Like the “Field Guide to Witches,” this is exactly what it purports to be - a field guide. A field guide to animals contains short entries with fairly general information, and this book is much the same - short, encyclopedic entries on a variety of paranormal subjects.

While the earlier-reviewed Weiser Field Guide to Witches is divided into chapters, this guide arranged strictly alphabetically. There is an index of terms at the back, making it even easier to find a particular entry. There is also a short resource guide, listing books, organizations, websites and more - very helpful as starting places for more information for the interested reader.

Again, I found the quality of the entries fairly reasonable, given their brevity.  And, once more, if the reader has a significant knowledge of any of the phenomena mentioned, s/he could certainly see gaps in the information provided. But the purpose is an overview, not an in-depth analysis, and it achieves that well.

If I have any negative criticisms, they are first, that Joyce seems a bit biased toward UFO and alien phenomena, both in volume of entries she chose to include, and in the explanations for some of the other phenomena mentioned. The second is the references to various phenomena cropping up in fictional settings (Men in Black, for one). I’d rather see references to real-world writings, even obscure ones, than using fiction to support facts.

My final criticism is the occasional explanation by the author that a paranormal explanation for X is more reasonable than a scientific one.* It is a classic example of someone cherry-picking data to support their chosen viewpoint. For example, she offers up several explanations for the existence of the chupacabra (neglecting to mention the chupacabra carcasses that have been DNA tested show them to be canids with sarcoptic mange), and instead concentrates on the possibility they have been left behind by extraterrestrials.

This book is a starting point, a good start to engaging your curiosity. I would use it with the same caution I use Wikipedia - brief, generalized information that should be confirmed before fully trusting its accuracy.

*It reminds me of the Garrison Keillor “commercial” for Old Folks At Home Cottage Cheese. “Made without arsenic or formaldehyde. Are the other cottage cheeses made with arsenic or formaldehyde? We don’t know, but if they’re not, why don’t they say so, just like Old Folks At Home!”

~review by KatSai

Author: Judith Joyce
Weiser Books, 2010
pp. 209, $14.95