To those familiar with Prometheus Books, it will come as no surprise that this work takes a decidedly skeptical approach to the paranormal. Most members of the distinguished editorial board and many of the 56 contributors are fellows of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP). Carl Sagan notes in his brief foreword that "Almost every entry represents an assessment by an expert with skeptical credentials." James Alcock, Antony Flew, Kendrick Frazier, and Paul Kurtz are among the best-known contributors. Nevertheless, a number of contributors possess what would seem to be proparanormal credentials. Susan Blackmore (Near-Death Experiences
), Andrew MacKenzie (Ghost/Haunted Houses
), Robert S. Ellwood (Theosophy
), and Robert L. Morris (Parapsychology
) provide some of the most balanced and open-minded articles here. Some descriptions of contributors are misleading, however: the biography of Blackmore, "Researcher in the paranormal for twenty years," neglects to mention that she is a fellow of CSICOP who long ago concluded that parapsychology had made no progress.
The encyclopedia's 91 signed articles range in length from The Amityville Horror (two pages) to Astrology (more than 50). Other articles of 15 pages or more include Archaeology and the Paranormal, The Bermuda Triangle, Cryptozoology, Skepticism and the Paranormal, and Survival of Death. Articles range in tone from open-minded and sympathetic, if ultimately skeptical (e.g., Blackmore's Out-of-Body Experiences or Martin Kottnieyer's Fairies) to the occasionally sarcastic or condescending (e.g., Paul Edwards' Reincarnation or Martin Gardner's Oahspe). Most articles are subdivided with boldface section headings, and all are followed by a bibliography. A moderate number of cross-references eases access, as does the index. Names or terms sometimes appear with no identification: in a brief discussion of chiropractic, "Palmer's theories" are mentioned with no indication of who Palmer was or what his theories were; in Gardner's Oahspe, the initials UB are used four times in a single paragraph with no indication that they refer to The Urantia Book.
While Prometheus (perhaps the most frequently cited publisher in the bibliographies here) has published dozens of antiparanormal books and several collections of articles from CSICOP's official journal, Skeptical Enquirer, these are likely to be in circulating collections. The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal will provide new perspectives in reference collections that contain only middle-of-the-road treatments such as Jerome Clark's partially overlapping Encyclopedia of Strange and Unexplained Physical Phenomena [RBB O 15 93] or blatantly proparanormal works. Recommended for academic, public, and high-school libraries.
The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal is the first comprehensive encyclopedia written from a scientific perspective, features a foreword by Carl Sagan, and packs in over 90 articles written by scientists, philosophers, theologians and others on subjects ranging from UFOs and Satan to black magic and karma. The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal is a serious, intense, informative presentation. -- Midwest Book Review