What really happened to Amelia Earhart? Is the Kennedy family truly cursed? Do the spirits of the dead haunt a house in Amityville, Long Island? And why did it take the Boston Red Sox 86 years to win a World Series after selling Babe Ruth to the hated rival New York Yankees?
These and other tantalizing questions are addressed in TIME LIFE Books’ new, lavishly illustrated volume, Mysteries of the Unknown: Inside the World of the Strange and Unexplained (Time Home Entertainment, 2014), a book that will make you an instant expert on the creepy, the kooky, the mysterious and spooky.
There’s no shortage of mysteries that have plagued humankind for generations, and Mysteries of the Unknown offers a wide assortment of phenomenon to peruse. The Loch Ness Monster appears in the book’s pages, as does the Sasquatch and the Kraken, a fearsome monster from the depths of the sea. The book investigates the mysteries of the occult, the possible presence of angels, and people who say they can use mental powers to bend steel and start fires. And if you’re into vampires or are waiting for the Zombie Apocalypse, tales of the dead rising and walking the earth are covered as well.
“There’s such a sheer bounty of these stories, from the paranormal to historical mysteries to ancient riddles and healers and psychics,” said Steve Koepp, editorial director of Time Home Entertainment. “There’s a really rich trove of stories to choose from. So then our job was to tell them in a crisp and lively way, and also to illustrate them with really colorful photos and drawings.
“We can tell from the other books we do about secret societies or unsolved mysteries that when the story is shrouded in intrigue and mysteries and in many cases doesn’t have a clear ending, the speculation continues,” Koepp said. “That keeps these stories alive forever.”
Mysteries of the Unknown is the latest in the new version of the classic TIME LIFE books that were once a staple of direct-mail sales. Books in the original TIME LIFE series sold tens of millions of copies on subjects ranging from The American Wilderness to The Art of Sewing to The Epic of Flight to 100 Years of Hollywood. The original TIME LIFE Mysteries of the Unknown set was comprised of 33 volumes, and was one of the company’s best-sellers.
“The direct-mail business isn’t what it used to be,” Koepp said, “and we thought that rather than selling a giant set of books, we could sell a very large-volume, richly-illustrated book with 272 pages for a popular price. We decided that this was a new way to get the TIME LIFE brand to readers who remember the brand.”
So how does the book handle writing about things that may or may not exist? “I think we want to be accurate, scientific and skeptical so that with each story we’re telling, we’re careful to characterize something that’s a legend and then explain where that legend comes from, or whether there’s actual science behind these things,” Koepp said. “We want to accurately portray what we’re telling.
“On some of these things, like Bigfoot, it has never been proven, but the fact that something hasn’t been proven doesn’t establish that it clearly doesn’t exist,” Koepp said. “Those are the kinds of things we acknowledge.”
Mysteries of the Unknown recognizes, however, that there are some phenomenons that aren’t so easily dismissed. “There are other things (that are in the book) because people say they experienced them—for example, ghosts or paranormal things. Then, we explore why they think that, and whether these things have been investigated.
“There are cases where scientists of the U.S. government actually investigated various kinds of telekinesis, when the Pentagon thought, ‘Well, maybe we can actually use this.’ So, we go in and try to call each legend or phenomenon for what it is.
“But still, there is a sense of fun, because these are not cut-and-dried kinds of things,” Koepp said. “They all have some mysterious elements.”
Sometimes, these mysterious elements edge closer to reality than one might think. “UFOs are always interesting because you have sightings,” Koepp said. “There was one at O’Hare Airport at a United Airlines terminal. Right above one gate, a bunch of people—airline pilots and aircraft workers—they all looked up and saw a metal cylindrical object hovering above them, and then it just shot off into the clouds. It was reported by the Chicago Tribune, and lots of really responsible, professional people all said they saw this, and they don’t know what it was. So there’s another case where something happened, and we just don’t know.”
Is it fact or fantasy? Reality or ruse? Letting the reader decide what may or may not be true is one of the things that makes Mysteries of the Unknown so alluring.
“The book does not reach a conclusion about these things,” Koepp said, “but it presents all the possibilities.