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Charles Fort: The Man Who Invented the Supernatural Hardcover – May 1, 2008


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Tarcher; Reprint edition (May 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1585426407
  • ISBN-13: 978-1585426409
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.9 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #918,554 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Ben Hecht saw iconoclastic author Fort (1874–1932) as an inspired clown who thumbed his nose at science as well as religion, and Fort's imaginative books exerted a strong influence on science fiction, notably novelist Eric Frank Russell. Stage magic historian Steinmeyer (Hiding the Elephant) captures Fort's wry humor, skepticism and wildest notions. Surviving fragments of Fort's unpublished autobiography illuminate his strict Albany, N.Y., childhood. In 1892, Fort became a New York City reporter and editor before his world travels and 1896 marriage. He was befriended by Theodore Dreiser, who shepherded Fort's short stories and first novel into print. Fort also pored through diverse journals to document the paranormal and anomalies rejected by the scientific establishment. Shoe boxes packed with 40,000 slips of paper served as a basis for The Book of the Damned (1919), which saw print because Dreiser threatened to leave his publisher unless the company also published Fort. As more compilations of oddities appeared, Fort developed a cult following, and the so-called Forteans issued journals long after their leader's death. Steinmeyer has emerged from the archives with a wonderful, prismatic portrait of the man who once wrote, To this day, it has not been decided if I am a humorist or a scientist. 8 pages of b&w photos. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Fort is generally remembered, when he is, as a crank’s crank and a skeptical satirist, but Steinmeyer seems to argue for a more nuanced view; after all, Fort greatly influenced conspiracy maven Robert Anton Wilson, among other notables. Relying heavily on Fort’s correspondence, Steinmeyer details Fort’s relationship with Theodore Dreiser, who served as Fort’s champion and protector, a post necessitated by Fort’s far-reaching criticism and contrarian reactions to the thoughts and writings of other luminaries of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. In his career, Fort wrote about victims of spontaneous combustion, introduced the concept of teleportation, and indulged in conspiracy theories and UFO yarns. Crank or delineator of modern concepts of the supernatural, he is a figure worthy of rediscovery. Esteemed not only by Dreiser, Fort was also dismissed by the New York Times and called a damnable bore by H. G. Wells, thus achieving a certain balance of critical appraisal in his own time. Steinmeyer’s comprehensive work may allow readers to draw their own conclusions and certainly will afford them much entertainment. --Mike Tribby

Customer Reviews

I think the book is very well researched.
D.L. VanDerBeek
H. L. Mencken and H. G. Wells were a few of the popular writers of the time that despised him.
C. Raso
Fort really started something, but it's difficult to say precisely just what.
Rory Coker

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Mark Newbold on May 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
At last a major biography worthy of the man who introduced us to the truly amazing and inexplicable world we inhabit. Not since Damon Knight's 1970 bio has Fort been given his due. Fort came from an odd childhood of upper class indulgence and Dickensian cruelty perpetuated by his father. Fort's personal individuation was one of rebellion against social norms and mindless restrictions leading him to an "on the road" existence of travel, train yards, and down and outs from the backroads of America to cattle ships to Britain.

Fort was Bohemia's bohemian who struggled as a newspaper reporter, starving novelist and hermit in a domestic life surrounded by his devoted wife and research notes. Theodore Drieser was the champion that finally realized the unique genius possessed by Fort and supported him with unwaivering friendship through the remainder of Fort's short but prolific life.

But did he "invent" the supernatural as alleged by the title? Like an eccentric Zen master, Fort directly pointed at the documented realities that intrude into a well ordered empirical universe with distinctly uncomfortable implications. Continuing with the zen metaphor, Fort's "stick that heals" was one of curiosity and doubt. He had possessed a healthy minded agnosticism that was interested in everything because everything is interesting. Rather than "invent" Fort more accurately precipitated what has become known as the supernatural. Among the phenomena he documented were aerial phenonmena later to be called UFO's, vanishing lands, people, vessels and mysterious falls of substances that should not fall upon us are now pillars of the supernatural that continue to baffle and delight.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on July 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
If you have a taste for giant lights in the sky or in the ocean, flying ships "shaped like a Mexican cigar", or secret polar civilizations; or especially, if you want to know more about how rain could come down colored red, black, or yellow, or could include a storm of eels or pebbles or frogs, then Charles Fort is your man. And if you want explanations, you might find it satisfactory that Fort instructs about the blood that dripped from the sky, "... our whole solar system is a living thing: that showers of blood upon this earth are its internal hemorrhages. - Or vast living things in the sky, as there are vast living things in the oceans..." Fort gets high points for curiosity, and no points for explication, but ninety years after his strange ideas were first put in print, his name is still known by students of the paranormal, whether the name be reviled or praised. In _Charles Fort: The Man Who Invented the Supernatural_ (Tarcher / Penguin), Jim Steinmeyer has given a jolly story of this remarkably strange man. Steinmeyer has written about various aspects of the history of magic, and he designs magic illusions for famous magicians, but this is an appreciative, no-nonsense biography, quite anomalously fitting for a subject who surrounded himself with at least some nonsensical tales taken as fact.

Fort was born in 1874, and grew up in Albany, N.Y. His father was a grocer, a dandy, and a bully, and following a terrible row at home when he was eighteen, Fort left home for good to see the world. When he returned, he started writing stories for magazines, often in the popular vein of O. Henry. He had some success, got some stories published, but the pay was small.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By G. LeFever on June 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Steinmeyer does a good job of encapsulating the life of Fort, who must not have been the easiest person to research. While a little short on Fort's actual motivation to catalog the world's oddest phenomena, the book provides fascinating accounts of Fort's troubled childhood, adult poverty, note-taking methodology and his strange and lengthy friendship with fellow author Theodore Dreiser. The subtitle "The Man Who Invented the Supernatural" is misleading, but I suspect it may not have been Steinmeyer's idea. It's a fast and curious look into the life of one our grand eccentrics.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Rory Coker on May 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Magician and magical historian Jim Steinmeyer has written a carefully "agnostic" biography of that infamous agnostic of pseudoscience, Charles Hoy Fort. By this I mean that Steinmeyer essentially never intrudes with summations, analyses, judgments or conclusions... he gives the facts and lets them speak for themselves. In dealing with Fort, this is probably the correct approach.

Fort was the product of a horrific childhood that would leave almost anyone seriously mentally ill, and indeed as an adult he found no part of society into which he could fit. Dropping out of high school (failing math and science, naturally) he worked as a newspaper reporter, and then tried to make a living as a writer of magazine fiction. His work during this period usually consisted of slice-of-life accounts (including one published novel) of daily existence in the slums and tenements of New York.

At some point he turned to the writing of conventionally crazy pseudoscience, in the now-lost manuscripts he called X and Y. In X he argued that all life on earth is designed, evolved and controlled by intelligent creatures living on Mars. In Y he argued that there is a super-race living in a huge depression at the North Pole. In both works he used the technique familiar from Ignatius Donnelly (and later Immanuel Velikovsky), namely the backing of these wild claims by overwhelming (yet actually irrelevant) numbers of citations from obscure records and documents. Either manuscript could easily have been configured as science fiction, but despite hints from his good friend, novelist Theodore Dreiser, Fort refused to make the conversions. Neither was ever published in any form.
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