The Weiser Field Guide to the Paranormal
Abductions, Apparitions, ESP, Synchronicity, and More Unexplained Phenomena from Other Realms
4 3/4 x 8
January 1, 2011
Review by Freeman Presson, Copyright 2010, All rights reserved
The Weiser Field Guide series is aimed at a general readership. People who have not delved deeply into the subject matter and want a broad sampling of what the field is like are most likely to find them useful.
The paranormal is a field ripe for such treatment. It is full of fascinating old “artifacts” and general oddities, in the manner of Aunt Kenzie’s attic. Like the attic, most of what is there is junk, albeit possibly charming junk, but there are a few treasures (and readers will disagree on what belongs in which category). So it is possible for a paranormal encyclopedist to be too restrictive in selecting stories for inclusion, as well as too permissive. The present volume doesn’t fall too far to one side or another.
A few things are included which I feel could just as well have been left out, sich as the widely-discussed attempt by Arthur Ford to defraud Houdini’s widow. Similarly, the occasional recourse to the “science has no explanation” trope could have been left out: most of the material in this realm has completely the wrong sort of evidence (ranging from none through subjective to poorly reproducible) for the scientific method to be useful.
I rather thought the “standard magical warning” that takes up half of the entry on “Spirit Boards” was overdone as well, since there wasn’t room to do it justice and most readers will not need it. Given that Judith Joyce is a pseudonym of Pentagrammarian Judika Illes (as revealed on the Weiser book blog and acknowledged by the author on Twitter), this is perhaps not surprising. She may have thought it no more than a matter of professional ethics.
Aside from those minor issues, this Field Guide is another success. The selection of topics is reasonably balanced: ghosts and spiritualism, UFO phenomena, and mental powers are well-represented, while perennial topics like Atlantis are given a brief and balanced treatment. The writing is clear, the treatment sympathetic but not overly credulous (I presume the sort of hard skeptic who would laugh at this phrase is not interested in the book and has not read this far in this review).
I was more interested in the biographies of remarkable people than in, say, one more short article on Chupacabra or Yeti. Baba Vanga, the Eddy brothers, and Daniel Home are lost to further direct investigation, but their stories remain fascinating. Other readers will find their own proper treasures; I doubt that any interested reader will go home empty-handed.
The book has a resource list (including books, web sites, and organizations) and a high-level index. Given the nature of the Field Guide, this part could have been beefed up, as many readers will want to pursue favorite topics further. It is, as usual, a well-produced paperback which should stand up to the expected wear very well. I give it a strong recommendation with the already-explained disclaimers.
[Complimentary advance-reader copy from Red Wheel/Weiser gratefully acknowledged, opinions my own, your mileage may vary, blah and blah.]