Sunday, July 24, 2011

Charles Fort: The Man Who Invented the SupernaturalCharles Fort: The Man Who Invented the Supernatural by Jim Steinmeyer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Charles Fort's renown rests primarily on four books -- The Book of the Damned, New Lands, Lo!, and Wild Talents -- unclassifiable shaggy dog collections of old newspaper and magazine accounts of rains of frogs and other assorted critters, mysterious disappearances, unexplained phenomena of all sorts, and so forth, all shot through with wryly sardonic humor and a palpable sense of glee at tweaking consensus reality. Unlike Charles Berlitz, Erich von Daniken, or most of the other hucksters who peddled tales of the paranormal after him, however, he never took himself too seriously, occasionally offering half a dozen conflicting "theories" explaining his subjects in the course of a couple of chapters. In his own way he was a true skeptic, as likely to doubt the fantastic and the supernatural as much as received scientific wisdom (his legacy lives on in the pages of the magazine Fortean Times which concerns itself at least as much with why people believe in the paranormal as whether it's actually true or not).

Steinmeyer, a professional magician and historian of magic, doesn't add much to Fort scholarship that hadn't already been said by Damon Knight in his somewhat more critical Charles Fort, Prophet of the Unexplained, but it's a lively, well-researched, and well-written portrait of a great American eccentric, and a good place to start for someone just getting interested in the man and his work.

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