Who am I to say that? Well, nobody special, really. “Best books” is subjective. My favorite books include National Velvet (because I read it 35 times or so), Watership Down, The Hobbit, and Jane Austin stuff but I won’t quibble if they aren’t yours too.
When it comes to nonfiction works, the criteria is slightly different. Nonfiction can contribute significantly to the body of literature in a field. A commendable piece brings something new and enlightening – a fresh view, uncovered evidence, updated imagery. My choices of best nonfiction have substance, credibilty, and are groundbreaking must-have books to those interested in a particular field.
Thus, some of my favorite books in the cryptozoology/paranormal realm are Ben Radford’s Scientific Investigation of the Paranormal and Tracking the Chupacabra. These were excellent examples of scholarship and much needed in the literature. They also were praised by many others. I also favorite must-have books such as Sagan’s Demon-Haunted World and Origin of Species because of their tremendous insight and inspiration as well as quotable and beautiful language.
You can see the Doubtful News cryptozoology section of our bookstore here.
It’s hard for me to pick favorite books since it depends on the subject area and the mood I’m in that needs to be satisfied. But there is NO DOUBT that one of the most important cryptozoology books ever is Abominable Science by Loxton and Prothero. It’s impressive and important – a MUST-HAVE if you call yourself a cryptozoologist. But it was ignored by the Bigfooters (arguable not part of the field of cryptozoology because of their narrow niche) or panned by a small portion of cryptozoology believers who seemed too joyous in ripping it apart. If you haven’t gotten a copy, you are missing out.
I am so adamant about it because it’s impressive. I had heard about the book around its inception. I caught peeks into the process here and there as Dan and Don worked diligently to produce a high quality volume. Care, scholarship and new information – that counts for a lot in nonfiction. Nature thought so. So did the Wall Street Journal and Inside Higher Education. See Publisher’s Weekly, The Scientist, and other reviews here. When was the last time a crypto book got such praise and widespread notice!? Abominable Science was an outstanding accomplishment.
However… not everyone thought so. I feel a bit of sour grapes is going on here. A skeptically-themed book CLEARLY outshined the typical crypto fare. Much of these pop crypto books are put out fairly quickly, are non-scientific based, have paranormal themes or are not contributing to the body of knowledge as much as being entertaining to fans of the field. There’s nothing wrong with that (although, some are terrible, full of errors, and often marketed to young readers in juvenile nonfiction). Comparison between pop crypto books suitable for the casual reader and a piece of scholarship like Abominable Science is like comparing fast food to a gourmet restaurant meal. The gap is LARGE.
Loren Coleman, popular cryptozoologist, named Lizard Man: The True Story of the Bishopville Monster by Lyle Blackburn as the Best Cryptozoology book of 2013. This was a good book. It was better than typical pop crypto and it filled in a missing piece in cryptozoology studies. I reviewed it here. Coleman, however, places Abominable Science at #10, as an unenthusiastic mention, noting its “shortcomings in limited case selection and value-ladden (sic) rhetoric”. I would argue vehemently with those “shortcomings”. It’s not an encyclopedia. Illustrative cases had to be chosen and much was left out for page limitations. It’s a huge book, none the less. Value-laden rhetoric? Obviously, the point of the book was missed by Coleman. He attempts a skeptical approach at times but fails to do it well. Scientific rigor is a value, only the most important one for understanding nature and the world’s mysteries. Exhibiting scientific rigor is to be commended, not considered a flaw. To think so says a great deal about Coleman’s perspective on cryptozoology. Many self-titled cryptozoologists have zero intent to solve mysteries, they are content to just promote them instead.
It’s unfortunate that those who call themselves cryptozoologists in online forums or in the media close themselves off to the scholarship in the field or, because certain qualified experts in the field are not mentioned by the “celebs”, remain unaware of the skeptical literature. I’ve talked to some Bigfoot people who admit that they don’t know much about anything other than Bigfoot. They aren’t very interested in the field as much as this narrow subject area. This is more of an interest and hobby than research. I would argue that they are apt to waste their time researching if they don’t learn something about the history and foundation of the subject or are able to judge sound work from a regurgitated legend. Yes, even field researchers ought to know the text. It’s basic preparation for understanding and interpreting what you see in nature. Also, if you wish to really KNOW a field, to have expertise, you must be aware of the disagreements surrounding the conclusions.
So, as an academically inclined reader, I’m going to name Abominable Science as hands-down the best cryptozoology book of 2013. I wish I had a chance to get to more books because I feel like I’m missing some goodies, but my reading lists are varied as necessary to keep up on the wide array of subjects I cover on Doubtful News and my writing. I would recommend the following crypto books out in 2013: Cryptozoologicon and Lizard Man. I’m working on getting another book that was well-reviewed by many and also appears to be a solid scholarly piece: Chet Van Duzers’ “Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps”. I have a feeling I’ll be impressed by that. (Coleman also noted this one in his list but it does not take a skeptical as much as a strict historic approach, as far as I know.)
In conclusion, I observe that there is a fissure in cryptozoology. Some people love the mystery and some people want the answers. It’s difficult to communicate between these camps. I have little to no patience left for those who use the field to gain fame, money, or a sense of personal worth acting as the mighty Bigfoot hunters or esoteric expert. I don’t appreciate repetition of old tales without reference or rampant speculation without a foundation. I DO adore thoughtful detective work, human interest, and intellectual honesty. Most of all, I value critical thought. The less critically thoughtful your crypto book is, the less I’m inclined to bother.
Contact me if you wish for me to consult on or review your work.