This is a fun book about the weird, the unknown, and the unexplainable in our world. It is about bizarre occurrences that have helped to shape our society at the background and theories that belong in the “rough corner” of history, just like a perfectly neat Zen gardens have a “rough corner” to allow things grow uncontrollable as nature intended.
Suitably written by Dan Schreiber, 1 of 4 of the cast of my favourite podcast There’s No Such Thing As A Fish, the book dwells into mad scientists, alien chasers, thill seekers, and all the batshit crazy people that seem to be just one lab accident away from becoming a supervillain. It is celebrating the strangeness of characters, embracing the weird means to achieve solid and respectful goals, and telling the tale of those who will make us laugh at first, then think, then say “huh, I guess it works.”
The cast of the weird and wonderful are in abundance. Such as a doctor who trained a dolphin playing fetch using its erect penis. A real-life character that the series Ghost Whisperer is based on. The curator that published a seminal scientific paper that recorded the first ever case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard duck. A woman who teaches a dolphin to speak English (but ended up having a sexual affair with the dolphin). The psychics hired by Los Angeles Dodgers, or the monks hired to bless Leicester City in their matches during THAT 2015/16 winning season.
Or the story of Tu Yoyou, the first native Chinese to win a Nobel Prize in Medicine by practicing Chinese herbal medicine, and doing so not with a medical degree or a doctorate but through travelling around China and devouring endless list ancient books to find a cure for Malaria. But the most remarkable part of her story is how she got her unusual name, and that the poem that her dad got her name from have a picture of a deer chewing the same plant that would become Tu’s life saving cure.
It is also endearing that no matter how successful people are in their chosen field, we can still find some batshit in them. For example, how Thomas Edison always sleep in his work clothes. How Novak Djokovic often visits an ancient pyramid in Bosnia to collect mystical energy. Or the incredible story of Kary Mullis, a Nobel Prize winner whose life was filled with batshit ideas they dilute the one brilliant thinking that won him the Nobel Prize, the PCR test.
Moreover, the book tells about the many amusing scientific theories or discoveries: How humans are too smelly for man-eating carnivores. How to say “thank you” to plant from a leading botanist. How Cleopatra is believed to had been reincarnated as a worm. The discovery of Canadian blue-grey taildropper slug, whose bum falls off when it gets too scared. The theory that the birth of civilisation in Mesopotamia was possibly sparked by a supernova, thanks to the clue from dancing Indians in Bolivia. The theory that plants have their own internet, which botanists call the “wood wide web”, and one guy’s plan to train a plant detective.
The book also attempts to explain some of the weird conspiracy theories. Such as the origin of the thinking behind a reptilian overlords. Or a guy who claims to have found the fountain of youth in the Bahamas. An alien conspiracy theorist that believes Jesus Christ himself was an alien, or another story believing that he was replaced by his brother at the cross and that Jesus fled to Shingo Japan, until he died and buried there aged 106 (with very convincing “signs” of traces of Jesus in the town). And of course, We have the usual “greatest hits” such as on Loch Ness Monster and Big Foot.
Indeed, some things are simply unexplainable, and the book have loads of these kind of stuffs: how a science fiction book can predict, in detailed accuracy, that Mars has 2 moons, 151 years before the moons were officially discovered. The phenomenon of the “third person” right before someone passed away. How everything “Titanic” – from the ship, to the museum, to the play – all experiencing a disaster. Another book that predict the future precisely: The weird 1889 novel that describe Donald Trump’s behaviour right to the tee. Or a 1953 science fiction novel written by Wernher von Braun who wrote about human colonisation of Mars, with elected leaders with the title of “Elon.”
But perhaps the most perplexing thing for me is the case where classical composers still allegedly create music years after they died, through a very convincing medium. How Mark Twain comes back to live in ghost form and write a new novel through an ouija board, or Victor Hugo who completed Les Miserables thanks to a three-legged table that told him to.
Meanwhile, some things in the book are just plain hilarious: the existence of big-foot erotic fiction. The art of rumpology, that is, astrology not through reading palms but instead using butt cheeks. The story of the unluckiest man alive that had 7 plane crashes in one solo trip (and ended up retiring from flying a plane but somehow got a job at Disney World driving a ferry boat). The backstory of two gravestones in the middle of the tarmac of runway in the Savannah Airport. Even Dan Schreiber himself is not off the hook, where while he’s composing all of these weird and wonderful things, he got caught by his wife reading a Neanderthal-human erotica novel in bed.
In this information age, where knowledge are in abundance and information often becomes diluted or exaggerated, this book is a refreshing oasis in the overindulgence desert. I thought that we have pretty much seen it all and getting harder and harder to be amused and surprised, but hot damn this book nailed it. It is so out of the box, it ventures toward the uncommon imagination and way of thinking outside the usual norm of society – that it’s ok to be messy and chaotic and crazy – and it inspires the exciting premise of putting oneself in the wrong place at the right time.
And perhaps the biggest realisation after reading the book is that craziness and chaos are indeed part of our big picture history, that batshit people are also contributing to shape society, just like Zen gardens have their “rough corner.” As Schreiber remarks, “you can’t always take the good without the bad – you can’t have the theory of everything without the theory of everything else.”