Review: Karl Mamer pens a skeptic’s essentials for your paranormal library

For those of us raised before the Internet’s ubiquity, books of lists, of records, of miscellany, encyclopedias and field guides were the repositories of choice for random facts, strange tidbits and useless information.

School libraries and book fairs were full of these titles, which served as gateways to a deeper understanding of a variety of topics, and in many of us, engendered a lifelong interest in topics we might otherwise have not come across. In the Internet age listicles are commonplace and serve the same purpose. However, there is something lost when these lists are not compiled in a larger compendium. These books of lists provide a larger overview of worlds we often overlook.

To use time lost in commuting, Karl Mamer, host of the long-running podcast The Conspiracy Skeptic, decided to write his book as a pandemic project. His style of choice? A book of lists, similar to those that he grew up on. But what sort of lists do we find in a volume compiled by The Conspiracy Skeptic?

The Skeptic’s Book of Lists (published in October of 2021) is a compendium of lists plucked from the worlds of ufology, conspiracies, cryptozoology, skepticism and more. Where else can you find a list of locations of underground alien bases? Or twelve times the world was supposed to end? Or seven tricks to a cold reading?

Books of lists are not designed to be read cover-to-cover, but The Skeptic’s Book of Lists is a page-turner, with each list unlocking fantastic and strange knowledge. Beyond the fascinating facts, readers might be surprised about what they thought was real and was later revealed as a hoax, or which prominent figures such as astronauts and presidents were proponents of far-out and absurd notions.

Each list is a tile in a greater mosaic, and we come away with a wider understanding of these subjects and the broader culture around them. Even for those of us who have researched pseudoscience and paranormal phenomena for years, there is a wealth of information in these lists that educates and entertains.

The Skeptic’s Book of Lists is a fun, fascinating read that enhances anyone’s library. Each page, each list, takes the reader on a journey back to that place where books were the gateway to far-flung worlds and the mysterious past. This well-researched, fact-based, skeptical volume, manages to capture the fun of the Usborne The World of The Unknown series, but for adults.

Mamer followed his first book with The Conspiracy Skeptic’s Book of Lists, which was released in September of this year. Although filled with intriguing tidbits and factoids like the original, this book brings a little more history that impacts our daily lives. Sadly, we see conspiracy theories permeating the membrane of mainstream news and politics and playing a role in our democracy. Conspiracy rhetoric seems more common in our mainstream discourse, and it’s fascinating to learn where many of these tropes come from.

The Conspiracy Skeptic’s Book of Lists takes readers on a journey through secret societies, military-industrial machinations, and conspiracies around science, religion, as well as the economy. It is still a very fun and interesting read, but it is harder to separate the subject matter from the news and politics of today.

The lists in this second volume are a deep dive into conspiracy culture, covering the standard UFO, JFK assassination and secret society conspiracies while exploring lesser-known topics as well as foundational conspiracies to modern paranoid culture. Explore the origins of QAnon and some of Alex Jones’ favourite conspiracies, while understanding the texts that helped spawn some of the underground movements that push anti-Semitic conspiracies to acquire political power.

Not all the subject matter covered in The Conspiracy Skeptic’s Book of Lists is serious or relevant to contemporary politics. Many of the lists are fun reads stuffed with food for thought, such as “Twelve Celebrity Death Conspiracies and Mysteries” or “Nine Conspiracy Theories Involving Coca-Cola.” However, each list helps the reader understand conspiratorial thinking and how the conspiratorial mind works.

Both The Skeptic’s Book of Lists and The Conspiracy Skeptic’s Book of Lists are interesting reads that explore aspects of culture that have spread beyond the occult bookshops and basement meetings to every corner of our society thanks to the Internet. The easily digestible books serve as a roadmap to the fringes and are great for both general interest reads and for those with more in-depth knowledge of these off-beat and sensational subjects.

Mamer’s years of studying these topics and covering them on his podcast have made him the ideal candidate to write these books and the reader can benefit from that accumulated knowledge without having to listen to decades’ worth of episodes — although that’s not a bad idea either.

The Skeptic’s Book of Lists and The Conspiracy Skeptic’s Book of Lists are available on Amazon.  

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