"The Haunting of Twentieth-Century America" Book Review
Written by Steve Pattee
Published by Tor / Forge
Written by William J. Birnes and Joel Martin
2011, 464 pages, Non-Fiction
Released on September 13th, 2011
There's a lot of strange happenings that go on in the world and America has its fair share of weirdness. Authors Joel Martin and William J. Birnes, having written one book covering paranormal events – The Haunting of America – had enough history to do this sequel, The Haunting of Twentieth-Century America. Within it the writers delve into things such as New Orleans and its paranormal past, the Presidents' ties to astrology, the fascinating psychic Edgar Cayce, and more.
The Haunting of Twentieth-Century America is normally the type of book I hungrily eat up. Chock full of stories and history of my country, from ghosts and spirits to psychics and past lives, the novel makes a valid attempt to cover a vast amount of subjects within its pages and somewhat succeeds.
My favorite section within the book by far is chapter four, Edgar Cayce: The Sleeping Psychic. I have heard of Cayce in my interest on the paranormal, but only as that guy who would go into a trance and spit out a cure for people's ailments. However, I didn't know how much impact the man had on new age holistic healing. Nor did I know how many people he helped. It's truly a fascinating chapter about someone who pretty much worked himself to death helping other people and is all but forgotten in mainstream society.
The chapter on New Orleans (New Orleans: A Haunted History) is quite the read as well, if only to be somewhat disappointing in its length. The section only covers a few of New Orleans' rich history of the paranormal and I would have liked to have seen numerous shorter stories as opposed to the few long ones that were covered.
The same can't be said with chapter six, America's Search for Past Lives, as it provides quite a few examples of people who have had detailed knowledge of people and places of a past time that they had no business knowing. The most fascinating case found in this section is the one of young Jagdish Chandra. When he was three, the boy started exhibiting knowledge of the life of Jai Gopal, a wealthy man who lived about 300 miles from Jagdish. Seemingly knowing an uncanny amount about Jai, Jagdish's father finally took his son to visit the house in which Jai lived, where many of his statements were found to be true.
As mentioned, each chapter is enjoyable in its own right, but the whole of the book is crippled by the authors' view of critics of the supernatural. Obviously they are going to have an opinion of those who disagree with their beliefs. That is not only natural, but it's understandable. But the lengths they mention the skeptics in such disdain and near-mockery gets old fast. The first few times it's done is fine, but by the time you get to the end you aren't sure if the book was written to share in the journey of the history of the paranormal or some sort of attempt to say to critics, “See! I told you so! Look everyone, THEY are the ones who don't know what they’re talking about.” I can't get behind that style. Not only is it irritating, but it makes me question the authors' expertise on the subject at hand, since by the end of the book I was beginning to wonder if there wasn't any story they didn't believe. One would think a skeptic's opinion and expertise would be welcome in any sort of paranormal investigation because once you've ruled out everything else, you’re left with either something explainable or not. It's just a shame that instead of embracing those with a different opinion seriously, Birnes and Martin instead decided to be overly defensive when mentioning critics.
It's tough whether or not to recommend The Haunting of Twentieth-Century America. There are a lot of great stories and history regarding the paranormal and it's painfully obvious William J. Birnes and Joel Martin really did their homework and research in putting it all together. However, the obvious disdain for anyone who questions their beliefs leaves a bad taste. Without the attacks, this could have been a four-star book.