"American Monsters" Book Review
Written by Ron Williams
Published by Tarcher/Penguin
Written by Linda S. Godfrey
2014, 367 pages, Reference
Released on August 28th, 2014
Author Linda S. Godfrey makes it very clear upfront that this book is not about the human monsters that stalk our daily lives and the nightly news. This book is about the myriad of mysterious beasts that have been spotted stalking the Americas, or what she chooses to call the New World. If you were hoping to keep your monsters inside the continental United States, watch out. They're all over North and South America. Sasquatches, batsquathes, chupacabras, dog men, moth men, man bats, you name it. The new world is a veritable melting pot of monstrosities.
American Monsters is broken into different sections detailing the types of lusus naturae, not the geographical locations. Apparently these legendary beasts like to move around. A lot. You've got your Land, Air and Sea Monsters, and there's a surprising amount of crossover here. Moth men and batsquatches are all over the damn place, some by land, some by air, and technically some by sea too. Godfrey does a great job of keeping track of all of these cryptids and goes a step beyond the eyewitness accounts presented here to draw on Native American history and mythology. Her writing and cataloging are top notch. The book comes with an extensive bibliography and index as well.
The problem with all of this is it's really a collection of other people's work. While there are parts where Godfrey has researched incidents and sightings and done interviews with the eyewitnesses, most of this book references other books, Fate Magazine, and several websites and blogs. While Godfrey doesn't try to prove the existence of these creatures, she does go out of her way to bolster the eyewitness testimony by cross referencing other works with unsubstantiated claims. To any researcher, this is faulty logic.
I realize that American Monsters is entertainment and not meant to be a textbook. The question here that the readers have to decide for themselves is, does it matter? For a lot of people it doesn't. They'll enjoy reading secondhand stories of Batsquatches, and there's nothing wrong with that. But, there are people who won't, and that's why I feel I have to point this out. Cryptozoology has blossomed into a near mainstream field of study, and there are many scientific books about the field, demonstrating real scientific research available. This isn't one of them. This is a quickly read compendium of tales that sometimes stagger the imagination. It's the type of book that doesn't have photographs of gigantic birds; it has photographs of people standing next to an area where one time in the past they claim to have seen giant birds.
If you're looking for a serious book about cryptozoology, this isn't it. If you're looking for light reading that might spark your imagination, offer some escape, and read about unexplainable things that maybe you yourself have experienced, this is probably a good book for you. Once I turned off all critical thinking and just sought to enjoy it, it was most definitely enjoyable.
I also want to point out that Linda S. Godfrey is not claiming that there is any kind of scientific research going on here. She's merely telling us the stories and experiences of others. And I was pleasantly surprised to see a reference to Dr. Franklin Ruehl, a cryptozoological crackpot many people may remember from his own show Mysteries from Beyond the Other Dominion that aired as one of the Sci-Fi Channel's first original programs back in the early '90s. As a reviewer I do have to take umbrage when Godfrey takes a dig at Animal Planet for a faux documentary they did on mermaids. I'm not sure she realizes she is presenting the same type of scientific evidence that they did: non-existent and entirely hearsay.
If you enjoy reading about tales of mystery, supernatural and the inexplicable, you'll like this book. If you don't question what you read, you'll like this book. Taken in that light, I believe this book will offer a lot of people a lot of entertainment value. Each small section takes only minutes to read, so it makes a great choice for bathroom or travel reading. It's well written and well organized. It's well done all around. In that light, I recommend it.
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