When I was 12 or 13 years old, my parents got me a book called Mysteries of the Unexplained, which was a hefty encyclopedia of mysteries, coincidences, ghost stories, UFO sightings, and supernatural phenomena. I loved that book, but it presented a less than skeptical approach to most of those topics. The book I’m about to review, in contrast, is thinner than that old classic but much more balanced in its reporting…
Joel Levy – Unsolved Mysteries (2016)
Levy’s book is a well written survey of a handful of unusual topics, including mysterious locations, sightings of strange creatures, unsolved disappearances, and cryptic artifacts. Unlike my old Mysteries of the Unexplained book, this text presents the standard version of each story along with the skeptical interpretation of the event or phenomenon, and in addition, Levy also covers the supernatural, conspiratorial, or fringe theories in a section called “Far Out Theories.” Topics like “spirit orbs,” which are little splotches of light that show up in photographs, are pretty decisively explained as being caused by the flashes on cameras, but Levy also discusses the fringe beliefs, things like the idea that orbs are disembodied spirits or some kind of natural phenomena called “earth lights.” The fringe is still presented in this book but confined to a clearly marked section, which I like.
HOWEVER, if you are a huge fan of supernatural explanations or conspiracy theories, this book might not be your favorite, as it presents the “fringe” materials as outliers, and Levy makes certain to give the skeptical explanations the spotlight, which some folks probably won’t appreciate. (Believers LOVE their mysteries!) The topics are also covered VERY quickly, usually in four to six pages, and that includes the liberal use of large font text sections and photos. The majority of these subjects: Easter Island, Bigfoot, Area 51, Stonehenge, etc., require several books worth of information to cover thoroughly, and Levy realizes this, so he includes a section called “Further Reading” at the back of the book that provides suggestions for a number of additional texts that interested readers can look to for more information. And, a bit of a complaint I have is that there are some strange omissions from this book. There isn’t a word about the Great Pyramid of Cheops, or the Crystal Skulls, or Star Children… And WHY, considering the cover has the ALL-SEEING EYE on it, isn’t there a section on The Illuminati??? (I guess those are topics for another day…)
Overall, there are some interesting stories covered in this book, and lots of photos, which is cool. I like the inclusion of the skeptical explanations along with the wacky theories, as well, because it can be pretty difficult to FIND books that give the skeptical viewpoints, and the recent publication date means that the most recent research is usually included for each story. The book, however, is definitely a skimmer, just barely touching on each topic before dropping it and moving on to the next. If you are already a fan of Fortean topics, this book is probably going to seem too rudimentary to keep you interested. However, if you’re looking for a starter text in WEIRD PHENOMENA, or maybe just some light reading on a few strange topics, Unsolved Mysteries might be worth picking up!
—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Supreme Bunny Lord of The P.E.W.)
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