Charles Fort: The Man Who Invented the Supernatural

Overview

Historian Jim Steinmeyer goes deeply into the life of Charles Fort as the man saw himself, first and chiefly as a writer, a tireless chronicler of inconvenient facts for which science has no answer. Steinmeyer makes use of Fort's correspondence, providing a portrait of the relationship between Fort and his friend, champion, and protector Theodore Dreiser.
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Charles Fort: The Man Who Invented the Supernatural

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Overview

Historian Jim Steinmeyer goes deeply into the life of Charles Fort as the man saw himself, first and chiefly as a writer, a tireless chronicler of inconvenient facts for which science has no answer. Steinmeyer makes use of Fort's correspondence, providing a portrait of the relationship between Fort and his friend, champion, and protector Theodore Dreiser.
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Editorial Reviews

Theodore Dreiser
The most fascinating literary figure since Poe.
New York Times
The enfant terrible of science.
H. G. Wells
One of the most damnable bores who ever cut scraps from out-of-the-way newspapers.
Michael Dirda
Steinmeyer's engrossing biography dwells a little too long on Fort's childhood as the son of a well-off Albany merchant, but it makes up for this by briskly recounting the author's youthful adventures (riding the rails all over the East Coast, shipping out to England and South Africa) and describing his desperate years as a magazine short story writer, somewhat in the vein of O. Henry…[Steinmeyer's] biography, drawing heavily at times from Damon Knight's pioneering life of Fort, balances neatly between skepticism and sympathy.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Ben Hecht saw iconoclastic author Fort (1874-1932) as an "inspired clown" who thumbed his nose at science as well as religion, and Fort's imaginative books exerted a strong influence on science fiction, notably novelist Eric Frank Russell. Stage magic historian Steinmeyer (Hiding the Elephant ) captures Fort's wry humor, skepticism and wildest notions. Surviving fragments of Fort's unpublished autobiography illuminate his strict Albany, N.Y., childhood. In 1892, Fort became a New York City reporter and editor before his world travels and 1896 marriage. He was befriended by Theodore Dreiser, who shepherded Fort's short stories and first novel into print. Fort also pored through diverse journals to document the paranormal and anomalies rejected by the scientific establishment. Shoe boxes packed with 40,000 slips of paper served as a basis for The Book of the Damned (1919), which saw print because Dreiser threatened to leave his publisher unless the company also published Fort. As more compilations of oddities appeared, Fort developed a cult following, and the so-called Forteans issued journals long after their leader's death. Steinmeyer has emerged from the archives with a wonderful, prismatic portrait of the man who once wrote, "To this day, it has not been decided if I am a humorist or a scientist." 8 pages of b&w photos. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Steinmeyer (The Glorious Deception), a preeminent stage and TV designer of magical illusions, shows himself a gifted biographer with this moving study of a 20th-century original. Decades after his death with a cultish following that began in his lifetime, Charles Fort (1874-1932) remains a thinker whose motivation and compositions (e.g., The Book of the Damned of 1919, still in print) maintain their fascination. Despite his subtitle, Steinmeyer knows that the supernatural as a concept existed before Fort; Fort, in effect, brought it back to earth. Assiduously, he culled from the periodical record countless observed instances of the inexplicable: showers of frogs, a rain of blood in North Africa, a flurry of flakes of beef in 1876 Kentucky. Then he ruminated upon the data-not as proof of miracles but as palpable occurrences disregarded by science. To Fort, these hundreds of phenomena that flew (often literally) in the face of accepted theory demonstrated that science was the blinkered religion. His work attracted the enthusiasm of Theodore Dreiser. Steinmeyer is an elegant and unobtrusive author who shows us an entirely fascinating, shy, and witty man. The unpublished autobiographical fragments that Fort penned about his Albany, NY, childhood, achingly poignant, display, as much as his books, a prose stylist like no other. This book is not to be missed. P.S. Have reprints of Fort's work on hand, too!
—Margaret Heilbrun

Kirkus Reviews
Stage-magic historian Steinmeyer (Art and Artifice: And Other Essays of Illusion, 2006, etc.) examines the quirky life of Charles Fort (1874-1932). Fort's books, writes Steinmeyer, are filled with "data that Science has excluded," and laid the groundwork for modern science fiction as well as belief in the paranormal, alien abductions and other quasi-supernatural phenomena. Fort grew up in Albany, left an abusive home early and nearly starved in New York City before discovering a talent for fiction. Between 1900 and 1920 he wrote short stories to scrape by, attracting enthusiastic support from Theodore Dreiser (then better known as a magazine editor than a novelist). Despite Dreiser's influence, Fort remained on the edge of poverty, and his only novel flopped. Always fascinated by weird events, he began spending days at the public library, poring through books and journals. In 1919 Dreiser persuaded his publisher to bring out Fort's first collection of oddities, The Book of the Damned; it turned out to be mildly successful, and three more followed. All listed myriad marvels: blood or frogs raining from the sky, ghosts, UFOs, talking animals, telepathy, etc. Fort was no skeptic; if someone witnessed a corpse return to life, he wrote it down. He had no overall philosophy except to ridicule the authority of science and, more occasionally, religion. Since scientists quarreled, disagreed and were sometimes wrong, he assumed that one theory was as good as another, and paranormal events as likely as any others. Clearly an admirer, Steinmeyer avers that Fort's writing foreshadowed a respectable philosophical school that asserts that all truth is relative. The biographer shows little interest inpointing out that Fort's implausible anecdotes remain implausible today, or that his disbelief in such scientific triumphs as the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics hasn't held up. An uncritical but colorful picture of a offbeat character who convinced many that he was a genius. Agent: Jim Fitzgerald/James Fitzgerald Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781585426409
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 5/1/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 1,241,666
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Jim Steinmeyer is the critically acclaimed author of The Glorious Deception, Charles Fort, and Hiding the Elephant, a Los Angeles Times bestseller. He is also a leading designer of magic illusion who has done work for television, Broadway, and many of the best-known names in modern magic. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

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Table of Contents

1 But the Damned Will March 1

2 Toddy's Nose Bleeds So Readily 15

3 Littleness That Was No Longer There 29

4 We Wrapped the Piece of Cake to Keep Always 42

5 Blue Miles, Green Miles, Yellow Miles 56

6 We, Then a Great Famous Man 71

7 Anybody Could Write a True Story 85

8 Leaping Out of a Window, Head First 100

9 "To Work!" Cried Mr. Birtwhistle 115

10 X Exists! 129

11 A Battle Is About to Be Fought 145

12 It Is a Religion 145

13 Children Cry for It 175

14 The London Triangle 189

15 That Frog Would Be God 205

16 The World Has Cut Me Out - I Have Cut Myself Out 218

17 A Welcoming Hand to Little Frogs and Periwinkles 235

18 Not a Bottle of Catsup Can Fall Without Being Noted 251

19 Beginning Anywhere 268

20 Fall In! Forward! March! 280

Acknowledgments 299

Notes and Credits 303

Index 323

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