Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Outbreak! The Encyclopedia of Extraordinary Social Behavior, written by Hilary Evans (author of such books as Intrusions; Gods, Spirits, Cosmic Guardians; and Panic Attacks) and Robert Bartholomew (whose studies have appeared within the pages of the British Medical Journal and The Sociological Quarterly - among many others), is quite possibly the most important contribution to the world of Forteana (which, of course, encompasses UFOs; as if you needed to ask!) in a very long time.

And it’s certainly the biggest contribution to the subject in a long time, too: it runs to nearly 800 pages.

Indeed, we should all praise (and even, perhaps, feel a little bit sorry for) Patrick Huyghe, who had to carefully burn the midnight oil to edit this veritable mighty behemoth of a title into shape for Anomalist Books.

Fortunately, the authors and Patrick have done a great, collective job on this Cthulhu-sized tome.

Anyone who wants to understand what it is that makes the human mind tick (or, sometimes, not tick too well at all…) when faced with extraordinary phenomena and events at a group-level needs to read Outbreak!. And that includes you, Mr. and Mrs. UFO fan!

One of the things that often amazes me about UFOs, is that researchers are often very keen to investigate reports and sightings; but the most important factors of all - namely, the mindset and the (conscious or otherwise) beliefs and ideas of the witnesses - are far-more-than-occasionally left firmly on the shelf.

Fortunately, however - and in distinct contrast to my above-paragraph - with Evans and Bartholomew steering the good-ship Outbreak!, you are in good hands.

All too regularly, the word “scholarly” can be interpreted as meaning (and sometimes with much justification!) “yawn-inducing” and “bloody boring.” Not so here, however. The book is indeed scholarly; but it is also highly informative, insightful, illuminating and witty.

Have you ever wondered what it is (in terms of the human mind’s response to extraordinary situations) that makes “Girl A” faint while at school, after which “Girl B,” “Girl C,” “Girl D,” and…well, you get the picture…all summarily follow suit, until practically the entire class is passed-out on the floor?

Then, before you can utter the now-ominous word “virus,” agents of the the Department of Homeland Security are quickly on the scene to declare that the girls have all potentially been infected by some dastardly biological weapon (conjured up by dark-skinned men with beards, who emanate from some far-off, hot, desert land - or so the rumor that quickly begins to swirl around the school suggests).

Unfortunately, as the day progresses, those same grim-faced agents of the official world are unable to locate any evidence of such a pandemic, no bearded men are to be found anywhere, the girls quickly recover, and the mystified players all return to relative normaility - but all the while wondering what the hell happened, and why.

In a nutshell (and in simplistic - but certainly accurate - terms), this is what lies at the heart of Outbreak! Namely, how we as a species, and as groups, collectively react to unusual phenomena and stressful situations (and how we may be responsible for their creation and interpretation); how and why - at times - we respond in a totally over-the-top, hysterical fashion; how such behavior can totally affect and manipulate minds of a normally rational nature; and, as a result, how we inadvertently provoke extraordinary situations, tales, rumors, legends and much more - and very often of a definitively Fortean nature, too.

The very interesting thing about this book is that the reader can learn as much about the true nature of certain aspects of the UFO puzzle from reading the non-UFO entries as he or she can from studying the tales of a definitively alien nature.

In other words, learning what it is that makes a bunch of schoolgirls faint, and why so many people went totally over the top with respect to the “Bird Flu” issue, is as important as understanding how and why the “alien abduction” epidemic (an epidemic is surely what it is, even if it has a basis in reality) has developed over the last couple of decades.

So, as the authors relate to us their ideas, theories and conclusions, we get to read much about “Assembly Line Hysteria;” “Dancing Mania;” “Fainting Football Cheerleaders;” the “Milan Poisoning Scare;” the “Phantom Hat Pin Stabber;” the “Springheel Jack Scare;” “Windigo Psychosis;” and much more.

And, if at this stage you are wondering what any of this may have to do with UFOs, Forteana and related issues, by the time you finish the book you most certainly will not be wondering any longer.

As Outbreak! shows, when it comes to UFOs, the Monkey-Man, lake-monsters, alien abductions, and much more of an unexplained nature, it is the witnesses, the players and the participants - and particularly their reactions and the way they categorize, interpret and respond to such phenomena, at an individual level; but very often at a larger, group level too - who are arguably far more fascinating, mind-bending and intricately complex than anything they may have encountered.

A fantastic read!

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