to believe" as we watch old X-Files episodes. (Okay, he also takes some of the fun out of it.) Certainly he covers both the modern, scientific investigations and understandings of various beliefs and contrasts them with the historical beliefs. Some of the followers of mystical phenomena are obviously still believers, like those looking for Lemurians on Mt. Shasta. Dickey does explain as well as possible why people still believe and why this belief may be on the rise. This is a well written sociological examination of a fascinating topic, but it does lack some of the entertainment factor that makes an examination of these topics just plain fun. As he wrote, "The only worthwhile way to investigate any of this phenomenon, it seems, is to be aware of one’s biases and strive to eliminate them. To be free of a preconceived certainty, to be willing to admit the unexplained without that automatic obsession to explain it. The goal of this book has been to trace how two different, but related, shocks hit the industrialized world in the nineteenth century, causing a rift in how we understood it, and how a number of fringe beliefs emerged from that rift." Dickey also quietly slips his take on current politics into a few of the discussions, which was not necessary. Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House. http://www.shetreadssoftly.com/2020/0...

  15. 5 out of 5

    Samantha

    I continue to be impressed by Colin Dickey’s unique perspective on the psychology of belief. I first encountered Dickey’s singular perspective in Ghostland and was excited to see him tackle something a bit different here, this time focusing on cryptids, aliens, and the roots of conspiracy theories rather than ghosts and folklore. Dickey brings his same brand of careful research, riveting storytelling, and compelling observation to these topics that we encountered in Ghostland. But while Dickey’s I continue to be impressed by Colin Dickey’s unique perspective on the psychology of belief. I first encountered Dickey’s singular perspective in Ghostland and was excited to see him tackle something a bit different here, this time focusing on cryptids, aliens, and the roots of conspiracy theories rather than ghosts and folklore. Dickey brings his same brand of careful research, riveting storytelling, and compelling observation to these topics that we encountered in Ghostland. But while Dickey’s approach may be the same, the subject (and Dickey’s conclusions about it) are a bit less...let’s say harmless or folksy this time. In Ghostland we met believers in ghosts, folktales, and traditional superstitions and legends. In most cases, the believers in such things are harmless, their conviction wrought from tradition, respect or fear of a higher power, or honor for elders or ancestors. In The Unidentified, we meet a different and often more harmful type of believer: The conspiracy theorist. Unlike the folksy, old world breed of belief that says your grandma is still floating around in the attic in her old wedding dress, believers in alien conspiracies and cryptids tend to be paranoid and often seriously mentally ill. Unlike your typical ghost hunter, the search for government-concealed alien encounters or cryptids is often rooted in racism, mistrust of the government, and general antipathy towards others. Cranks, as Dickey labels them, are fascinating to read about but far too potentially dangerous to not be taken seriously. It’s this that makes this book less of a fun read than Ghostland, if equally fascinating. As someone who HATES conspiracy theories in any form, I didn’t expect to like this at all, and wished going in that Dickey had stuck to ghosts and other haunts. I was thus pleasantly surprised to find myself quickly riveted by the new topic. A tribute, I think, to Dickey’s unique perspectives and ability to show a fascinating side of a subject that is often off-putting to this reader. *I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.*

  16. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    Gear up for the odd, the elusive, the mysterious and the unexplained. The Unidentified: Mythical Monsters, Alien Encounters, and our Obsession with the Unexplained (2020) is Colin Dickey's contribution to the clarification of confusion. For those of you inclined to conspiracies managed by nefarious elites, this will not be your Bible. For the rest of us, just plain folks who know that virtually everything is unexplained, it's just another walk in the park. [Truth-in-Advertising Note: One day in Gear up for the odd, the elusive, the mysterious and the unexplained. The Unidentified: Mythical Monsters, Alien Encounters, and our Obsession with the Unexplained (2020) is Colin Dickey's contribution to the clarification of confusion. For those of you inclined to conspiracies managed by nefarious elites, this will not be your Bible. For the rest of us, just plain folks who know that virtually everything is unexplained, it's just another walk in the park. [Truth-in-Advertising Note: One day in or about 1953 my step-father, a Major in the USAF stationed at Dayton's Wright-Patterson Field, told me that that the field had just experienced a UFO visitation. I've looked for, but never found, any evidence supporting this: proof of a government conspiracy, I suppose. But I was fascinated, hence my attraction to this book.] Dickey's goal is not to enlist new conspiracy theorists—there's no need for that! He wants to tell us what is in the human psyche that draws us to believe in the highly improbable. He takes us through the list of events that drew the attention of the nuttiest among us and tries to bring out what was happening at the time that made people prone to strange beliefs. The result is a very interesting book about the role of the unknown in human consciousness. Dickey finds that the "Unidentified" are invariably hoaxes or figments of imagination, but even those serve a psych-social function. As the mystery of nature disappears because of human encroachment or advances in scientific understanding, our nostalgia for the stories of nature and of creation that brought us to where we are increases. We want to believe that there are things out there that are different because that helps define us, and it connects us with our psychological origins—the creation stories that were told around the campfire by our ancestors. The result, Dickey says, is that Hoaxes prove that believing is seeing. What we perceive is what we believe, a restatement of what psychologists now call confirmation bias. Nineteenth Century Spiritualism Dickey begins in Mount Shasta, Washington, where a Yeti-like creature is said to roam the forests. It's great for tourism and it exemplifies the widespread modern belief in the occult. From this start he reviews some reasons for the remarkable views many people hold in this age of science, bringing us back to Mount Shasta, which some have designated as located on the continent of Lemuria. Dickey's true starting point is the mid-19th century, when scientific explanations of nature became increasingly accurate, threatening religious and spiritual explanations that had held sway. This was the time when the myth of Atlantis was revived from Plato's writings by a man named Ignatius Donnelly who, in 1856, settled in Nininger, Minnesota with his new wife. Donnelly was a real estate developer and a politician (lieutenant governor, U. S. House) who knew the value of a good story. In 1882 he published a book titled Atlantis: The Antediluvian World that revived Plato's tale of the lost continent that would influence both Francis Bacon and Jules Verne. Donnelly went on to write other books built on the Atlantis myth; he had found his calling. The "Lost Continent" genre began with Plato's Atlantis, but it took on new life when in 1864 a zoologist named Philip Lutley Sclater noted that lemurs were found only on the island of Madagascar. He posited a reason: a large section of East Africa—he called it Lemuria—had broken off and sunk down to the Pacific seabed, stranding Madagascar's lemurs. This idea was wrong, but it still took on a life of its own and Lemuria appeared in many tales of the occult. Most notably, Lemuria was embedded in the philosophy of Madam Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, daughter of a Russian aristocratic family who emigrated to America in 1873 after years of world travel, including an apocryphal time in Tibet where she learned the Ancient Wisdoms. Blavatsky's Theosophical Society, formed in 1875, was popular among many notable people like Thomas Edison and Mohandas Gandhi. A basic idea of Theosophism was that Earth had once been the home of an ancient advanced Eastern civilization imbued with spiritual purity. Over the eons this purity had been degraded and modern humans were the residue. The goal of Theosophism was to restore modern humans to their original spiritual purity by putting them in touch with those ancestors, and that enlightenment would result if the clients mentally experienced the trials and tribulations of prior generations during the decline from spiritual purity. This notion would later be embedded in L. Ron Hubbard's Scientology. The Spiritualist movement was all the rage in the last half of the 19th century. It began after notoriety following 1848 reports that two sisters had been in communication with a dead man who had once lived in their house. Blavatsky had begun as a spiritualist but she redefined it in Theosophism: Spiritualists, she argued, were certainly making contact with the dead, but it was not dead relatives or lovers. Rather, the spirits contacted were from those many generations of ancient once-pure beings that had descended into modern humanity. Spiritualism was a route back to that ancient wisdom and, through the medium's help, one could restore their own purity. All the client needed was lots of time—and money. A major figure in Dickey's search for the odd is Charles Fort, the source of "Forteanism." Born in Kentucky in 1874, Fort became a journalist with a mission. Fort devoted his attention to railing against the scientific community for its exclusion of non-academics from research on occult matters; he called the scientific community "exclusionists" and he saw his role as developing arguments against scientific explanations. Fort collected stories of the unexplained like philatelists collect stamps. He scoured old newspapers for stories of meat, fish and blood falling from the sky, and he scoured the rational explanations for deficiencies. Always finding science deficient, he left the field open for the even more dubious explanations of Blavatsky and others. Cryptids and Cryptozoology Crypto- means "hidden" or "secret." Cryptids are creatures that are on the edge of reality, their existence neither proven nor disproven. Cryptozoology is the study of cryptids. Examples are the Scottish Loch Ness Monster, the American Bigfoot, the Tibetan Yeti, the Mexican Chupacabra, and UFOs. As Dickey puts it, these are on the edge of the map of human perception. All are somewhere on the spectrum from pure hoax to folk stories. The Loch Ness Monster, he tells us, is pure fabrication. It began in the 1930s with an attempt to encourage local tourism using a fabricated photograph that showed the clearest depiction of Nessie yet found—that famous photograph of a long multiple-humped sea monster swimming placidly down the loch. This early hoax was supplemented by locals who added additional features. All participants have admitted their actions so, sadly, Nessie is a cryptid with a past but no future. Another example, listed in Dickey's "Wild Man" genre, is the California Bigfoot, an idea with a long history that became "real" when, in 1962, a Crescent City, California logger named Robert Hatfield reported seeing behind his house a creature standing "chest and shoulders above a six-foot high fence . . much bigger than a bear." The creature attempted to force its way into Hatfields' house but left quickly when a resident said he was getting his gun. Overlooking the odd feature that the creature understood English, the story went viral and Bigfoot—later renamed Sasquatch—became a popular "reality." Similarly, in 1951 a mountain climber on Mount Everest came upon a very large depression in the snow that looked like the footprint of a very large non-human biped. His sherpa told him the Tibetan name for the creature and it was mistranslated at "Abominable Snowman." The footprint was later identified as a human print distorted by freezes and thaws. We never learn why a human would be barefoot high on Everest's frozen slopes. In 1959 an American millionaire named Tom Slick learned that a Tibetan monastery used the dried hand of a Yeti as a relic to attract visitors. The well-named Slick sent an agent buy the hand and, when the monks refused, he had the agent return and cut off a Yeti finger, replacing it with a human finger (provenance unknown). The Yeti finger was spirited away to America, where repeated tests showed that it was human. Dickey tells us that one of the faults of searchers for cryptids is their reliance on native stories about the creatures. These stories are typically not intended to be taken literally, they are more in the nature of loose descriptions about human matters in which cryptid stories serve as parables, akin to those modern stories warning children to behave or the Boogeyman will get them. But the literally-minded European hearer is unaware that the stories are intended to teach the origins and values of native peoples, not as literal truths. Up, Up in the Sky! It's . . . In 1961 Barney and Betty Hill were driving home to Portsmouth NH from a vacation in Concord NH, a sixty mile trip. It was a dark night on a remote road and they saw no other cars. On seeing a bright light behind them they stopped to observe it, then continued on their way. When they arrived at Portsmouth someone asked why it took them so long to make the drive; yes, they noted, it had been an unusually long time. Soon Betty began to feel agitated and couldn't sleep. The couple underwent hypnosis and discovered that they had spent time in a UFO being medically tested with special reference to reproductive parts. Their abductors were short, human-like, and gray-colored with blueish lips. The Hill's experience was the first known report of an alien abduction. In the 1970s and 1980s UFO abduction would become a cottage industry. But UFOs had been sighted in the U. S. since 1947. On June 21, 1947, Harold Dahl, his son, and three men were in a boat near Maury Island in Puget Sound. They reported sighting nine metallic doughnut-shaped objects hovering in the air over the Sound. Three days later, on June 24 a private pilot named Kenneth Arnold went out to investigate the area of the Dahl sighting. He observed six metallic objects flying in formation at ". . . an extremely high rate of speed." This independent report from an experienced pilot had the solid ring of credibility. But soon Harold Dahl's story soon began to fall apart when some of his "evidence" went missing. Then it was discovered that Arnold's report was not really independent—Dahl had urged Arnold to go out to investigate Dahl's report of UFOs. Dahl became evasive and then revised his story to include a visit by a man in a black suit (the first "Man in Black") driving a black 1947 Buick; the man told Dahl to say nothing about what he had seen. This had the smell of a government conspiracy. What is known is that the Army sent two investigators to interview Arnold and one of Dahl's co-boaters. Their report was lost—another positive proof of a military conspiracy. The UFO craze in America had started. And it would become explosive when two parties entered the fray. The first was the editor of Amazing Facts, a magazine devoted to the occult and catering to gullible readers. The editor had received an incoherent manuscript about UFOs from a man who had spent years in a mental institution for paranoid schizophrenia. Sensing a story, the editor rewrote the story and published it. Now UFOs must be true—they had appeared in the pages of a "reputable" magazine. The second party was the U. S. government, which saw UFOs as a national security issue and initiated a number of research projects culminating in Project Blue Book. Now the Unexplained was no longer a matter of private interest, it was also a matter of public security and, thus, elevated to a higher level. And once the government had entered the story the issue of conspiracy naturally fed the public's interest. Near Roswell, New Mexico, is a top secret USAF flight test facility adjacent to a dry salt bed. The salt lake was called Groom Lake and the site had begun in 1942 as the Roswell Army Air Field (RAAF). In 1955 the CIA bought it as a site for testing and operating the U-2. It was initially called Paradise Ranch and ultimately officially designated as Groom Lake; it is popularly known as Area 51 from a designation on a map grid used to identify the area sold to the CIA. In July of 1947, only a few weeks after the Puget Sound UFO sightings, it became a center of controversy that has lasted for over 70 years. A rancher near Roswell, New Mexico, reported debris in the form of "rubber strips, sticks, tinfoil, and a 'tough paper'" on his property. It was estimated to have been about 12 feet in diameters and when gathered together it came to about five pounds of material. This soon became a "flying disk" with extraterrestrial origins. Obviously the civilization of the aliens was very advanced if they could use five pounds of flimsy materials for "manned" interstellar travel. Army personnel from RAAF investigated and collected the material. The investigation revealed that the debris was a weather balloon that had lost its air buoyancy and crashed. That was not quite true: in the 1990s the USAF revised its position—the debris was from a balloon, but it was a balloon measuring airborne radiation from nuclear tests. The "alien" materials were eventually transferred to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, the home of what would eventually became Project Blue Book. The hullaballoo about the Roswell Incident died quickly, but in 1978 a book about it announced that the debris was a space ship carrying several aliens who had died in the crash. These remains were supposedly transferred to Wright-Patterson where they remain under lock and key as part of the government conspiracy to hide alien events that might create panic. This theme took legs and additional books were written, royalties were collected, and readers gorged on Roswell. Oh. There is so much more . . .

  17. 5 out of 5

    JG (Introverted Reader)

    The Unidentified presents popular modern legends and inexplicable events and then provides the historical and scientific context that helped create each myth. The book becomes an exploration of humanity’s fascination with unsolvable mysteries and our need to know that there is something more in the world than science would have us believe. I’m not quite sure what I expected when I downloaded this book from the library but it’s not exactly what I got. Not that I’m complaining; this book is absorbi The Unidentified presents popular modern legends and inexplicable events and then provides the historical and scientific context that helped create each myth. The book becomes an exploration of humanity’s fascination with unsolvable mysteries and our need to know that there is something more in the world than science would have us believe. I’m not quite sure what I expected when I downloaded this book from the library but it’s not exactly what I got. Not that I’m complaining; this book is absorbing. My review keeps turning into a book report because I want to discuss so many of the ideas I just read! I knew this was nonfiction about the worlds of cryptozoology, alien encounters and other unexplained phenomena. I think I expected it to be more of a collection of those encounters. Instead, the author delivered a few such stories followed by the well-researched history of the surrounding beliefs, that particular time in history, pertinent mini-biographies, and the ways that believers internalize and protect these modern myths. The author began with an explanation that science and religion co-existed well enough (with some periods of upheaval) until sometime in the 1800s. Citizen scientists were able to observe the world and make important discoveries. Science was fairly accessible to anyone who was interested. But as equipment got more expensive and the body of scientific knowledge grew infinitely larger and more esoteric, science became the purview of universities and well-funded labs. And these institutions effectively shut out the laypeople. Since so many scientific discoveries happened behind closed doors, a new kind of belief system started to take shape. “The history of the world has been filled with cranks, but a certain breed of crank began to emerge in the nineteenth century, one who borrowed from science when convenient and rejected it when it wasn’t.” And these “cranks” began to put forth their own wild amalgamations of scientific theory and imagination. For example, in the late 1800s, spiritualism had a widespread following. Concurrently, a theory arose in the scientific community that there was a lost continent, Lemuria, that sank beneath the Indian Ocean. Eventually, popular culture conflated the two. Stories of surviving Lemurians living in tunnels underneath Mount Shasta in northern California and spreading spiritual enlightenment to believers began to spread. (Incidentally, am I the only person who’s never heard of them?) Dickey details the ways the two beliefs worked together to shape this legend and provides details about the people who had the largest influence on the Lemurian legends. It’s all pretty fascinating. Of course the scientific community eventually rejected/disproved the theory of a lost continent of Lemuria as theories of continental drift and natural selection gained traction but that didn’t matter to true believers. Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the book is Dickey’s explanation for the persistence of so many of these fringe beliefs in the face of so much evidence that completely contradicts it. “Why does proselytizing sometimes increase, rather than decrease, when a group is presented with unequivocal disconfirmation of their beliefs? Why does a believer in any kind of stigmatized knowledge, when presented with unequivocal evidence to the contrary, reentrench those beliefs further? Festinger, Riecken, and Schachter argue that once you’ve irrevocably begun down a path, it becomes increasingly harder to admit you’re wrong, and you’ll increasingly distort the facts and adopt ever more fantastical ideas rather than change course.” I found these arguments intriguing given today’s political climate. So many of us want to believe fake news that reinforces our own preconceptions, even in the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary. “Trying to disprove any of these beliefs—or really, any conspiracy—is frustrating and foolhardy. A scientific fact will quickly be refuted by a flurry of data, often from a wide range of sources; topics will change, and if you debunk one belief, another will quickly be brought up. Soon enough, it becomes apparent that what matters is not what this person believes but that the person believes: the belief itself is the badge, the identity, and the details of it are of minor consequence. These beliefs seem to satisfy the believers in some deep and pleasing way, and that pleasure is more important than their truth or falsity.” And that may be the aspect of the book that surprised me the most. In my mind, we can broaden studies of people who believe in these fringe sort of paranormal stories, for lack of a better umbrella term, to include believers in conspiracy theories of all types. So I found myself reading about Bigfoot and suddenly highlighting passages that seemed to describe my rabid politically-entrenched Facebook friends. I didn’t expect that, to say the least. Mr. Dickey disproves and dismisses many popular legends throughout the book but he circles back around in the end to point out that genuinely inexplicable events do happen. For instance, an upstanding woman reported a “meat shower” in Kentucky in the late nineteenth century and a respected town official corroborated her account. No one’s theories, then or now, fit the facts. And society, even those looking for exactly this kind of think, has largely forgotten this occurrence. Why is that? When we’re collectively searching so hard for incidents that put a little magic back into our rational world, why do we discard the truly inexplicable? The author doesn’t profess to know the answer to that question. This combination of modern mythology, history, biography, and science provides an interesting look into popular fringe beliefs. I recommend this for those with a taste for both the unexplained and real history. It’s a fascinating cultural study that explores many nooks and crannies of history of which I was unaware.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Angus McKeogh

    All about why humans buy into crazy theories and believe in the unknown. Exposes the origins of many of these beliefs and the inconsistencies, but the book also talks about the importance of questioning and seeking answers. Reprimands science and the government to some degree for perpetuating these odd beliefs by failing to respect or acknowledge the search associated with various beliefs as being legitimate. I found the part about “FEMA camps” and their connection with a 1968 government plan ca All about why humans buy into crazy theories and believe in the unknown. Exposes the origins of many of these beliefs and the inconsistencies, but the book also talks about the importance of questioning and seeking answers. Reprimands science and the government to some degree for perpetuating these odd beliefs by failing to respect or acknowledge the search associated with various beliefs as being legitimate. I found the part about “FEMA camps” and their connection with a 1968 government plan called Operation Garden Plot extremely fascinating. In 1968 the government had created a reactionary martial law plan to contain and suppress “minority groups who had grown weary of social inequality and were revolting”. However, the most recent reappearance of this trope was in the last decade where it was claimed right-wing extremist groups were going to be suppressed and herded into these camps (and beheaded?) so that the strong arm of the government could take control of the citizen’s inalienable rights. Just weird...actual left-wing government suppression plan morphs into right-wing present day threat in some people’s minds...and ultimately nothing happens. The world is a strange place.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Claudia

    Be it lost lands like Atlantis or Lemuria; cryptids like Nessie, sea monsters and the Jersey monster; wildmen like Bigfoot and the Yeti or hundreds of UFO sightings, the author takes each group and tries to not only explain what it could be but how it affects our society and culture. How we humans reflect on other places, creatures and situations with wry nostalgia. Things that go bump-in-the-night have a rational explanation although when fear seized our minds, only monsters and the strange can Be it lost lands like Atlantis or Lemuria; cryptids like Nessie, sea monsters and the Jersey monster; wildmen like Bigfoot and the Yeti or hundreds of UFO sightings, the author takes each group and tries to not only explain what it could be but how it affects our society and culture. How we humans reflect on other places, creatures and situations with wry nostalgia. Things that go bump-in-the-night have a rational explanation although when fear seized our minds, only monsters and the strange can be what is attacking us. How much of the search for crypids are actually a search for some still unspoiled and untouched wilderness in a world that is getting smaller and smaller with each passing day? Interviews telling of creatures seen at a distance or in the shadows of the forest. Even with the the territory that these creatures supposedly habitat growing smaller, the photos and videos are not improving even with every person carrying a device that can take clear evidence and yet none appears. Even the tales and 'evidence' of UFO's which leads many people to see governmental conspiracies (which leads to failing to trust the government itself) but to confirm that there is more out there than just stars and planets. That there is more advanced life. That all the science fiction stories we've seen and read and heard are actually true but just out there - That the lost lands - always of some advanced race but one needs to realize that as humanity gets more technologically advanced, so do the civilizations that supposedly resided on Mu, Lemuria and Atlantis. The author gives fascinating and compassion insights into all the above unexplained. He also goes into how certain charismatic individuals managed to convince listeners into following their own delusions. Some of these groups - fanatical and near cult-like - are certainly not a new occurrence. They have been happening for centuries. It's just we are more aware of them due to media reporting. We also want the wonder and ability to consider possibilities. Certainly, giant pandas and coelacanths were considered cryptids at one time but they are real. Also the species that have been declared extinct only to have a small population discovered in some tiny environment. By the way, seriously, the reason they're called UFOs is because they can't be immediately identified. The author gave a perfect example as he was leaving Albuquerque, he saw numerous black objects in the sky. It took him but a minute to identify the hot-air balloons. 2020-225

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kelly W.

    I really enjoyed Dickey’s book, Ghostland, so I was excited to see how the author would take on cryptids, aliens, and other fringe beliefs. This book didn’t disappoint. What I loved about Ghostland was the emphasis on the “whys” - why do people believe in ghosts? Why does the architecture of this house seem off? Why do certain places feel “haunted”? The Unidentified takes up similar questions; Dickey is no so much interested in debunking belief in Bigfoot or claims of government conspiracies (th I really enjoyed Dickey’s book, Ghostland, so I was excited to see how the author would take on cryptids, aliens, and other fringe beliefs. This book didn’t disappoint. What I loved about Ghostland was the emphasis on the “whys” - why do people believe in ghosts? Why does the architecture of this house seem off? Why do certain places feel “haunted”? The Unidentified takes up similar questions; Dickey is no so much interested in debunking belief in Bigfoot or claims of government conspiracies (though he does do that, briefly) than he is examining how they came about and why they endured. In that respect, I found this book fascinating. Dickey’s argument that many of these fringe beliefs (as we know them today) have roots in the political and social climate of the 20th century is extremely compelling, and he expertly highlights certain patterns that make fringe beliefs seem less the result of delusional individuals and more a reaction to change. One thing I appreciated was that Dickey didn’t beat around the bush when it came to identifying racist and appropriative aspects of fringe beliefs. If a description of an extra-terrestrial encounter seemed to reinscribe conservative or white supremacist values, for example, Dickey was quick to point it out. If a cryptid bore resemblance to an Indigenous legend or figure, Dickey would highlight how settler colonialism was partially responsible. Dickey never used euphemisms to water down these observations, and I appreciated his bluntness and refusal to let believers escape criticism. I do think, however, that many of his points get buried in his overview of history. Don’t get me wrong, I love history, but I think it can obscure the author’s own voice, and at times, it certainly did so in this book. I also think the book could have benefited from some images, though I do realize that so many images of cryptids and UFOs are low quality and difficult to replicate in print. Nevertheless, The Unidentified is a well-researched, accessible read for anyone wanting to learn about the historical context of the rise in fringe belief systems. I wouldn’t recommend this book to those wanting a collection of stories about certain cryptids, or a through debunking of each and every UFO sighting, but I would recommend this book if you’re interested in 20th century history (especially American history) and cultural phenomena.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sharon A.

    This is a huge and complex topic to cover for a readable book by the general public. Overall, a decent job but I would have preferred a few better sources in a more comprehensive bibliography, and I can't say I agree with some statements. There is more under the surface that takes many years of involvement to fully articulate. The editorial detail is a little lax (I found two pretty big errors and some typos). I do not like the format of these endnotes. Yet, it hits several of the crucial points This is a huge and complex topic to cover for a readable book by the general public. Overall, a decent job but I would have preferred a few better sources in a more comprehensive bibliography, and I can't say I agree with some statements. There is more under the surface that takes many years of involvement to fully articulate. The editorial detail is a little lax (I found two pretty big errors and some typos). I do not like the format of these endnotes. Yet, it hits several of the crucial points that people should be getting about these topics. There is not much new here for those who have been critically assessing these topics for a while. But, since that population is fairly small, you may be surprised.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sam Wescott

    Ok, this was amazing and I'm pretty sure it was written specifically for me. This book takes the methodology of Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places and applies it to cryptids, conspiracy theories, and the general category of "cranks" throughout history. Personally, I am an ex-religious person who leans very skeptical and has a lot of confusion and interest in weird beliefs. I've absorbed a LOT of media about cults, cryptids, ufology, and alternative science. I was pretty familiar wi Ok, this was amazing and I'm pretty sure it was written specifically for me. This book takes the methodology of Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places and applies it to cryptids, conspiracy theories, and the general category of "cranks" throughout history. Personally, I am an ex-religious person who leans very skeptical and has a lot of confusion and interest in weird beliefs. I've absorbed a LOT of media about cults, cryptids, ufology, and alternative science. I was pretty familiar with a lot of the actual subject matter. And if this book had just been a catalog of weird beliefs and monster-hunting, I still would have been plenty interested. But this book goes SO far beyond that, because this author is obsessed with the "why?" of it all and manages to unspool and examine so many layers of beliefs, identities, and cultural changes that I just found my head spinning. Dickey concerns himself with questions about what the ubiquity of Wild Man myths across cultures means about humanity. Why the sudden changes in alien encounter culture and how does it reflect shifts in the mainstream? Where does all the distrust of science and the government come from? Why are so many believers "undebunkable" and what are they getting out of their beliefs that make them so precious? Wtf is a meat shower? It's an absolute treasure trove of social commentary, cultural history, and folklore science that I was pretty much glued to each page (metaphorically, I always listen to audiobooks). It also does not shy away from implicating and addressing current movements. Dickey discusses Anti-Vaxxers, Qanon followers, and the racism that flourishes in so many of these fringe movements. It's bold, it's insightful, and it's interesting as all hell. Man, I think this is my new favorite non-fiction book and I can't wait to recommend it to everyone I know.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lizzy

    Some sections are more interesting than others. Lots of really cool research and interpretations. I love when people try to understand major causes of why people believe the crazy crap they do. A little too much info on aliens- would’ve been nice to diversify more. Some generalizations are too broad or vague. MANY chapters do not connect to the previous one except tangentially. Let’s talk about this weird thing....next chapter is completely different topic with no leadup. Horribly organized book Some sections are more interesting than others. Lots of really cool research and interpretations. I love when people try to understand major causes of why people believe the crazy crap they do. A little too much info on aliens- would’ve been nice to diversify more. Some generalizations are too broad or vague. MANY chapters do not connect to the previous one except tangentially. Let’s talk about this weird thing....next chapter is completely different topic with no leadup. Horribly organized books. I do not understand all the subsections. NITPICK ALERT: VETERINARIANS GET TRAINING IN PATHOLOGY. It is correct to say they do not really get FORENSIC training. But saying we do not get PATHOLOGY training is absolutely false. It seems crazy to me that SO MANY large animal vets working on beef herds don’t recognize post-Mortem scavenging changes, but hey, I’ve seen cases where vets misinterpret it so I guess it’s not too surprising. A lot of large animal vets do their own field necropsies, so you’d think they’d learn these changes, but maybe these are areas where ranchers do their own necropsies? It’s always hard being a medical professional reading non-science people trying to discuss other fields. There are some awkward half-truths and errors here and there. This book just shows how easy it is for poor wording to alter facts.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kasey

    I really enjoy Colin Dickey's style (loved Ghostland) and I think that there is something super smart about how he connects the belief in monsters, hoaxes, aliens, etc. to pushing back on the snobbery or failure of science, as well as the shrinking of the frontier/the unknown through scientific advancement. I found the section on cryptids by far the best part of this book. I was just not as interested in or engaged by the parts about UFOs and they made up much more of the text. I really enjoy Colin Dickey's style (loved Ghostland) and I think that there is something super smart about how he connects the belief in monsters, hoaxes, aliens, etc. to pushing back on the snobbery or failure of science, as well as the shrinking of the frontier/the unknown through scientific advancement. I found the section on cryptids by far the best part of this book. I was just not as interested in or engaged by the parts about UFOs and they made up much more of the text.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kerry

    Unidentified was unexpected! It reads more like a travelogue than a book about monsters. Colin Dickey has researched extensively about the origins of some of the world's most popular monsters and myths. I think this is the first time I have ever heard Bigfoot explained in terms of cultural appropriation. Unidentified was unexpected! It reads more like a travelogue than a book about monsters. Colin Dickey has researched extensively about the origins of some of the world's most popular monsters and myths. I think this is the first time I have ever heard Bigfoot explained in terms of cultural appropriation.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Magen

    I've read Ghostland several times since it was first published because I can't stop recommending it for the several book clubs I belong to. I have never come across such a thoughtful and well researched popular nonfiction book about folklore before, so I was impressed! I mean, it's not a wonder. Dickey actually has a degree in studying this sort of thing. A certain popular folklore podcaster who talks about similar things only has a background in journalism and sucks hard at researching actual f I've read Ghostland several times since it was first published because I can't stop recommending it for the several book clubs I belong to. I have never come across such a thoughtful and well researched popular nonfiction book about folklore before, so I was impressed! I mean, it's not a wonder. Dickey actually has a degree in studying this sort of thing. A certain popular folklore podcaster who talks about similar things only has a background in journalism and sucks hard at researching actual folklorists or cultural studies scholars (looking at you, Aaron Mahnke). Anyway, I was hoping to read something close to what Dickey produced in Ghostland, but The Unidentified wasn't quite it. I think it's the structure of the book, which isn't quite as cohesive as Ghostland, but nor does the thesis or research impress me. I plan on giving this another go in audio later which may change my rating later. I'm not put off by Dickey after this, I'll definitely still jump to read his work as soon as I can, but this wasn't my favorite read of the year this time.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Chaitra

    I wanted to like this better than I did, and it was certainly interesting. But I didn't care for all the topics that were discussed, and beyond a point, even the interesting ones failed to really hold me. I wish I had the (slightly) wide eyed credulity of my youth. However, the narrator, Will Damron, was excellent. All the stars for him. I wanted to like this better than I did, and it was certainly interesting. But I didn't care for all the topics that were discussed, and beyond a point, even the interesting ones failed to really hold me. I wish I had the (slightly) wide eyed credulity of my youth. However, the narrator, Will Damron, was excellent. All the stars for him.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    I loved Ghostland, but The Unidentified left me horribly disappointed. I tried several times to get into it, but Dickey's judgment and derogatory terms for anyone who believes something he doesn't became distasteful at best. I wanted a scientific and historical perspective on the unexplained, but what I got was a lot of naysaying and judgment. I finally gave up trying to read it. I loved Ghostland, but The Unidentified left me horribly disappointed. I tried several times to get into it, but Dickey's judgment and derogatory terms for anyone who believes something he doesn't became distasteful at best. I wanted a scientific and historical perspective on the unexplained, but what I got was a lot of naysaying and judgment. I finally gave up trying to read it.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    Quite an enlightening read. The author explores cryptids, UFO's, aliens of every type and description, meat showers, and the origin of conspiracy theories. Quite an enlightening read. The author explores cryptids, UFO's, aliens of every type and description, meat showers, and the origin of conspiracy theories.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    Interesting. My personal favorite was the Kentucky Meat Shower.

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