REMEMBER THE WHOLE EARTH CATALOGS? Mostly subtitled “Access to Tools,” they were popular mainstays of the late 1960s-1970s’ DIY culture, spanning a variety of subjects from computers to home gardens. One of them, 1989’s Fringes of Reason: A Field Guide to New Age Frontiers, Unusual Beliefs and Eccentric Sciences, deserves a place on the bookshelf of any student of the more outre reaches of the human condition, right along with Charles Mackay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds or The Books of Charles Fort (both of which are covered in detail — as is The Book of the SubGenius).
Fringes of Reason‘s 224 pages take a mostly skeptical look at its subject matter, but it’s a skepticism tinged with enthusiasm. With sections bearing such titles as “Everything You Know Is Wrong!” “Not Of This Earth” and “What Is Reality?” the book is an elegant bibliography of and for those who walk on the ontological/epistemological wild side. The chapters are written by experts in their respective fields and include such secretly famous luminaries as Jay Kinney, John Keel, Robert Anton Wilson, the Rev. Ivan Stang and many others. If you ever wanted a crash-course in weirdology, this would be your textbook — and this is how it begins:
This is not a book about Orthodoxy.
Instead, this is a book about tinkerers who spend their lives in basements perfecting perpetual motion machines, contactees who converse on a first-name basis with entities from outer space, and reincarnationists who remember past lives as royalty on the lost continent of Atlantis. This is, in fact, a book about people so fed up with Orthodoxy and the mundane bit part it handed them that they did something about it. Something imaginative. Something colorful. Something … different.