Tag Archives: Mysteries

Review: Coral Castle: The Mystery of Ed Leedskalnin and his American Stonehenge by Rusty McClure and Jack Heffron

Coral Castle: The Mystery of Ed Leedskalnin and his American Stonehenge by Rusty McClure and Jack Heffron is part biography, part history lesson, and part guide to the present day tourist attraction.

The book opens with a small biography of the life of Edward Leedskalnin, covering his origins in Latvia and his eventual immigration to America. We learn that he traveled the North American continent, holding various jobs before making his way to Florida, where he would dedicate the remainder of his life to building his masterpiece. From the point of Ed’s arrival in Florida City, the text changes focus to the construction of the Castle.

The story continues after Ed’s passing, with the authors tracing the ownership of the property up to the present day. We discover that, pursuant to Leedskalnin’s death in 1951, the subsequent owners saw fit to collect affidavits from surviving guests and acquaintances regarding the unusual nature of the Castle’s construction. These same statements now provide valuable insights into both the man and his creation.

The text concludes with a guide to the features of present day Coral Castle.

The authors incorporated a variety of color and black and white photographs throughout the book. On the whole they serve to enhance the text, although there are some stock images mixed in among the more interesting and relevant shots of Ed and the Castle.

While I found the majority of Coral Castle enjoyable and informative, I was disappointed with the manner in which the authors covered the possible methods of construction. One of the biggest draws of Leedskalnin’s work tends to be the mystery of how one small, frail man managed to build the entire complex unaided and in secret. There are several popular theories, ranging from basic mechanical physics to alien intervention. The authors only dedicate a single chapter to this topic, touching on every possibility in quick succession, and with minimal critical analysis. The coverage seems insufficient considering that the construction mystery is probably the foundation of most people’s interest. Given the length at which others have speculated on the topic, and that the authors seem to have so much insight into the rest of Ed’s life, it felt as though there should have been more to say here.

All in all, Coral Castle is an approachable and enjoyable treatment of Ed Leedskalnin’s life and most famous creation. Its strengths lie more in presenting the man than the mystery, but in that regard it’s worthy of the attention of those wanting to learn more about the history of this Florida landmark.

Rating: 4/5

Review: Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home by Rupert Sheldrake

Canines anticipating the arrival of their owners is only one small facet of the phenomena covered by author Rupert Sheldrake in Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home. Others include animal empathy and illness detection, calls and telepathy, the sense of direction, and premonition. Each topic is supported by data collected by Sheldrake, either via public survey, solicitation of reports, or in a few cases by direct experimentation. While common pet species are the most frequently discussed, a variety of other animals are also included in cases where information was available.

Sheldrake’s approach is to present the data, which suggests the presence of unexplained abilities in some animals, as evidence of previously unrecognized natural phenomena. While qualities such as telepathy are widely denounced by mainstream science, the author does not promote the paranormal. Rather, he claims (by way of his own background in the sciences), that a true scientist’s duty is to follow the evidence, even when it disagrees with established modes of thought. If studies produce statistically significant outcomes in favor of telepathic ability, they must be explained rather than disregarded. If experiments can be reproduced which show seemingly impossible senses of direction, premonition, or communication, they demand further investigation. I find this attitude both logical and agreeable.

The book is easily readable and is written in a way that should be accessible to most everyone, regardless of background. Pet owners and those who work with animals in a frequent capacity will make an ideal audience. Readers may discover that they already have a peripheral awareness of the material from news articles, television, or life experience, and that the text expands on these. As just one example, I was already familiar with the way many species navigate the globe via some sort of “sense of direction,” but before this book I had never really appreciated just how mysterious or genuinely unexplained this ability is.

The author takes a breadth vs depth approach in this work, which may or may not be of concern depending on initial expectations. None of the behaviors are covered in the detail of a scientific paper, and in fitting so many topics into approximately 300 pages, what we are left with amounts to more of an overview. In fact, the chapters become fairly predictable in structure: Sheldrake presents the theme, gives some statistics about why the material seems to be legitimate, and cherry picks a few of the best case reports as examples. It’s a good approach for the layperson, but the detail may be insufficient for the scholar or the committed skeptic. (In fairness to the author, the chapters are thoroughly referenced for those who want to go farther.)

The aspect of the text that I found myself the most disappointed with was Sheldrake’s invoking of “morphic fields” as his best explanation for much of the observed phenomena. Presenting anomalous data is one thing, but to take an explanatory stance, even an openly speculative one, is highly risky, and tends to have a nasty way of discrediting the rest of the work. At any rate, what most troubled me was the lack of any context for morphic fields outside of the subject matter at hand. Supposedly these fields are some sort of natural…thing…that can be used to neatly explain animal telepathy, sense of direction, etc, but more detail is never really given. It’s not even made clear whether morphic fields are some existing and well established element of modern physics, or if they’re just a word Sheldrake invented for lack of a better explanation. In either case, I found them far too insufficiently supported to add value to the discussion, and the result was a net detraction from the otherwise scholarly qualities of the work.

Finally, there is an appendix to the main text which addresses skeptical “controversies and inquiries.” As a reader of fringe science topics, it’s not uncommon to see an author weigh the material down in combative language against hardline skepticism. By placing his responses to these challenges in an appendix, Sheldrake left the other content mostly unburdened, which is an approach I personally appreciate.

Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home was, on the whole, an eye opener. Well before the conclusion I found myself compelled to examine my own pets behavior in greater detail, wondering if I had overlooked any of these mysterious qualities. Sheldrake makes a highly compelling argument that there is more to our animals than most of us give them credit for. And what may be most interesting is that many of us, simply by assuming such faculties to be impossible, may be unwittingly downplaying or ignoring our own very real experiences with them. Humans are animals too after all, and what is true of our pets, may very well be just as true of us.

Rating: 4/5

Review: The Lost Technologies of Ancient Egypt by Christopher Dunn

Christopher Dunn is an American engineer who has some serious questions about the technological history of ancient Egypt. He has spent many years traveling to Egyptian temples, pyramids, and archaeological sites in his spare time, examining the remains of this once great culture. In The Lost Technologies of Ancient Egypt, Dunn presents his latest findings, many of which challenge the teachings of establishment Egyptology.

Alternative histories of Egypt (and elsewhere) have been popularized as of late by the Ancient Aliens crowd, often suggesting that extraterrestrials had a hand in early human accomplishments. Rest assured, ET makes no appearances here. The author remains wholly down to earth, and gives no suggestion that any species other than mankind was responsible for the pyramids. The text is strictly analytical, and only sensational in so far as it disagrees with the more popular academic views on the technology used by the ancient Egyptians.

While most Egyptologists are archaeologists or historians by trade, Dunn is a lifelong engineer, with an in-depth knowledge of manufacturing processes. Rather than studying artifacts in terms of the people who created them, Dunn wants to know what we can learn about how they were created. Where an archaeologist might see a coffin or a statue of an old god, Dunn sees manufactured objects exhibiting subtle errors and tool marks that can speak to their means of creation.

The author takes tools for precision measurement and a digital camera to each location. He singles out individual objects which he feels exhibit particularly telling features, and uses a combination of physical inspection and computerized analysis of his photographs to complete the evaluation. He attempts to determine, based on the various shapes and surface features, what tools may or may not have created the artifacts, and what mathematical calculations would have gone into their design. The book contains numerous black and white images in line with the text (often marked up to indicate points of interest or measure), as well as a series of color panels to further illustrate key findings. Dunn makes frequent references to geometric principles throughout his work, and an understanding of these is somewhat critical to following along.

The pace of the text varies, in some places feeling a bit dry, as scholarly works are prone to do. The only real intrigue is in the mystery of the artifacts themselves, and how the story presented to tourists and the media, of armies of Egyptian slaves with hand tools of wood and copper, fails to jive with the reality of mathematically precise, seemingly machined, stonework. My biggest complaint is probably that the black-and-white photos were rather small and low resolution, and were in some instances hard to reconcile with the corresponding discussion in the text. There were certainly a few times where “I’ll take your word for it” was as likely a result as “oh, I see it!” for me, but I don’t feel it significantly damaged the case the author was trying to make.

By the end though, the arguments really do pile up, leaving one to wonder what the true history of Egyptian technology could be. The evidence seems convincing, based on all the apparent signs of advanced mathematics and mechanical processes currently unaccounted for, that more complex technology must have been available to somebody, at some point. I have no less difficulty believing Dunn’s claims, given the reasonable degree of photographic and analytical proof, than any other historian claiming the same miracles were worked with much less. It’s a shame that so many scholars would seemingly rather argue amongst themselves than reexamine the evidence, when the truth shouldn’t be a matter of opinion. Maybe the field of Egyptology could use a few good engineers in its ranks.

Recommended for anyone with an interest in Egyptian history or ancient technology; no aliens required.

Rating: 4/5

Review: Who Killed Hammarskjöld? by Susan Williams

Dag Hammarskjöld was the second Secretary General for the United Nations. A well known political figure in his day, Hammarskjöld was embroiled in a U.N. campaign involving extreme turmoil in Africa when he was suddenly killed in a plane crash. Was it simple pilot error, or a much more nefarious act of international sabotage?

This story, while tragic, does make for fantastic reading as a great mystery of modern history. All the elements for a box office thriller are here: countries in revolution, international spy rings, powerful mega-corporations, mercenaries, and more politicians of dubious moral fiber than you can shake a stick at. And so, down the rabbit hole we go, trying to figure out what, or who, killed Hammarskjöld.

The research presented here is top notch. The author has certainly put in the leg work on interviewing as many of the remaining parties as possible, and has seemingly considered all available evidence and documentation. The resulting story and the surrounding environment are painted in a sufficiently lush detail. Despite minimal prior awareness regarding the relevant times and places, I had little trouble following along for most of it. And it can be a wild ride. Just when you think you have a bead on what “really” happened, the next chapter introduces a new angle and throws you for another loop. There were a few occasions where the huge cast of characters did become a bit overwhelming, but with such a large scale event involving so many players, I’m not sure how much more could have been done to ease the burden for the uninitiated. My hardcover copy also included some nice black and white photo inserts which were a welcome way of giving faces to some of the important names involved. The notes, bibliography, and index are all extensive.

The text reads like a first rate mystery novel, twisting and turning through different people’s perspectives. There are wide ranging claims from various parties that are at times hopelessly in opposition with another. The problem is, all the intrigue is ultimately building toward a climax that never reaches denouement. You forge on, one strand of the story after another, and then suddenly it’s all just over. The book ends abruptly with nary a conclusion drawn.

It would be unfair to penalize the author for failure to solve a case which has befuddled investigators at all levels of government for decades. Some mysteries are just unsolved, and that’s the way it is in the real world. Nevertheless, I’m left feeling that somewhere the book has come up short. Maybe it’s the title, taunting the reader with that impossible question? Or perhaps it’s a matter of structure? I would have welcomed some concluding speculation or analysis. Some attempt to draw all the various facts and theories together into a cohesive picture of which bits are most plausible and which are more likely to be ruled out. Just something, anything, other than immediately walking away from the problem upon completion of the research. A way to feel like all this investigation has at least lead us somewhere beyond the point where we started.

Who Killed Hammarskjöld? should be required reading for any fan of historical mysteries or political intrigue. The author has done a commendable job in thoroughly researching the topic, and in trying to pave the way for a bit of justice for Dag. I just wish, one way or another, there was a more satisfying ending.

Rating: 4/5

Review: The Tunguska Mystery by Vladimir Rubtsov

I had heard of the “Tunguska Meteorite” numerous times via magazines, books, and TV documentaries. It turns out much of that information lies somewhere between unintentionally misleading and flat out wrong. In reality the Tunguska event, which has been researched by top Russian scientists for decades, is still unexplained. Much of this research has been presented in scientific journals, and largely in Russian, leaving many of us in the English speaking west to what we are told by occasional media headlines and poorly researched documentaries. The truth is in fact much stranger and more difficult to resolve than a simple meteorite landing.

The author does a fantastic job of walking us through decades of discovery and research. It’s fascinating to watch, almost independently of Tunguska itself, how the scientific world changed around the unyielding enigma of the incident. From the early days of horseback travel and world wars, right up to the present day of computer technology and theoretical physics, researchers have been studying the Taiga looking for answers. It went from the personal quest of one or two scientists to a major multidisciplinary effort of volunteer specialists.

The author does not force any one “correct” solution or approach to the problem so much as he documents the approaches and attitudes of others, along with their results. He clearly has a higher understanding of much of the science involved (he has worked on the problem himself), but at no point does he lose the layman reader in complexities. He is a champion of good, honest, procedural science throughout. It’s almost maddening how inconclusive the data turns out to be, but in truth, there is no other way to present it. I fully understand how so many great minds can become obsessed with finding the solution.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone of scientific curiosity. It’s an absolutely fascinating natural mystery in and of itself, which may just leave you wanting to book a flight to Siberia to continue the investigation. Beyond that, it’s a wonderful study of a major scientific community evolving and working together (and occasionally, in opposition).

Thank you to the author for opening up and documenting this great mystery for major new populations of the world.

Rating: 5/5