Good books about 'unexplained' phenomena?
August 2, 2007 12:17 AM   Subscribe

What are some well-written, readily-available books about, for want of a better term, ‘the unexplained:’ apparently psychic phenomena, apparitions, telepathy, and the like?

I have a pen-pal who is at college studying electrical engineering in north-eastern Africa. He has a great curiosity about philosophy, literature, and the arts, but books of all kinds are hard to come by where he is, so I have been sending him some of my old volumes.

He's expressed a particular interest in these ‘unexplained’ phenomena, but I am a skeptic, and haven't anything that fits the bill. What are some good general works on these subjects? Ideally, I suppose, I'd prefer books that would allow him to draw his own conclusions, and are neither blindly credulous nor dogmatically skeptical.
posted by misteraitch to Religion & Philosophy (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Time-Life Books has a really interesting (and well-written/researched) series on the unexplained... I'll try to find a link.
posted by amyms at 12:24 AM on August 2, 2007

Here it is... Mysteries of the Unknown... I just noticed that the site says the series is unavailabe for ordering (which means it must be out of print), but my local library has it, so I'm sure you could direct your friend to a library (or maybe find the books on ebay?).
posted by amyms at 12:28 AM on August 2, 2007

Oh, sorry, I realize you said "books are hard to come by"... But, hopefully you can find a set of the Time-Life books to send to him, they're worth it.
posted by amyms at 12:29 AM on August 2, 2007

Man, these are super cheap on eBay.

posted by aubilenon at 12:59 AM on August 2, 2007

How about a very old volume?
posted by hAndrew at 1:18 AM on August 2, 2007

You could always get him a subscription to the Fortean Times - they tread the tightrope between credulity and forcible scepticism pretty well. Or go back to the source - I think Fort's works are all still available in print.
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 1:50 AM on August 2, 2007

I came in here to recommend Fortean Times - it has a great "accept everything, believe nothing" approach. But there's only so much weird stuff out there, so the monthly can be a bit content-lite sometimes... maybe there's a Best Of collection?
posted by Leon at 4:37 AM on August 2, 2007

i really enjoyed reading anything by lyall watson. he did a book called supernature, which was him attempting to put a semi-scientific type explanation behind possible extraordinary events.

he's done a lot of different books, but supernature is the best to start with - they are relatively easy to get hold of over here in the uk.
posted by dnc at 4:48 AM on August 2, 2007

I thought I was the only person to have experienced 'the old hag'... then I read, Borderlands by Mike Dash; a fantastic read. It's a good level-headed book that I would recommend to anyone.
posted by popcassady at 5:20 AM on August 2, 2007

By far the best books I've read on the subject are "Oddities" and "Enigmas" by Rupert Gould. They're old, but they've been reissued many, many times. They may even still be in print somewhere. Should be cheap and easy to get used copies if not.
posted by ROTFL at 5:36 AM on August 2, 2007

Best answer: I came in here to recommend Fortean Times - it has a great "accept everything, believe nothing" approach. But there's only so much weird stuff out there, so the monthly can be a bit content-lite sometimes... maybe there's a Best Of collection?

FT used to issue compendiums but gave up as it was too expensive. They still have older ones for sale on their website and are now doing computer versions I think.

Having just been beaten to it, I'll second Mike Dash's Borderlands. He used to be one of the FT crew and so has a good grip on the whole universe of anomalies. One of the FT editors is also responsible for The Rough Guide to Unexplained Phenomena (John Michell and Robert Rickard), which has a good and wide (if necessarily thin) coverage of forteana.

Two other good but more specific books are by Jim Schnabel: Round in Circles and Dark White about crop circles and ufo abductions. Both well written and even-handed up until the final verdicts.

posted by outlier at 5:37 AM on August 2, 2007

Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach. A damn fine read.

Not exactly the same subject, but Mary Roach's first book, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers was both fascinating and hilarious.
posted by santojulieta at 5:44 AM on August 2, 2007

Regardless of what you think about his fiction, Michael Crichton's first-person, nonfiction "Travels" totally fits the bill.

Amazon Link

From the Amazon review:
"Shuffled among these chapters are accounts of psychic experiences that include channeling, exorcism, and spoon-bending and end with a defense of "paranormal experience."
posted by ChuckLeChuck at 7:27 AM on August 2, 2007

Enthusiastically seconding Spook by Mary Roach. I'm reading it right now and it's great. And yes, Stiff was fabulous as well. She's a firecracker of a writer.
posted by scody at 11:33 AM on August 2, 2007

Response by poster: My thanks to you all for your thoughtful responses. The Rough Guide to Unexplained Phenomena sounds like a fine starting-point, and most closely matches what I'd had in mind. I might well send my friend Spook and/or Borderlands too, and possibly some of the other titles suggested if he finds these to his liking.

I was interested to see that the original Time/Life Mysteries of the Unknown series extended to thirty-two volumes! The books sound excellent, but unless I were very selective, shipping them would be expensive...

Also, some of the other suggestions (Extraordinary Popular Delusions... for example), while not quite the kind of book I was thinking of, sound like works I'd like to read for myself.
posted by misteraitch at 3:47 PM on August 2, 2007

Cosmic Trigger 1 by Robert Anton Wilson fits these criteria-- open minded but skeptical, and also lots of fun to read.
posted by lgyre at 7:50 PM on August 2, 2007

Conscious Universe by Dean Radin. Quotes Sagan, Einstein, and others about their beliefs. Includes charts on psi studies going back to the 19th century all the way to modern day.
posted by levijk at 12:57 PM on August 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Lynn McTaggart has a couple of books with a different perspective: The Field, and The Intention Experiment. Both approach the kind of phenomena you're talking about by discussing the different kinds of research that claim to support the existence of the unexplained.

I bought both of the books. I'm not convinced by either one that such things exist - but - there is more experimental work than I would have thought existed. The problem is that there isn't a counterpoint here to give the criticisms of the studies cited.

An entirely different kind of book is How To Think About Weird Things, which is a book about critical thinking using using unexplained phenomena as a vehicle.
posted by jpaulholbrook at 8:11 PM on August 3, 2007

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