Tag Archives: Reviews

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: Tom Slick: True Life Encounters in Cryptozoology by Loren Coleman

Tom Slick was a Texas oilman who took an interest in anomalous creatures from a young age. He was fortunate enough to have the wealth necessary to sponsor expeditions around the globe, and today he is most well remembered in cryptozoology circles for his pursuit of the Himalayan Yeti, or Abominable Snowman. Tom Slick: True Life Encounters in Cryptozoology is a biography of Slick’s life, with a specific focus on his contributions to the early days of cryptozoology.

Loren Coleman is the author of numerous books in this field, and is currently the curator of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, ME. His credentials make him a logical candidate to produce this sort of biography, and it’s clear that a lot of time and effort went into researching the private and somewhat enigmatic individual that was Tom Slick. Having died suddenly and unexpectedly in a plane crash, Tom did not leave behind a formal record of his activities, making it necessary to piece together his story from family members, colleagues, and correspondence.

The text begins with a relatively straight biographical introduction to Tom Slick, addressing his parents, family atmosphere, and general upbringing. This serves as background as we progress toward the main event, which will constitute the remainder of the book: Tom’s contributions to cryptozoology. These early chapters, on up through Slick’s involvement in the Himalayan expeditions, are informative and satisfying, and really shed a great light on his character.

After covering the Yeti years, the content starts to get off track and begins to ramble. Chapter 10, supposedly on the Orang Pendek, somehow manages to discuss neither Tom Slick, nor the Orang Pendek in any real quantity. The following chapter (“Other Cryptozoological Side-Trips”) again makes only glancing mention of Slick, instead choosing to address a couple other cryptids at length. It felt as though Coleman couldn’t quite help himself in turning at least a few chapters of this otherwise-biography into another book of creature tales, justified only by making the vaguest of connections with Tom Slick in the process.

A few appendices follow the main body of the text, the first of which is purportedly an exploration of Tom Slick and potential connections the CIA. Why this would be in an appendix rather than a chapter is not immediately clear, as it is at least a full chapter in length. Sadly, the content is a mess of mostly random facts and coincidences, few of which seem to involve Slick at all. The conclusion seems to be that no, Slick probably wasn’t involved much in covert government operations, and if he was, the book fails completely at providing coherent evidence of the claim. In my opinion the entire section should have just been dropped for lack of relevance.

Finally, as a more material complaint, the editing in much of the text was horrible. It was really surprising to see a book by a seasoned author be released with so many blatant typographical errors. Simple words were misspelled, punctuation wandered, and names changed spelling from one sentence to the next. (I also found the parenthetical reference format less than ideal, but it’s better to be distractingly referenced than not referenced at all.)

It’s nice to see a book paying homage to Tom Slick’s personal, and largely private, quest for the unknown. His role in early cryptozoology deserves to be recognized and appreciated, and Loren Coleman’s research does justice to his ambitions. It’s just unfortunate that poor editing and a lack of focus manage to hinder the enjoyability of the final product.

Rating: 3/5

Review: Lizard Man: The True Story of the Bishopville Monster by Lyle Blackburn

In Lizard Man: The True Story of the Bishopville Monster, Lyle Blackburn takes us along on an investigation into a cryptid from the swamps of South Carolina.

Blackburn previously explored the Fouke Monster in his excellent book The Beast of Boggy Creek. The author’s style and approach remain much the same in Lizard Man. Choosing an (arguably somewhat obscure) monster of North American folklore, he personally travels to the site of the original events. There, he tracks down surviving witnesses for interviews, visits significant locations, and basically does whatever legwork can reasonably be done so many years after the fact.

The era of the Lizard Man was a somewhat brief one, becoming an overnight cultural phenomenon, but not providing the depth or longevity of reports one might expect from the more famous members of the cryptozoology club. That’s not to say that the matter was unworthy of investigation, and in my view the result was actually a gem of a story. It’s not a long book, but it’s more or less the size it needed to be to tell the tale of the Lizard Man, at least as far as it can be known today. And, as it turns out, the popular interpretation of the creature that had been presented by armchair researchers and the media was not necessarily accurate, even by monster-hunting standards.

[Warning: Spoilers]

The author does attempt to draw conclusions about the nature of the beast based on the available witness reports. In a later chapter he covers other instances of “lizard men” in cryptozoology and popular culture in an attempt to draw comparisons. Blackburn slow-walks us to a conclusion that is probably more or less obvious to the experienced reader well before he finally gets there: the Lizard Man moniker is a misnomer, and the creature reported by witnesses is not particularly lizard-like at all.

In fact, in what is for me the highlight of the entire effort, the most well regarded Bishopville Monster reports turn out to have almost identical traits to other incidents commonly interpreted as encounters with a Sasquatch. Despite the “lizard” interpretation plastered all over the media and the public imagination of the day, in reality, virtually every credible witness described classic Bigfoot characteristics. This is seemingly significant in that unlike Sasquatch encounters by people already intent on finding the creature, and therefore arguably prone to see one whether it exists or not, the Lizard Man witnesses should have seen a man-lizard, or nothing at all. A fascinating result, and one that more than justifies the effort Blackburn puts into his investigation.

[End Spoilers]

The author’s writing style is easy and personable, and aside from a few minor typographical errors, the book is a pleasure to read. It’s a must for monster hunters, and is almost certainly the most definitive work available today on the Lizard Man of Bishopville.

Rating: 5/5

Review: Night Siege: The Hudson Valley UFO Sightings by Dr. J. Allen Hynek, Philip J. Imbrogno, and Bob Pratt

Night Siege documents a very large and unusually persistent unidentified flying object over the Hudson Valley region of the northeast United States in the 1970s and 80s. (The current version of the book is amended to include additional reports up through the mid 1990s.) Sightings of the object were investigated first hand by a small team of researchers, three of whom went on to produce this text based on their data and experiences.

The book is largely a walk-through of the most significant encounters with the UFO, presented chronologically as the events unfolded. It relies heavily on eyewitness testimony gathered first hand by the authors, including statements from police officers, scientists, engineers, and other members of the general public. Overall they do a good job of setting the scene, and creating a mildly suspenseful yet informative narrative. There is little in the way of any conclusion, although the authors clearly lean in the direction that the object does not appear to be a traditional man-made craft.

As is par for the course in the UFO arena, the Hudson Valley object left no apparent physical traces. Its reality cannot be proven in the scientific sense, and those of a permanently skeptical bent will not find any more irrefutable proof of the unearthly here than elsewhere. That said, I found Night Siege to be a fascinating entry, and an outstanding read as far as these cases go.

One of the foremost difficulties faced by anyone evaluating a sighting of something unusual in the sky (or for that matter, on the ground) is overcoming the problem of the credibility of the witness. Most encounters with the unknown involve only a small number of people, maybe one or two in any given incident. Even the most honest and well meaning individuals are human, and all humans are prone to accidental misinterpretation. Dreams, hallucinations, intoxications, and just being deceived by ones own eyes are all potential causes for concern. Just because someone thinks they’re seeing spaceships (or Sasquatches, the Loch Ness monster, etc.) doesn’t mean they really are. This is evidenced by the substantial number of UFOs that become IFOs (identified flying objects) upon further review and investigation. Hoaxers are far from the only threat to the research. Honest mistakes happen all the time, but it muddies the waters and makes it difficult to accept witness testimony of an extraordinary event at face value.

With that in mind, what really stood out about the Night Siege phenomenon was the raw volume of consistent and often simultaneous sightings. During some of the more notable incidents, the Taconic Parkway clogged with cars pulling over to view the UFO. Police phones were overwhelmed with calls and dozens of officers saw it. The UFO even famously hovered in restricted airspace over the Indian Point nuclear reactor. The authors estimate over 7000 people observed the same object or objects during the time period in question! And the numbers do not appear baseless, given the hundreds of reports compiled by the investigators, along with the corresponding police activity and media coverage.

These are, simply put, not events that can be casually dismissed as civilian or government aircraft, the planet Venus, street lights, or swamp gas. The witnesses were not drunk or dreaming. Whatever it was, it was big, it was unusual, and a lot of people saw it. It left so many witnesses that by the later chapters, the text almost begins to drag with the repetition of encounter after encounter. How many people need to see something before it becomes, in some sense or another, very much real?

We may only be able to speculate as to what the Hudson Valley UFO really was, but unlike other strange sights that only manifest in isolation, it’s hard to argue that something bizarre wasn’t hovering around the night skies over the north east. In my opinion, it makes for one of the most challenging UFO incidents from a skeptical perspective, and it is definitely some fascinating reading.

Rating: 5/5

Review: A Rich Spot of Earth by Peter Hatch

A Rich Spot of Earth by Peter Hatch is a two part study of the kitchen gardens of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.

The first half of the book focuses on the history of the Monticello gardens. With extensive research and years of firsthand experience behind him, Hatch discusses in detail Jefferson’s construction of the original gardens. He follows them through their prime working years during Jefferson’s presidency and subsequent retirement. We learn about Jefferson’s intimate relationship with his garden, as well as many of the key people that built, maintained, and tended it for him. The author also examines the gardening culture of the time, and relates Jefferson and Monticello to a number of their Virginian contemporaries. As we come to find out, Thomas Jefferson was an enthusiastic and scientifically minded gardener for his era, and was no stranger to horticultural experimentation.

The first act concludes with an overview of the modern day reconstruction of the Jefferson gardens, and we get a feel for their role in the restored Monticello of today.

“A Catalog of Selected Monticello Vegetables” makes up the latter half of the book. In this section we learn about many of the “fruits, roots, and leaves” from the original Monticello crops, and how each factored into Jefferson’s master plans for his gardens. Hatch also covers in significant depth the availability and popularity of these plants in Jefferson’s day, and the cultural attitudes around them.

The entire book is beautifully illustrated with full color photos from the Monticello gardens and many of the varied produce therein. Hatch is perhaps the ultimate authority on the site, given his tenure there, but the text is also thoroughly and extensively referenced. It’s a highly informative work from a historical perspective, and it left me reconsidering my notions of life in the colonial days. It certainly also gives a different view of Jefferson than one is likely to find in a classroom textbook. Aside from the educational value, I found the author’s enthusiasm for the subject matter to be inspirational with my own (much smaller scale) home gardening ventures.

I read the book cover to cover, but I must admit that I found some parts, particularly in the second half, a little tedious. Hatch tends to focus heavily on the historical context, discussing not only Jefferson’s yearly plantings, but also on the activities of a number of his less famous peers. I would have loved to learn a bit more about horticulture and the different vegetable species, or even the unique recipes of the day, instead. Discussing who planted which bean and in what quantity may have raw historical documentary value, but I couldn’t help finding it a little dry.

All in all, A Rich Spot of Earth is visually charming. It will make you want to get out and garden, and maybe plan a trip to Monticello on the weekend. It’s clearly a work of love by Peter Hatch, and it deserves to be recognized as a scholarly effort by an individual who is without doubt a great authority on the subject matter. A slam dunk for the home gardener meets history buff.

Rating: 4/5

Review: Strange Telescopes by Daniel Kalder

 Strange Telescopes is a work that challenges simple description. Daniel Calder takes the reader from Russia to Siberia, in search of individuals who have found unique ways of rejecting our reality and substituting their own. We’re introduced to one man who prefers life underground to above it, and another who believes so fervently in the reality of demonic possession that he makes a life of traveling around to witness and record exorcisms. The journey continues with a trip to a religious settlement in the Siberian wilderness, complete with its own personal Messiah. And finally, we’re given a glimpse at the world’s tallest wooden skyscraper, and the shadowy figure that created it.

The entire story is in a sense a very personal one. The author did not set out with the intention of writing the book that would become Strange Telescopes, but found himself sucked into this series of odd little worlds largely by chance. The experience is lived through Calder, his actions and observations center stage throughout. It’s a bit crude, occasionally dark, consistently irreverent, and also thoroughly amusing. Calder makes for an ideal tour guide, richly illustrating the people and places which at times feel so alien despite being completely earthly. There’s little in the way of a conclusion, but the colorful characters make for a tale that’s as engaging as it is bizarre.

Strange Telescopes has a style that won’t appeal to everyone, but for those who appreciate the stranger side of humanity, it’s a ride worth taking.

Rating: 4/5

Review: A Brief History of Secret Societies by David V. Barrett

If I had to describe A Brief History of Secret Societies in a word, it might be: rambling. While I definitely get the impression that David V. Barrett is an authority on the topics discussed, the text leaves a lot to be desired in the way of organization. A better structure would have greatly improved the book’s readability and brought some much needed clarity to the author’s intentions. Despite touching on a wide variety of material, the entire 300 page work is divided into only six chapters, the majority of which suffer from a lack of consistency or apparent direction.

With a title like A Brief History of Secret Societies, one might be forgiven for expecting the majority of the time to be spent in discussion of secret societies. The reality proves somewhat different. The first two chapters are more akin to high level history lessons, and while portions of chapter two do cover a few classical esoteric groups, the focus is more on religion than anything else. Religious practice is obviously a backdrop for many societies, but the ties are often made loosely, if at all.

Chapter three is “Freemasonry,” which proves to be about as directly and deeply focused on a specific society as the book gets. While informative, I did feel an unnecessary amount of effort was spent defending Masonry from its detractors, which was energy that could have been better utilized going deeper into what Freemasonry is, where it came from, and why. A “history” text arguably shouldn’t need to take a position on the legitimacy of the group, when an honest presentation of the facts would have more or less the same effect on the reader.

With chapter four we’re back to waltzing randomly around topics of the occult. While several Rosicrucian orders do make an appearance, they’re couched between discussions magic and the tarot for little obvious reason. The author seems to have a particular interest in the tarot, which appears in several sections, and is discussed in more detail than most of the secret societies, yet little direct connection between the two is ever made.

Chapter five, “The Dark Side,” may be the most interesting chapter in the entire book, given that it actually addresses (if briefly) several genuinely intriguing societies. Unfortunately, by trying to condense these into one collective chapter, we’re left with little depth. We learn that these groups exist, and a few facts about each, but the coverage is far from exhaustive. The author may have been trying to downplay the link between esoterica and bad behavior, but it feels like a missed opportunity.

The concluding chapter takes us back down the rabbit hole, with more discussion of various occult materials like the holy grail and tarot (again).

In retrospect, the title A Brief History of Secret Societies seems doomed to set the reader up for disappointment. The author is clearly more interested in discussing anything and everything of an esoteric nature. This may include some secret societies, but also covers religions, tarot, alchemy, and all manner of other tangentially associated things, in no particular order, and without making a sufficient effort to tie these themes together. The chaotic chapter structure only exacerbates the problem. Without any clear direction to keep us on track, the entire book rambles along, popping into and out of topics with abandon.

All of this is not to say that the work is without educational potential. The author is clearly deeply knowledgeable on the occult, and if one takes the ride, it will be hard not to learn a thing or two along the way. It just may be that you discover less about secret societies, and more about the generally esoteric, than you would anticipate.

Rating: 3/5

Review: The Masonic Myth by Jay Kinney

The Masonic Myth by Jay Kinney provides a helpful overview into the world of speculative Freemasonry. The book focuses mainly on the aspects of Masonry which can be reasonably well established in the historical record, combined with the author’s own experiences as a practicing American Mason.

Kinney appears to have both feet firmly planted on the ground at all times. He debunks many of the more outlandish claims around the Craft, dismissing some as fables while taking the “we’re just not sure” stance with the remainder. There are no outlandish conspiracy theories promoted, nor endorsement of Masonry’s more mystical, romantic histories. He does provide an overview of several modern rites (rituals), but stops short of a detailed expose on specific lodge activities (which he openly states have already been documented elsewhere). The conspiracy theorist may argue that this is deceptive omission, but I was left satisfied with the level of detail provided. The reality may very well be much as the author presents it: That Freemasonry is essentially just another fraternal order with some rather obscure rituals, whose meanings are left intentionally vague and open to interpretation. Like many things in life, the members tend to get out what they put in. In accepting this notion, the depth of coverage in The Masonic Myth feels perfectly adequate. If you still want to learn more, you should probably just consider joining up.

As a newcomer with little prior knowledge of Masonry, I found the book thoroughly enlightening, if not entirely comprehensive. Given the longevity of Freemasonry, the size of its membership, and the diversity of the various lodges, any more exhaustive approach would likely have strained readability for the uninitiated. The author does site copious references which should be sufficient for a budding Masonic researcher to follow forward. As it stands, The Masonic Myth is a commendable attempt to make Freemasonry accessible to a world of curious outsiders.

Rating: 5/5

Review: Dark Pools: The Rise of the Machine Traders and the Rigging of the U.S. Stock Market by Scott Patterson

By the end of the twentieth century corruption was widespread among the ranks of Wall Street stock brokers, but there was a powerful force of change on the horizon: technology. In Dark Pools, author Scott Patterson shares the story of how computers would come to upend the old guard of the stock exchanges and transform the markets in fantastic, and often unpredictable, ways.

Wall Street: The place where our 401ks and pension funds go, which we should all probably understand better than we actually do. Despite what could be called, at best, amateur interests in the world of trading, I couldn’t put this book down. While by no means a deep technical work, Dark Pools still proved highly educational, offering a lot of insight into the inner workings of today’s stock market. Fortunately, Patterson presents the material in a way that’s eminently accessible, even for those without a Wall Street Journal subscription. Discovering not just how the market is, but how it came into its current form, was eye opening.

Dark Pools isn’t just about the markets, however. It’s also a testament to the raw power of computing and its ability to change the way we work in just a few years time. I expected the book to cover some hyper-modern trends like high frequency trading. What I didn’t anticipate was a beautiful and inspirational story about a few gifted individuals employing computers to revolutionize the world of finance. As it turns out, one 20-something young man working out of a tiny office near Wall Street actually built large portions of the high tech stock market we see around us today. Ever the idealist, he sought to beat the hordes of greedy and self-serving market makers at their own game, using little more than a closet full of computers and his brain. And in many ways, he succeeded. But the story doesn’t end there; this new technology would eventually take on a life of its own, growing and evolving at fantastic pace. Millions and billions would be made and lost in seconds. And it’s still going on, all around us. Some say it’s out of control.

I thoroughly recommend Dark Pools to anyone with even a passing interest in the stock market or the development of technology. It’s an eye-opener on the state of our national finances on one hand, and a testament to the power of man and machine on the other.

Rating: 5/5

Review: The Ancient Alien Question by Philip Coppens

The Ancient Alien Question by Philip Coppens provides a broad overview of the field of ancient alien theory (the idea that extraterrestrials were involved in the origins of humanity). The subject first came to prominence with Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods in the late 1960s, and has recently received a boost with the popular History Channel series Ancient Aliens.

The Ancient Alien Question begins with a fairly straightforward and high level overview of many current ancient alien topics. The author goes for breadth over depth, which means the material is probably best approached as an introduction to the subject at large. I found the brevity somewhat disappointing. Although the author touches on some fascinating material, he quickly moves on to the next subject area and I was frequently left wanting to go deeper. If you’ve seen the television series, or read other studies in the ancient alien arena, it’s debatable how much new and interesting subject matter you will find here. On the positive side, the author does debunk several arguments from older sources, showing at least a measurable degree of skepticism and fact checking while providing an updated text.

The latter half of the book moves on to documenting the author’s “best evidence,” and he eventually attempts to make a direct argument for the reality of alien intervention. The lack of objectivity in these sections posed something of a problem for me. Although the text continues presenting various topics of historical relevance throughout, the more the author tried to push the agenda, the less comfortable I found it. A few examples follow.

The author makes a statement to the effect that the large cycles of time employed by some ancient civilizations (Mayans, Egyptians, etc) were influenced by alien contact. “Whatever these cycles represent, it is clear that our ancestors held these calendars to be important. It is equally clear that it had to have been a nonhuman intelligence that told our ancestors that a cycle of 90 million years was somehow important…” I don’t follow the logic here at all. Different human civilizations have developed a wide variety of creation stories they tell their people, and just because the ones popular today chose brief and easily disproved histories of Earth, it doesn’t make them any more or less valid than what the Egyptians came up with. Anybody can pick a random celestial event, or series of events, tack on some artificial meaning, and invent/extrapolate a calendar or creation myth from there. A time system using big numbers is no more inherently extraterrestrial than one with small numbers.

Coppens dedicates one chapter to evidence suggesting physical contact with aliens. There are a number of arguments made around various ancient cultures having had myths suggesting that gods came to earth and brought civilization to humanity. Many of these stories had striking similarities. It’s interesting stuff, and the author seems to put a lot of stock in the tales as being fairly literal documentation. Then in the next chapter he goes on to present evidence of possible non-physical contact (rituals, the use of psychedelics, etc). Here the author states that the ancient aliens may not have been physical beings as such, but otherworldly entities contacted via the mind. Again this is interesting, but it strikes me as also in direct conflict with his earlier claims around physical visitation by the gods. He at one moment suggests that creation myths regarding higher beings coming to earth and civilizing man should be taken at face value, documenting alien visitations, then immediately performs an about-face and says aliens may not have ever physically come here, but instead reached out to us through ritual practice. Which is it?

One of the big stumbling blocks for ancient alien theory in general is trying to determine which historical texts are to be taken as literal versus just being popular fictions. I’m not sure this can ever be resolved one way or another, but the tact of one minute saying “the myths were fact and gods were aliens on earth” and then the next saying “the gods were never really here, but we contacted them” seems to flip-flop over the entire matter of how trustworthy the sources are to begin with. If they weren’t here, as the myths claim, then your whole argument that these creation stories are of value is for naught. You can’t take two competing viewpoints and say they somehow both contribute to the overall body of evidence in favor of alien intervention if they aren’t actually complimentary theories.

I also don’t understand the inclusion of Edward Leedskalnin’s Coral Castle in this book. I love this mystery, but I don’t recall ever coming across any alien connection to the story whatsoever. It’s part of the “Evidence of Non-physical Contact” chapter, which is completely inappropriate, as the author doesn’t even explain why it should constitute such.

Finally, Coppens dedicates some time to railing against scientific dogma and closed-mindedness. I extend some sympathy here, as there is almost certainly an element of truth to the situation in reality, and especially as it pertains to our own cultural history. Egyptology seems particularly strongly affected. The fact that humans still argue over evolution is proof that we have trouble revising our past, even in the clear view of evidence. But where I’m forced to draw the line is the point at which the author makes claims that ancient alien theory should be accepted as true based on some assumed preponderance of circumstantial “evidence,” or by consensus of the masses. Science, whether it’s in your favor or against you, does not work that way. No amount of circumstantial data is substitute for verifiable, observable, and repeatable fact.

The truth of the matter is that science is ill equipped to rule on matters of antiquity. History is not repeatable, and therefore is not scientifically testable. The best we can hope for is a bit of radio-carbon dating here and some DNA or molecular analysis there. The rest is always going to involve some degree of speculation. (Incidentally, the segment on Egyptian concrete was one of the most interesting in the book, possibly because it does fall within the realm of scientific analysis.) Even if the Egyptians left us huge books with the exact names, life stories, and home planet coordinates of every god-alien in their mythology, it would amount to little in the eyes of science… at least until we had the means to visit said coordinates in person. Just because someone wrote words on a papyrus or drew pictures on a wall does not solidify those statements as fact. Other historical peoples have left us with copious texts which we now know to be largely fabrication or unsuccessful guesswork; even some that were wholly believed as accurate in their time. Just because the really ancient civilizations are even older and less well documented doesn’t imply that they were any more well informed. Maybe they were. But even if you had volumes of their mythology and “knowledge” readily available for study, words on paper don’t constitute proofs of reality.

It’s somewhat ironic that in the Introduction, Coppens discusses von Däniken’s presentation of many questions throughout his seminal Chariots of the Gods. The point is essentially that the ancient alien question revolves around numerous unresolved mysteries that should be revisited with modern knowledge and technology, in search of explanations. Yet before long, the author is directly claiming not just questions but answers, by taking a firm pro position on the issue of alien intervention. This seems to undermine his entire premise that we should focus on investigating the mysteries, rather than jumping to conclusions in either direction.

In the end, The Ancient Alien Question is a fairly lengthy and relatively current overview of the field of ancient alien theory. It favors a broad and high level approach to the material, and will probably be best suited to those without much prior initiation into the subject. Some of the contents are indeed as interesting and thought provoking as ever, but the text is ultimately hampered by author’s taking what feels at best like a poorly supported position on the matter.

Rating: 3/5