Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Loch Ness Monsters and Raining Frogs by Albert Jack

When you subtitle your book "The World's Most Puzzling Mysteries SOLVED," you really ought to stick to the mysteries that have been reasonably well solved.

Of course, that's not the main problem of Loch Ness Monsters and Raining Frogs. The main problem is that Albert Jack comes across as a snide, unpleasant man who can't resist getting digs in about people he thinks are too gullible. His research could be more thorough, too.

Ordinarily, this is the kind of book I just eat up, especially if it's well-written. Albert's not a bad writer, although he sometimes tends to gloss over (or leave out) significant events and other times gets bogged down in too much detail. The too-much-detail problem pops up most when he's writing about famous or semi-famous people who died mysteriously (Marilyn Monroe, Glenn Miller, Robert Maxwell), where he goes off onto tangents and spends far too much page time on minutiae. I can only assume this is because researching such well-publicized and recent events is easy since so much is available, and he just threw everything in. On the other hand, some of the most interesting topics were disposed of in only two or three pages: the "Dover Demon" (the chapter in this book contains less information than any other treatment I've ever read), John Dillinger's death (I saw a recent TV show that went into more detail than this book does, which is odd because so many other chapters discuss celebrity deaths in such tedious detail), and most frustrating of all, the mystery of "The Magnetic Strip." According to the book, a little stretch of German highway built in 1929 was the site of a hundred-some car crashes within one year, which turned out to be caused by "a powerful magnetic force" that was countered by burying a chunk of copper in the ground nearby. I've never even heard about this event before and I would have dearly loved to read more than the four paragraphs Jack devotes to it.

There's an index but no bibliography, no section for notes or sources. I have no idea, therefore, whether Jack was digging deeper in his research than most books of this kind or if he was just repeating facts he found in other secondary sources. In general, he does a good job of relating events and presenting the most recent (and the most practical and well-received) solutions to mysteries.

BUT he is a jerk. I didn't really notice until the third chapter, which is about Bigfoot. Now, I don't really have an opinion either way on Bigfoot; it would be awesome if definitive proof turned up one day, but I'm not one of those people who, you know, care. But the way Albert Jack goes on and on and on in the chapter, making fun of people who dare to think that Bigfoot might actually exist, you'd think a Bigfoot hunter had personally wronged him. Seriously, he's so vicious and ranty in that chapter that it feels strangely personal. I was so turned off by that chapter that I almost put the book down. I kept reading, but I skimmed the crop circles and Loch Ness Monster chapters because Jack kept jeering at those believers too (thought without reaching the level of bile he reserved for the Bigfoot hunters). Once I had noticed his derision, though, I found it throughout the book. He makes fun of pretty much everyone who isn't Albert Jack, throwing in asides to sneer at UFO researchers, anorak-wearers, Bermuda Triangle believers, and the gullible people who read books like the ones he writes. Insulting groups of people repeatedly in print (in attempts to be funny) is not cool. Insulting your own readers is just flat-out batshit.

Even without the spotty research and the insults, though, I wouldn't want to read anything else by Jack. Maybe he didn't subtitle the book "Mysteries SOLVED" himself, but when there is no rational explanation for an event, he doesn't propose one himself. He'll of course bring up the theories of alien abduction and sea monsters so he can laugh at them, but he never suggests any of the more mundane possibilities unless he can be sure they're well-accepted. That just brands him as a non-thinker to me. Why should I read a nonfiction book by someone who can't be bothered to think about his own topics beyond repeating what other authors say?

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