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Charles Fort: The Man Who Invented the Supernatural Paperback – February 2, 2016
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A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Learn more
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"This is how biographies should be written: Steinmeyer is the ideal host, introducing us to a fascinating stranger, and sliding into the background...Here is a storyteller with a glint in his eye. Pull up a chair, you won't be disappointed." --Mark Stafford, Times of London
"An engrossing biography." --Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
"Perceptive and entertaining." --Ed Park, Los Angeles Times
"Steinmeyer is a gifted biographer, an elegant and unobtrusive author who shows us an entirely fascinating, shy, and witty man, a 20th-century original. This book is not to be missed." --Margaret Heilbrun, Library Journal
"Steinmeyer conjures up his subject's world with wit and empathy, and subtly tracks the events that formed Fort's singular character. The man emerges as eccentric, funny, self-effacing and contradictory. Even the most devoted skeptic will enjoy his company." --Harry Pearson, The Daily Mail
"Fort can easily be lampooned as the man who wrote about rains of frogs, but as Jim Steinmeyer emphasizes in this intriguing biography, he trod a narrow tightrope between belief and skepticism. His life, as graphically portrayed in this book, was often frustrated and unfulfilled. But the legacy he left makes the world a brighter place: paradoxically, both saner and sillier." --David V. Barrett, The Independent
"While American history has relegated Fort to the same curiosity file he so deliberately plumbed, Fort's influence has outstretched his literary contributions. Steinmeyer conjures both the image and mind of Fort in such a way as to mirror Fort's own writings. In doing so, Steinmeyer offers readers a psychological profile of Fort, as well as a glimpse into the culture and history that birthed the supernatural interests of our nation." --Michael Mason, Tulsa World
"Steinmeyer captures Fort's wry humor, skepticism and wildest notions. He has emerged from the archives with a wonderful, prismatic portrait. --Publishers Weekly
"This odd, unique character emerges fully rounded in Jim Steinmeyer's fascinating, sympathetic biography." --Richard Lingeman, author of Theodore Dreiser: An American Journey
"A colorful portrait of an offbeat character." --Kirkus Reviews
"A delightful book." --Robert Ito, Los Angeles Magazine
"A jolly biography." --Damian Thompson, London Telegraph
"Steinmeyer has produced a meticulously researched, marvelously readable window on the life of this extraordinary man. Was he a genius or a crank? Fort's message is that we should not always seek solutions, because there might be none. That is Steinmeyer's verdict on the man himself." --Andrew Crumey, The Scotsman
About the Author
JIM STEINMEYER is one of today's most renowned historians of stage magic. His many books include The Last Greatest Magician in the World, Who Was Dracula?, The Glorious Deception, and Hiding the Elephant, a Los Angeles Times bestseller. Steinmeyer is a leading designer of magic illusion who has done work for television, Broadway, and many of the best-known names in modern magic, such as Doug Henning, Siegfried & Roy, and David Copperfield. Steinmeyer has also developed attractions and live shows for the Walt Disney Company, Universal Studios, and DreamWorks, and has twice received fellowships from the Academy of Magical Arts.
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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.
Fort was a pioneer of an art and/or science that provided us with a lens to view the curious and wonderful world around us in ways not dreamed of in our philosophy. Mr. Steinmeyer, an established writer of magical wonders, is to be thanked for this work that brings the enigmatic Charles Fort to a new generation of readers and potential forteans. Highly recommended.
Steinmeyer does a tremendous job of detailing the troubled Fort family life. It was the most fascinating part of the book for me. I wish that more of Charles' memoir had survived; perhaps it was too painful for him. The pictures he collected for publication were a good complement to the book.
I can fill in some additional family relationships. Charles father, Charles Nelson Fort, was the son of Peter Van Vrancken Fort and Elizabeth Neilson. Peter and Elizabeth also had a daughter Lizzie. Elizabeth passed away before 1865; Peter V. Fort remarried to Catherine Farrell. Peter and Catherine had three sons - Frederick, William, and Frank. Hence, Frank, who was listed in the book in relation to the will of Peter V. Fort, was a half brother to Charles Nelson Fort. Steinmeyer mentioned an aunt of Charles Hoy Fort who told his widow Anna she had no right to Charles' money. The aunt was unnamed, but I wonder if she was either Lizzie or one of the widows of William or Frank Fort.
Elizabeth (Neilson) Fort was the daughter of Charles Neilson (aka Nelson), who wrote a book on Burgoyne's campaign, based on the recollections of his father John Neilson, who was a scout at the battle of Saratoga. This book is still in print today. Hence, Charles Fort's g-grandfather was also a writer, although in a considerably different genre from Charles. I was intrigued by the title of Fort's book, "The Outcast Manufacturers." Many of the Neilson descendants, who would have been cousins of Charles Nelson Fort, were "manufacturers" in the late 1800s, owning knitting mills in Saratoga and Montgomery county, New York.
Although I'm unfamiliar with Fort's writings, Steinmeyer intrigued me enough with his description of Fort's writing process and impact that I do plan to delve into Fort's books.