Category Archives: Books
Last night, I simply could not read any technical stuff before bed so I browsed my Kindle looking for some entertaining reading. The thing is, I don’t really do much fiction, almost everything I have is nonfiction. Then I came across “All Yesterdays: Unique and Speculative Views of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals” by Darren Naish, C.M. Kosemen, John Conway, and Scott Hartman. This was it, the perfect hour’s entertainment before bed perusing fascinating artwork and professional commentary regarding speculative reconstruction of prehistoric (and modern) animals. It was a lovely blend of nonfiction with a good dollop of fiction and I very much enjoyed it.
This book shows what might possibly (very likely) is off (completely wrong) about artistic reconstructions of dinosaurs, plesiosaurs and pterosaurs. Fun stuff. You will learn that animals are reconstructed “shrink-wrapped” and naked. It’s sort of because that’s all the evidence we have and must guess at the soft tissue adornments and coloration. But what if we got a bit creative. That’s what this book does. Fun stuff. Sometimes silly, but thought provoking. What if these animals behaved in a completely different way than we expect? Well why not draw that?
The last section is enlightening as real animals are portrayed in a way that mimics how we would interpret prehistoric animals – shrink-wrapped, with no fat or characteristic soft parts (like pointy cartilage ears), no fur, and out of context.
It is my opinion that public school children should be taught a class in comparative religion.
I recall a cursory review of the history of Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism as part of social studies but Americans are pretty clueless about other religions besides their own. That’s a societal flaw. I’m not particularly interested in common religions; I have a general idea how they practice. But uncommon religions are pretty darn strange, and even more interesting to me when they involve occult practices or bizarre ideas. It’s about time I found out more about them.
Karen Stollznow’s book God Bless America [on Kindle] is subtitled “Strange and Unusual Religious Beliefs and Practices in The United States” so I was pretty sure it would contain some zingers. This book is a parade of information about the lesser known and controversial (OK, weird) religious beliefs of America and it is suitable as a text for a class on world religions. The title is not very fitting because it’s not about God so much as about the people who invest themselves in these unusual belief systems. Stollznow goes to meet many of them firsthand. They would have creeped me out.
I really enjoyed Lyle Blackburn’s previous book, The Legend of Boggy Creek (reviewed here), so I had to get my hands on his next one about the Lizard Man of Lee County, South Carolina. I knew of the legend and had recently researched it because of continued reports of car damage in various places. (The Lizard Man was known for attacking cars.) What attacks cars but giant lizard men? Well, read to the end…
As with his last book, Blackburn does not attempt to speak on the actual existence of a local swamp monster he is investigating. He aims, and succeeds, to “provide an entertaining and comprehensive account of the creature”. Once again, he gives us a must-have guide to a particular cryptid.
However, there is a lot less meat to this book than what was available for the Fouke monster. The Fouke monster had his own movie; the Lizard Man was likely spawned from the movies. The core of the evidence is, unfortunately, unverifiable eyewitness reports. While some people may take these stories at face value, skeptics are right to be skeptical. It is clear that there is considerable fantasy and funny stuff working in Lee County.
There are some writers for which you know pretty much exactly what you are going to get. Donald R. Prothero is one of those writers. I expect a well-researched, comprehensive treatment of the topic with a flavor of emotion here and there. That’s what I got with Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten our Future, 2013, Indiana Univ Press.
The core of the book is summed up in the John Burroughs quote given on page 1:
To treat your facts with imagination is one thing, but to imagine your facts is another.
Once you observe the methods of creationists as the classic example of science denialists, you can recognize the same tactics in those that reject climate change. I have also noted the same tricks in environmentalists or those holding contrarian views about vaccines, the paranormal, and various consumer products.
The premise of Reality Check is that when “a well-entrenched belief system comes in conflict with scientific or historic reality” the believers in this system will actively discount, ignore or distort the facts that go against it. They may stop at nothing to defend their belief – they will lie, hide evidence, manufacture evidence, pay people off, bully, harass, discredit, and even threaten the scientists who are supporting the “inconvenient” conclusion.
The book highlights denialism rampant in the fields of environmentalism, global warming, evolution education, vaccine information, AIDS treatment policy, medical claims, energy policy and population size and growth. Each chapter exposes the hidden agendas of those who reject the scientific consensus and provides the reader with the solid, established evidence.
Christian Science-based faith healing communities in U.S. today are failures of their own self-destructive ideas. At least that’s the conclusion you can’t help but make when a group sacrifices their own children to be “pious” and respected. I found this disturbing tale laid out in In the Name of God:The True Story of the Fight to Save Children from Faith-Healing Homicide by Cameron Stauth . I recommend this book for anyone even remotely curious about faith healing in the U.S. and about the practices of Christian science churches. It’s important to recognize the stories behind the news of children who die from medical neglect.
I don’t recall how the author or publisher decided to send me a review copy of this book. I suspect it was because on Doubtful News I cover the charges, trials and sentencing of parents who practice withholding health care. I didn’t understand. I could not wrap my head around it. How can you be in the 21st century and eschew the standard of care for sick kids? This book helped me understand that these are people who think that religious freedom trumps all else, even their child’s right to live.
While examining stories for Doubtful News, I noticed a wave of faith healing deaths or near deaths coming out of Oregon City, OR from a religious community known as The Followers. The Followers of Christ had their roots in the teachings of the Christian Science church founded by Mary Baker Eddy. Mary grew rich and famous by teaching others how to heal without officially practicing medicine. This method had no overhead. But it had consequences. Many people recovered normally or had illnesses that make life difficult but not end it. If they died, it was “God’s Will”. And, it is their choice, thanks to religious freedom, to allow their child or themselves to die. God takes all of the credit, none of the blame. The Followers of Christ turned out to be one of the most lethal churches in America basing their teachings on literal interpretation of the Bible, medical avoidance, shunning, and fear of Hell. There is also the Faith Tabernacle church who has seen a pattern of dead children. Even repeat offenders. (Schaible case) Read the rest of this entry
Speculating can be fun. But it’s nicer when you aren’t making stuff up out of thin air based on wishful thinking. Scientific underpinning is comforting. That’s why I liked Shadows of Existence: Discoveries and Speculations in Zoology by Matt Bille.
This book was published in 2006 so it’s slightly out of date but the majority of info is still worthwhile for the cryptozoological-minded and it’s far better written than the majority of crypto books out there. It’s sound. It’s solid.
Bille is knowledgeable. This effort took substantial research and it shows. He is also realistic, takes evidence into account and, yet, is hopeful that new, amazing discoveries are out there. This is my philosophy as well. Therefore, I approve of his tone throughout.
The book is a series of short essays organized into four sections: New creatures, In the Shadow of Extinction, Classic Mystery Animals, and Miscellanea. There is so much good information treated in an even-handed and fair manner. Read the rest of this entry
About two months ago, it was time for me to finally watch the classic “Bigfoot” movie, The Legend of Boggy Creek. All I remembered hearing about it was that there is a scene of a hairy arm coming through a window. Creepy. But it was an old movie, made in the 1972 so I figured it wasn’t so scary anymore.
It was dated, cringe-worthy at parts, a little cheezy, but fascinating. I could totally understand how kids could be frightened and influenced by the movie that was very popular in spite of its method of being made and distributed. I enjoyed it and recommended it to others with some caution over the outdatedness.
Just after, I listened to Tim Binnall’s interview with author Lyle Blackburn who had written the first definitive book on the Boggy Creek monster, also known as the Fouke monster, The Beast of Boggy Creek (Anomalist Books, 2012). It was a good interview. Blackburn seemed to give sound grounding to the story of the town of Fouke, the episodes they experienced and the making of a movie about it. So, I bought his book. Read the rest of this entry
Strange Pennsylvania Monsters by Michael Newton (Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 2012) is the second book of this type that I’ve read and reviewed. It is considerably better than 2011′s Monsters of Pennsylvania by Patty Wilson which I reviewed here.
These local guidebooks to monster lore are commonly categorized by type of animal. Pennsylvania’s most famous cryptids are Bigfoot and the Thunderbird, but we have an array of weirdness.
Even though I, personally, find rather little value in these stories which can’t typically be confirmed and lack any worthwhile detail, I think it’s nice to have a comprehensive volume about the monster tales associated with certain areas with one caveat – THERE MUST BE REFERENCES. This was my major gripe with Wilson’s version to the point where it was almost useless.
Newton’s book has references although some are highly questionable such as personal accounts gained privately or through newspapers. In the section on giant snakes, the stories were not believable. The memories were old and, as we know, memories change tremendously with age into something that may not resemble the original situation at all. These types of stories read more like tall tales and skew the data set of anecdotes by suggesting there are many of these odd animals around and there must be something to it.
I’m in a reading phase. I have 168 on the list of books I have and need to read. I recently got through three and here are my impressions. They sort of have a monster theme. From imaginary/real to some people think are real to YES ABSOLUTELY REAL AND IN MY BASEMENT!
I heard the author of Monsters in America (Poole, 2011) interviewed on Monster Talk and knew I had to get the book. It was not like any monster book or any history book I have read before. Monsters are complicated. This book expresses that. It’s not so simply to just trace the roots of the folklore, the monsters are ever changing in response to how we need to use them. The research that went into this book is outstanding and deserves to be in every monster-lovers library (cryptozoology or horror fan). It’s not the easiest read because of the density of information but because I love this stuff, I had no trouble plowing through it quickly. I learned a lot of new stuff. While I won’t always agree exactly with the interpretations, this is a great mind-opening array of ideas that helped me understand American pop culture a bit more deeply.
I have a new Sounds Sciencey piece up. This one took a good bit of work – it’s a book review as well as an analysis of an issue in scientific circles, the labeling of fields or works as “pseudoscience”.
Have a look: The Trouble with Pseudoscience—It Can Be a Catastrophe.
Pseudoscience is what one might call a two-dollar word. Skeptics often throw it around because of its weightiness and the values it transmits. We need to talk about this word, where it came from, and why we should be cautious about using it.
Those new to the skeptical community may come in through a very different door than I did. Many are interested in specific topics they want to dig into right away. There is so much current info – websites, blogs, podcasts – to digest, it seems like they are unaware of some of these classic fringe ideas. This is a good one to learn and know. It can teach us many things. Having researched the concept of “pseudoscience” before, I found myself cringing a bit whenever the word was casually used. I hesitated to use it myself because it’s poorly defined and has no objective criteria on which to judge a field or piece of work as legitimately scientific or non-scientific. But it IS clear that the word and the concept is very useful in a social sense. We can disparage fields or works or people by labeling them in this way. It clues others in that this thing is nonsense and not worth pondering. That’s a hazard but for the most part, it works pretty well. There is little sense is taking astrology, phrenology, homeopathy, etc. seriously in terms of how nature works. But it is worth taking seriously if we are talking about the public perception of science.