The World’s Strangest Mysteries by Rupert Furneaux (1962): I bought this paperback on a lark, figuring it would be chock-full of loopiness. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that for books of this type, it’s surprisingly even-handed. It’s certainly no Cosmos, but neither is it like modern-day History Channel stupidity.
Obviously, much of the material explored here has become dated — the book is more than 50 years old, after all. Nonetheless, sections on Kaspar Hauser, the Man in the Silk Mask, Anastasia, and other mysterious figures lay out and evaluate the various cases for who these people were or weren’t.
We also get some stories of things that would turn out to be hoaxes after the book’s publication (the infamous Brass Plate of California being one of them), or that were always hoaxes if one knew where to look for decent information (Welcome to Oak Island, suckers!). The book may be wrong in its conclusions about some of these things, but there is an argumentative process at work: Furneaux isn’t completely gullible and accepting.
Well, OK, sections on the Loch Ness Monster and the Yeti seem to have been thrown together, though Furneaux at least explains the overall reasoning for why they may exist (which is to say, cryptids were still showing up in 1961 with some regularity).
His section on the Shakespeare authorship (non)controversy is solid, though he appears ignorant of the simple fact that we know more about the life of Shakespeare than we do of virtually any other person of his socioeconomic class from the same time period: his was not a mysteriously under-chronicled life, and Furneaux repeats some misinformation about the Shakespeare statue in Stratford-Upon-Avon (and seems ignorant of the fact that the “second bed” was actually the best bed to will somebody — as the guest bed, it hadn’t been used).
Overall, fun stuff, with some interesting mysteries to follow up from other sources. Worth picking up if you see it lying around in a used bookstore for a fair price. It’s also deceptively long, hailing as it does from a time when the paperback publishers tried to save money on paper by printing everything in tiny, tiny type. Recommended.
The Strange and Uncanny by John Macklin (1967): I’m pretty sure I read this unsourced compendium of weird, ‘true’ stories when I was about ten. And ten is pretty much the Golden Age for this sort of book. Now we can just download these strange sorts of tales directly from the Internet into our neocortexes. Truly this is a disturbing universe.
One can assess the probably verity of its contents by noting that it rehashes the completely fabricated story of Princess Amen-Ra and her mummy’s role in the sinking of the Titanic, a story that still pops up a lot in stories about unexplained mysteries. Alan Moore even offered a version of it in the graphic novel From Hell.
However, more because of the ridiculous claims of the book than despite them, there’s a lot of fun to be had. I can see how some of the stories creeped me out when I was a lad (including that of the malevolent Egyptian mummy). Others are actually reined in a bit too much for maximum enjoyment. If a story tells me that a demon killed someone, I’d like to discover that the guy was ripped apart by an invisible assailant. I don’t want to learn that he was found with a single gunshot wound to the head. Pistol-packing demons would be cool in certain circumstances, but they lack a certain oomph in this situation.
Some of the ‘true’ stories here bear remarkable resemblances to fictional ghost stories I’ve encountered. And there’s absolute no sourcing here — no notes, no bibliography. Ah, well. You get to read about the telepathic, precognitive Newfoundland horse called Lady Wonder, who helped police in that province solve a couple of missing persons cases. Is this true? I’ll have to look it up. Recommended.