Most of us have heard about the mythical city of Atlantis, the elusive Bigfoot and the UFO hotbed of Area 51. But where did these stories originate? Is there any truth to them? And why are we still talking about them decades, even centuries, after their tales were first told? In The Unidentified: Mythical Monsters, Alien Encounters, and Our Obsession With the Unexplained, Colin Dickey strives to answer those very questions—while introducing readers to other lesser known yet delightfully named phenomena along the way, like the 1876 Great Kentucky Meat Shower.
Dickey’s previous book, 2016’s popular Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places, focused on Americans’ fascination with the paranormal. Here, he hits the road again, this time turning his critical and clever eye on enduring stories about strange beasts, alien visitors and other oddities. In this compelling historical and cultural analysis of human nature, in terms of where myths come from and why they persist, Dickey cites the historians, credible or otherwise, who have made conspiracy theories and UFOs their life’s work, and shares his take on their motives and popularity. He also examines why “fringe beliefs” have increased in recent years, contributing to “a rising sentiment of distrust in science, in academic institutions, and in government.”
Dickey begins his engaging and impressively researched journey in his home state of California, at Mount Shasta—believed to have a secret city, Lemuria, inside. He notes that, like Lemuria, the lost city of Atlantis (first described by Plato) is a utopia. Both are “places that don’t exist, that we can fill with meaning precisely because there are no facts against which to measure that meaning.” As he brings readers to New Jersey (the New Jersey Devil: once a hoax creature, now a hockey team name), Montana (the 1968 Montana Snowman sightings) and more, he points to the human tendency toward discomfort with things that don’t make sense and “the automatic obsession to explain [them].”
Scientists did try to explain the Great Kentucky Meat Shower . . . but I won’t spoil the outcome here. Suffice it to say, Dickey found a sort of inspiration in the tale. Ultimately, when it comes to the unexplainable—meaty or otherwise—he exhorts readers to “cling to the wonder, the possibilities, without allowing your doubt to become its own certainty.”