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Britain's X-traordinary Files Paperback – November 20, 2014
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This is a feast of a book, valuable above all for folklore studies but also for parapsychology, history and hard science; and the more important for having grounded itself in the most prosaic of sources, the official records of the nation. -- Professor Ronald Hutton * Professor of History at the University of Bristol * In this entertaining and absorbing book, David Clarke excavates hidden marvels from the depths of The National Archives, casting new light on our uncanny world - from death rays to ghost ships and angels. -- Professor Owen Davies * Professor of History at the University of Hertfordshire * I read the approximately 200-page book across three sittings, and a fascinating study of real life X-Files it certainly is...Add to that official files on (a) sightings of sea serpents; (b) witchcraft trials; (c) British Intelligence dabbling in the world of the occult, as it sought to defeat Hitler's hordes; and (d) a wealth of additional mysteries that occupied, mystified, and sometimes fascinated the world of government, military, and the intelligence service of the British Government, and you'll find yourself immersed in a book quite unlike any other. -- Nick Redfern * Mysterious Universe * A book in the Magonian tradition that we can heartily recommend. -- Peter Rogerson * Magonia Blog * A must-read, 9/10. * Fortean Times * The bottom line is that this is an excellent book, based around a very clever concept. -- Andrew May * Forteana Blog * From the Beast of Bodmin Moor to headless women in St James's Park, this is a fascinating trawl through things we'd love to be true but are sadly aren't, as well as unsolved mysteries like the Mary Celeste and phantom helicopters. * BBC Focus Magazine *
About the Author
Dr David Clarke is Senior Lecturer in Journalism at Sheffield Hallam University. He is an experienced journalist, contributing to the Yorkshire Post, and other newspapers and magazines including BBC History, as well as acting as researcher and consultant on a range of TV and radio programmes including Radio 4 and BBC2's Timewatch series. David is author of The UFO Files also published by Bloomsbury, now in its second edition.
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However, at the same time, the author does not make up a "rational" or "conventional" answer when the answer is clearly unknown based on evidence. This book does not spend time reaching for ways to debunk phenomena and cases where there is not enough evidence to prove or disprove the historical record, and respects the reader's intelligence by allowing those cases to remain "unknown" or "unproved".
In the context of this book, “X-traordinary” may translate more accurately as “something a bit unusual”... and being a little off-kilter doesn’t necessarily equate to being new and interesting. The concluding chapter on the Loch Ness monster is a prime example. Nessie is arguably Great Britain's most widely known and beloved mystery, and most people know at least a little something about the case. It’s been around for decades now, and is well ingrained in popular culture. So what does the British government think of the situation? To sum up: a few believers who find it compelling, a bunch of non-believers who don’t, and the general consensus that even if it probably doesn’t exist, it’s great for tourism, so why mess with it? In other words, exactly what most people probably would have assumed, without twenty-odd pages of evidence extracted from notes, letters, and official documents.
Cutting a bit deeper, one may ask why we bother reading up on these fortean topics at all? For some of us at least, the answer is that a good mystery is exciting. It’s knowing that even if the monster isn’t real, a mystery persists in how so many people can experience it. It’s the love of a good ghost story if nothing else. But the X-traordinary Files isn’t necessarily a book about the mysteries themselves. It’s a book about how governmental entities saw and responded to these events. The author isn’t presenting and analyzing Nessie so much as he’s presenting and analyzing the records of people who were in power at the time. It’s a discussion of people discussing a mystery. Which more often than not, boils down to being just that much less thrilling than addressing the topic head-on. There are no shocking revelations; in fact there doesn’t even seem to be much new material at all. In most instances the official documents do little more than reiterate and corroborate what was already the official story, which I expect most of the general public already knows.
The author addresses a variety of subjects, including ghosts, angels, psychic powers, phantom helicopters, and more. Even the Bermuda Triangle makes an appearance, despite being nowhere near Great Britain. There doesn’t seem to be any particular rhyme or reason to how the material was selected, and the level of detail given any one item is rarely more than what you would expect from a cable TV special on the same. Again, the focus here being more the official documents on the subjects than the subjects themselves.
Rating this book fairly has proven a challenge. In truth, I think the author executed the material well, it’s just that the content is not, to my mind, nearly as interesting as the book jacket would have you believe. There is almost no new or revelatory information; just confirmation of what was already publicly known, or at least suspected. And so, I’m not sure what audience I would recommend it for: A beginner would be better served by a book that approaches the subject matter more directly, while paranormal veterans may prefer something with more focus or fresher content.