Charles Fort: The Man Who Invented the Supernatural

Jim Steinmeyer

Charles Fort: The Man Who Invented the Supernatural

'I am the first disciple of Charles Fort. Henceforth I am a Fortean'. Since Ben Hecht wrote this line in reviewing "The Book of The Damned in 1919", Charles Fort - whose very name spawned an adjective, Fortean, defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as 'relating to or denoting paranormal phenomena' - has so divided opinion that to Theodore Dreiser he was 'the most fascinating literary figure since Poe;' to "The New York Times" he was 'the enfant terrible of science;' and to HG Wells he was 'one of the most damnable bores who ever cut scraps from out of the way newspapers'.This is the seminal biography of the 20th century's premier chronicler of the paranormal, an inspiration to anyone seeking significance in chaos. Fort provides the impetus for public interest in mysterious phenomena - he coined the word 'teleportation', gathered accounts of spontaneous human combustion, monsters, poltergeists, and what became known as UFO's. His legacy extends to conspiracy theories, sci-fi, graphic novels, film, and of course, the "Fortean Times". Fort was first and foremost a writer, and his peculiar brand of agnostic, anti-scientific scepticism remains unique. Told against the backdrop of jazz age New York and Edwardian London, "Charles Fort: The Man who Invented the Supernatural" is about wonder, obsession, and mystery, and an iconoclastic author who has become an unlikely cult hero. 3.8 out of 5 based on 8 reviews
Charles Fort: The Man Who Invented the Supernatural

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre Biography, Paranormal & Supernatural
Format Hardback
Pages 352
RRP £16.99
Date of Publication May 2008
ISBN 978-0434016297
Publisher William Heinemann
 

'I am the first disciple of Charles Fort. Henceforth I am a Fortean'. Since Ben Hecht wrote this line in reviewing "The Book of The Damned in 1919", Charles Fort - whose very name spawned an adjective, Fortean, defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as 'relating to or denoting paranormal phenomena' - has so divided opinion that to Theodore Dreiser he was 'the most fascinating literary figure since Poe;' to "The New York Times" he was 'the enfant terrible of science;' and to HG Wells he was 'one of the most damnable bores who ever cut scraps from out of the way newspapers'.This is the seminal biography of the 20th century's premier chronicler of the paranormal, an inspiration to anyone seeking significance in chaos. Fort provides the impetus for public interest in mysterious phenomena - he coined the word 'teleportation', gathered accounts of spontaneous human combustion, monsters, poltergeists, and what became known as UFO's. His legacy extends to conspiracy theories, sci-fi, graphic novels, film, and of course, the "Fortean Times". Fort was first and foremost a writer, and his peculiar brand of agnostic, anti-scientific scepticism remains unique. Told against the backdrop of jazz age New York and Edwardian London, "Charles Fort: The Man who Invented the Supernatural" is about wonder, obsession, and mystery, and an iconoclastic author who has become an unlikely cult hero.

Reviews

The Times

Mark Stafford

[A] compelling account... Fort's greatest collection of “non-fictional thrillers” is described in these pages as “a graceful extended conversation with an eccentric genius” - that turns out to be an accurate account of his biography. This is how biographies should be written: Steinmeyer the ideal host, introducing us to a fascinating stranger, and sliding into the background.

22/05/2008

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The Scotsman

Andrew Crumey

Steinmeyer has produced a meticulously researched, marvellously 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.

25/05/2008

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The Daily Mail

Harry Pearson

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 sceptic will enjoy his company.

28/05/2008

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The Washington Post

Michael Dirda

Jim Steinmeyer is best known as a historian of magic (Hiding the Elephant) and as a creator of illusions for Doug Henning and David Copperfield, among others. His biography, drawing heavily at times from Damon Knight's pioneering life of Fort, balances neatly between skepticism and sympathy. Steinmeyer views Fort as a representative 1920s figure, but to me he seems in a slightly earlier mode: The antiquary with a hobby horse.

18/05/2008

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The Guardian

Jad Adams

More interesting than [Fort's theories] in Jim Steinmeyer's lively biography, is Fort's own story. The seeker after truth experienced an almost comically awful childhood in New York State, where a favourite punishment of his parents was to lock him for days in a cold, blacked-out room on a bread-and-water diet... For Steinmeyer, Fort was "a frustrated fiction writer who became obsessed with a new kind of story". Steinmeyer does not make the connection with other American pulp writers who took a similar path: Ayn Rand and L Ron Hubbard. Like them, Fort did not let things happen to him, but took life and controlled it, making this a fine study in idiosyncratic individualism.

10/01/2009

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The Independent

David V Barrett

Fort can easily be lampooned as the man who wrote about rains of frogs, but as Jim Steinmeyer emphasises in this intriguing biography, he trod (as "Forteans" tread today) a narrow tightrope between belief and scepticism. He found the certainty of scientists as much a belief system as the credulousness of the religious. Fort is a necessary corrective to those skeptics (they always spell it with a "K") who say with utter certainty, "This or that cannot happen, because science says it can't."

29/05/2008

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The Los Angeles Times

Ed Park

[A] perceptive and entertaining new biography... Steinmeyer devotes ample space to the fascinating family dynamics, suggesting that the father's rigid ideas of right and wrong -- and the family's social standing -- contributed to Fort's drive to overturn received ideas. Adding another level of fascination to this often brutal account are the excerpts from "Many Parts," Fort's unpublished, fragmentary autobiography. The prose is both awkward and intense, owing to the strange compositional decision to speak in the "we" voice.

15/06/2008

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The Daily Telegraph

Damian Thompson

[A] jolly biography... Steinmeyer writes with engaging brio but his book is a bit of an intellectual mess. Never mind: so was Fort himself. "I am given to bizarre hospitalities," he once wrote. "I shut the front door upon Christ and Einstein, and at the back door hold out a welcoming hand to little frogs and periwinkles."

09/05/2008

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