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Publisher's Summary

"Absolutely perfect for the current moment." (BuzzFeed)

America's favorite cultural historian and author of Ghostland takes a tour of the country's most persistent "unexplained" phenomena.

In a world where rational, scientific explanations are more available than ever, belief in the unprovable and irrational - in fringe - is on the rise: from Atlantis to aliens, from Flat Earth to the Loch Ness monster, the list goes on. It seems the more our maps of the known world get filled in, the more we crave mysterious locations full of strange creatures.

Enter Colin Dickey, cultural historian and tour guide of the weird. With the same curiosity and insight that made Ghostland a hit with readers and critics, Colin looks at what all fringe beliefs have in common, explaining that today's Illuminati is yesterday's Flat Earth: the attempt to find meaning in a world stripped of wonder. Dickey visits the wacky sites of America's wildest fringe beliefs - from the famed Mount Shasta where the ancient race (or extraterrestrials, or possibly both, depending on who you ask) called Lemurians are said to roam, to the museum containing the last remaining "evidence" of the great Kentucky meat shower - investigating how these theories come about, why they take hold, and why as Americans we keep inventing and reinventing them decade after decade. The Unidentified is Colin Dickey at his best: curious, wry, brilliant in his analysis, yet eminently engaging.

©2020 Colin Dickey (P)2020 Penguin Audio

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What listeners say about The Unidentified

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Skeptic's Analysis of Weird America

First off- I loved this audiobook. This book is perfect for the skeptical/scientifically-minded person that also enjoys tales of the Weird. The book is packed with anecdotes about alien encounters and cryptids, but it's ultimately an analysis of what these stories tell us about American culture. The book hops between recorded encounters of the Weird, history, personal observations, and a travel diary (the author visits places that are significant to the chapter).

Fair warning: the political perspective of this book leans Left, or at least Left-Center (which wasn't a problem for me). I think the connection to politics and conspiracy are not only timely, but are seamlessly woven into the overall thesis of the book. The tone is academic, but still approachable.

14 people found this helpful

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Good catalogue of interesting stories... with a good deal of preachy liberal monologues in the middle

The stories and interviews are interesting, but the author would often ramble off into far flung semi-poetic monologues about politically charged topics like global warming or how rich white climbers were polluting Mount Everest. Weird flex, but if you can look past the liberal bias, still a decent listen. Felt a little like he was trying to make a word count. Could have cut about 1/3 of the book and it would have been much more enjoyable.

11 people found this helpful

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Tedious history of conspiracies. Starts in 1800s

I was not expecting this book to be so dull and tedious. Yes, it is well written and well researched, but that does not mean it is especially interesting, unless your idea of interesting is, for instance, a recounting of how some of the early UFO organizations formed in the 40s and 50s. This is an interesting book if this is the sort of thing you are interested in. There are so many names of people who appear briefly and then the story soon moves on to someone else.

If you are looking for a thorough debunking of various conspiracy theories, this may not be the right book for you, though it is skeptical of all conspiracies. There seems to be an assumption that the reader is a skeptic already, so there is no great effort to debunk anything. And, of course, with so much ground to cover (hundreds of years), we never get too deep into the details of any particular conspiracy. I was particularly disappointed in the discussion of the Patterson-Gimlin film found in an early chapter on Bigfoot. We are told flatly that the film is a fake. Then, with just two or three sentences, it is explained that it must be a fake because the creature's gate is wrong (it walks like a male when it is a female creature). And the creature should be pot-bellied as all herbivores are, but it is not. Though the author is probably right that the film is a fake, to dismiss such an important and controversial film with so little discussion seems like a very superficial treatment of a subject that deserves more attention. After all, some very serious chapters are devoted to this film in many Bigfoot books, There have probably even been entire books devoted just to discussing and analyzing the film.

If you are looking for a discussion of contemporary conspiracies, be prepared to be patient or skip ahead, I listened to several hours of this book and most of what I was listening to when I stopped listening was focused on events of the 40s and 50s. I have no idea if or when the discussion of modern conspiracies starts.

5 people found this helpful

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Narrows the world ever so slightly

This book is fine. The reading of it is fine. Together making for a .. sorta fine experience. The voice actor is good, but for this setting of “amazing, strange stories .. proceeded by skeptical tutting” it’s too neutral. Too stable & strict. I don’t remember a single performative or charming read of a line, nor hardly any emotion, really.

That mixes with the content of this book to absolutely do what it’s final moments remind us never to do, “never make the world smaller, only bigger.”

It’s sad that the “few genuinely lingering mysteries — the wheat among the countless chaff of nonsense encounters” according to the author are only discussed for the last 1% of the book. The other 99% is “describe, pique interest, reduce down to metaphor or psychological drive, etc.”

Bummer.

3 people found this helpful

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Great And Insightful Overview of the Paranormal

As a huge fan of all things paranormal, cryptozoological and Fortean, I thoroughly enjoyed The Unidentified: Mythical Monsters, Alien Encounters, and Our Obsession with the Unexplained. Colin Dickey takes on a huge topic and jumps enthusiastically from one representative example to the next with just enough information to help us understand the foundational stories, the characters involved, the data available, the resulting mythos and the underlying psychology. As someone who reads a lot about these topics, I was impressed at just how often Dickey could surprise me with fun anecdotes and insights I hadn't heard before. Oliver Wendell Holmes gave us the term "crank". Lemuria (a hypothetical disappeared continent slightly less well known than Atlantis) was originally conceived as a solution to the geographical distribution of lemurs. Bigfoot legends encode elements of racism and appropriation. Betty and Barny Hill's original abduction experience gave us gray aliens as a race-less compromise between black and white. The Kentucky Meat Shower... well, that's just a fascinating story period, and I only vaguely knew about it before.

All along the way, Dickey draws fascinating connections between important figures in the paranormal world. His commentary is insightful and thought-provoking. There's just enough scientific explanation to keep us grounded in reality, but also some unresolved mysteries that we'll never get fully satisfactory answers to. He explores why we want those answers so badly, and why it's not enough for many of us just to say, "I don't know." I listened to this as an audio book, but I've already reserved the ebook from the library so I can give it another pass and absorb the factual pieces more thoroughly. Don't expect an encycopedia of all things unexplained, but a delicious sampling platter that will leave you wanting more. Highly recommended for anyone who's already a fan of the unexplained, or for those who would like a spirited guide to lead them on a tour of the topic.

2 people found this helpful

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not as advertised

disjointed selection of weird and unexplained stories. this books does not offer any new or fresh thoughts or conclusions. really not worth the time to listen to or read it.

2 people found this helpful

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More serious than I expected, yet very welcome

Truly glad I got this. Will look for a hard copy to save and share

2 people found this helpful

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Loved it

I listened to this after finishing the first season of Strange Arrivals (Grimm and Mild). The author was interviewed for the podcast and I was intrigued by the concept of this book. I was not disappointed. This book offers insight into why some people believe what they do. I found it fascinating, and listening to Strange Arrivals first gave me context for some of the things he explored. I plan to buy a hard copy.

1 person found this helpful

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One of the best sociological explanations

The text is honest in its approach, agnostic in its conclusions, and tactful in its discussion. If you find you have a knee jerk reaction, you will have revealed one of your biases. Listen until the end; it is totally worth it.

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Well-trodden ground

More hand-wringing about beliefs in the paranormal. While Dickey examines a diverse array of Fortean topics, his analysis often feels like a Sociology 101 cliche: Bigfoot is about a post-war crisis of masculinity; the paranormal reflects a primitive desire to experience magic and wonder; believers are deluded or malicious. Virtually every paranormal experiencer has heard these arguments yet most remain steadfast in their beliefs and Dickey fails to provide fresh insights as to why this is. Absent also is a comprehensive analysis of the other side of this intellectual battle, namely the culture of debunkers and skeptics. This faction, in their eagerness to disprove the paranormal, often posit their own dubious or absurd theories that lack scientific merit. So what pathologies and prejudices drive them? How is the "scientific community" itself sometimes a victim of its own politics and groupthink? So much of our current culture wars are between believers and skeptics so a deep analysis of current events requires stepping back from both sides and examining the interplay between them. In selecting one side over the other, however, Dickey failed to fully comprehend the bigger picture.