Nick Redfern’s latest, The Bigfoot Book, has a sound premise and great potential. It’s all about stuff you may never have heard about or saw relating to the Bigfoot phenomena. This is a collection of small articles on topics related to the Bigfoot phenomenon – an “encyclopedia” (though not comprehensive by any means) written in an easy reading style. The sometimes arbitrary titles – such as “Exeter Watchman Publishes First Newspaper Article on Bigfoot” to describe what appears to be the first account of a Bigfoot-like creature in print in the US – are too often not helpfully descriptive. And entries are arranged in annoying alphabetical order making this a book you need to read cover to cover or you will miss the interesting stories buried in it. The collection includes articles on movies, books, scientific reports and documents, historical references, press releases, and more from all over the world. The entries include many from the UK courtesy of Jon Downes and the CFZ. US readers will find many new things in here and summaries of subjects that have not been previously discussed in book form such as Melba Ketchum’s DNA study results and recently released movies like Willow Creek.
It falls short, however, because of a fatal flaw. Serious researchers of cryptozoology will be disappointed as the sources for the content draw heavily from unreliable Internet sites or are copied quotes from other sources.
Redfern has a well-established reputation in the Fortean community for “just telling stories” without applying any reasonable or critical analysis to them. And, he outright ignores skeptical literature on the toipcs. It continues here. The reader will certainly come away with a better appreciation of the very wacky claims surrounding Bigfoot and a very wide subject area of “wild men”, including many highly speculative and supernatural suggestions. (Ghost monkeys anyone?) The underlying thread through the most stand-alone entries is that Bigfoot and his many international cousins are real and possibly have paranormal or supernatural associations.
Redfern asserts that too many people discount these weirder aspects. Well, there is good reason to discount them, I say, since there is no good evidence to support allegations of invisibility, Bigfoot as an alien, or Bigfoot existing at all let alone multiple types or species of hairy hominids. To assert that Alexander the Great encountered an army of weapon-wielding Sasquatch in the 4th century B.C.E. based on only a loose interpretation of an ancient source is detrimental to legitimate progress in cryptozoology. Too many readers will accept the content of a book like this without question and propagate bad information or misinformation. Redfern sells sensationalism, which may rankle some who take their research as a scholarly endeavor.
I can overlook the sensationalism as the cultural aspects of this topic are really interesting. But one flaw in the book is unforgivable: lack of credible sources. This book is by Visible Ink press who also produced Jerome Clark’s Unexplained! Clark’s book is also a collection of articles but they include sources at the end of each. Redfern’s book includes a “further reading” section at the tail end of the volume which is really the bibliography and should be titled appropriately. Perusing these sources, I find fringe, psychic, mystery mongering, and general information web sites among the tabloids, newspapers and personal interviews. If the entries were qualified as having a none-too-reputable source, I’d be forgiving. But there is almost no hint of critical tone. The most unbiased presentations consist of long-swaths of directly quoted material, which is lazy writing and boring to read.
As skeptical-minded cryptozoologists will have seen countless times before, this volume also includes faulty logic and unsupported assumptions:
- Eyewitness accounts are taken at face value without investigation or questioning. Alleged sighting reports are turned into “clear evidence” that anomalous apes are out there.
- Folklore stories are equated to “evidence of encounters” and the more stories that can be found equates to a greater likelihood of the creature existing. Widespread reports are concluded to be evidence of real creatures instead of the more parsimonious explanation of being culturally-derived and culturally-driven.
- Mythological or traditional accounts are retrofitted or shoehorned into corresponding to the modern description of Bigfoot.
- Several accounts are creatively grouped to support an overarching conclusion, ignoring questionable elements and inconsistencies between them.
- Speculative hypotheses and creative ideas are given the same status as evidence-supported conclusions.
- Plausible and likely alternative explanations are downplayed or ignored entirely.
- Fictional portrayals of Bigfoot are described as being “terrifyingly real,” as if fiction mirrors reality.
There are a few notable errors or missteps:
- The Legend of Boggy Creek movie entry is incorrectly titled “The Beast of Boggy Creek (1972 movie)” which is the book by Lyle Blackburn.
- Redfern describes Ivan Sanderson as “one of the world’s most respected seekers of unknown animals”. No, he was not respected, but he was popular, that’s two completely different things.
- Albino (Bigfoot) is confused with leucistic.
- The Bigfoot tall tale related by President Theodore Roosevelt is told correctly, but the photo caption falls into the typical trap saying it was Roosevelt’s own personal encounter with Bigfoot.
- There is liberal use of not only several friend-of-a-friend stories, but even a 4th person tale! (Redfern says Whitley Strieber says a conservation officer said that two people said they saw a creature in Alaska.) After a certain point, this is no better than fiction.
Is it helpful to use questionably credible sources, speculative hypotheses and controversial interpretation of historical accounts as “food for thought” as Redfern intends? I don’t agree that it is as it borders on misinformation dissemination. Critical assessment is crucial to framing claims of Bigfoot. Those without strong critical thinking skills will take the colorful, speculative information in this book as true. A fun jaunt through lesser-known Bigfoot yarns and interpretations, the book remains suitable for the Bigfoot enthusiast and teen readers provided that they have some critical thinking skills to apply and do not take seriously about half the stories in it.