Colin Dickey presents "The Unidentified," with Caitlin Doughty

July 21, 2020, 7:30 PM

Colin Dickey joins us to present his new book, The Unidentified, in conversation with Caitlin Doughty. This event will take place on Zoom. Register here:

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At least twenty-one percent of Americans—over sixty million people—believe in Bigfoot. Nearly half a million people planned a (failed) attempt to storm Area 51 last summer. Thousands of people climb Mount Shasta in Northern California each year, many of them in search of a secret race of higher-dimensional beings called Lemurians. And people are still trying to figure out what the hell happened during the Great Kentucky Meat Shower of 1876.

In a world where rational, scientific explanations are more available than ever, belief in the unprovable and irrational—in the fringe—is on the rise. Atlantis, aliens, 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 his first book, Ghostland, a hit with readers and critics alike, Dickey explores the weird and wonderful world of fringe beliefs and conspiracy theories in The Unidentified: Mythical Monsters, Alien Encounters, and Our Obsession with the Unexplained.

The past few years have revealed that fringe beliefs are becoming more prevalent—and more consequential. Most of what attracts people to these alternative shades of history is a belief in a world of wonder and marvel, a world outside the ken of humanity, a world just out of reach. It may feel like the borders of the real world have evaporated—the empty spaces on our maps filled in by advanced technologies—but in clinging to ideas of sunken continents and lost civilizations, Yeti-infested Himalayas and tiny green men from outer space, individuals are finding the world re-enchanted.

And yet our fascination with things unexplained, our obsession with what is hidden from view, our need to believe in monsters at the margins—these drives, through the decades, have contributed to a rising sentiment of distrust in science, in academic institutions, and in the government. As Dickey crisscrossed the country in pursuit of America’s wildest fringe beliefs, he investigated what brought these theories about, how they took hold, and why Americans keep inventing and re-inventing them decade after decade. If he learned one thing, it is to keep hold of the wonder, the sense of possibility, without allowing your doubt to become its own certainty. The goal should never to be narrow the world, but to enlarge it.

COLIN DICKEY is a writer, speaker, and academic, and has made a career out of collecting unusual objects and hidden histories all over the country. He’s a regular contributor to the Los Angeles Review of Books and Lapham’s Quarterly, and is the co-editor of The Morbid Anatomy Anthology. He is also a member of the Order of the Good Death, a collective of artists, writers, and death industry professionals interested in improving the Western world's relationship with mortality. With a PhD in comparative literature from the University of Southern California, he is an associate professor of creative writing at National University.

CAITLIN DOUGHTY is a mortician, activist, and funeral industry rabble-rouser. In 2011 she founded the death acceptance collective The Order of the Good Death, which has spawned the death positive movement. Her books Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and From Here to Eternity were both New York Times bestsellers. She lives in Los Angeles, where she runs her funeral home.