Book Review: Lake Monster Mysteries
By Benjamin Radford and Joe Nickell
2006, University Press of Kentucky
How many good books about the world of lake monsters are out there? If you discount the plethora of Loch Ness books, not many. One with a skeptical tone was absolutely needed.
This book is not lengthy – I wanted more. Much of what is contained is not new information – it is a compilation of previous research articles and experiments along with commentary on reference to previous works. The reference list was a little short (but again, how many good books are there?)
I thought the overall flow of the book was disjointed. It was slightly confusing at some points to figure out who was writing (when using the first person). I wish it had more coherence.
Wait, it gets better. I did get a smattering of new information out of this and more importantly, I developed a clearer perspective on lake monsters.
For example, it resonated with me that the popularity of lake monsters in thousands of lakes worldwide doesn’t bolster the idea of their reality, it actually works against it. How can we have missed so many huge unknown critters around us?
Also, this book exposed several inaccuracies in lake monster lore. Reader beware that cryptozoology books and articles frequently repeat stories taken from past books, inaccuracies and all. The prime one is that explorer Samuel de Champlain was the initial documenter of Champ, famous denizen of Lake Champlain. The authors make a case that this is untrue based on Champlain’s own records. (Champlain on the lake that bears his name.) Perhaps it’s just easier to assume an author used the primary sources than to access them ourselves to check. In addition, we should all be wary about using Native American stories or folklore as “evidence” of the zoological reality of these creatures. Stories and folklore fulfill a different purpose in our culture and aren’t your best bet if you are looking for an accurate representation of the way the world works.
I have enjoyed several of Mr. Nickell’s books and articles. I’ve always liked reading his first hand accounts of undercover investigations of psychic phenomena. I can say nothing negative about Mr. Radford, the managing editor for Skeptical Inquirer. I’ve read lots of his work and generally agreed with his assessments. I have heard him speak in person and seen his comments about other cryptozoological stories. He frequently comments on Cryptomundo . His contributions are very fair, never rude or impolite, and he gives me the impression that he wishes, like I do, that unknown cryptids really do exist. Unfortunately, the more we look for them and find no evidence that they are really there, our hope dims.
But, let’s not get all sad about it. Witnesses have experienced something and finding out what they experienced is an important endeavor.
The authors have made genuine attempts to study the sightings. I can’t recall that it has been done to this degree ever before. Who else wades into the cold lake carrying scale markers and mock-up monsters?
There have been many attempts to find the animals responsible for the sightings and gather new observations but that method skips over the obvious and fundamental questions regarding what the observer actually saw. It’s a sticky situation because it means you may have to eventually reveal that the observer was mistaken in their interpretation.
No one likes to be told they’re wrong. But, we make honest mistakes ALL THE TIME. We all fail to comprehend how easy it is for our brains to fill in the details that our senses don’t adequately capture. To err is human. It doesn’t make you less of a person.
It might make you less of a person if you deliberately exaggerate or hijack an observation so that it benefits you financially. This book makes a very valid point that lake monsters are good for business. We don’t live in a Scooby Doo world where a monster scares people away – visitors will flock to a location to catch a glimpse for themselves. Therefore, our monsters are happily kept alive by newspapers and tourist bureaus. There is a growing trend to “find” monsters in man-made lakes!
Again, all is not negative. Lake monsters are loads of fun and are a genuine part of our culture. I hope they pique our curiosity, instill a sense of the importance of nature and protecting our environment, and exercise our critical thinking skills. I can’t help but adore them – real or imaginary. So, I’m happy to give this book a permanent place in my library.