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The Unidentified

"Absolutely perfect for the current moment." Buzzfeed

America's favorite cultural historian and author of Ghostland takes a tour of the country's most persistent "unexplained" phenomena

In a world where rational, scientific explanations are more available than ever, belief in the unprovable and irrational--in fringe--is on the rise: from Atlantis to aliens, from Flat Earth to 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 Ghostland a hit with readers and critics, Colin looks at what all fringe beliefs have in common, explaining that today's Illuminati is yesterday's Flat Earth: the attempt to find meaning in a world stripped of wonder. Dickey visits the wacky sites of America's wildest fringe beliefs--from the famed Mount Shasta where the ancient race (or extra-terrestrials, or possibly both, depending on who you ask) called Lemurians are said to roam, to the museum containing the last remaining "evidence" of the great Kentucky Meat Shower--investigating how these theories come about, why they take hold, and why as Americans we keep inventing and re-inventing them decade after decade. The Unidentified is Colin Dickey at his best: curious, wry, brilliant in his analysis, yet eminently readable.

About the Author

Photo: © John Michael Kilbane

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 LA 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.

Other Works

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Colin Dickey

One of NPR’s Great Reads of 2016

“A lively assemblage and smart analysis of dozens of haunting stories…absorbing…[and] intellectually intriguing.” —The New York Times Book Review

An intellectual feast for fans of offbeat history that takes readers on a road trip through some of the country’s most infamously haunted places—and deep into the dark side of our history.

Colin Dickey is on the trail of America’s ghosts. Crammed into old houses and hotels, abandoned prisons and empty hospitals, the spirits that linger continue to capture our collective imagination, but why? His own fascination piqued by a house hunt in Los Angeles that revealed derelict foreclosures and “zombie homes,” Dickey embarks on a journey across the continental United States to decode and unpack the American history repressed in our most famous haunted places. Some have established reputations as “the most haunted mansion in America,” or “the most haunted prison”; others, like the haunted Indian burial grounds in West Virginia, evoke memories from the past our collective nation tries to forget.

With boundless curiosity, Dickey conjures the dead by focusing on questions of the living—how do we, the living, deal with stories about ghosts, and how do we inhabit and move through spaces that have been deemed, for whatever reason, haunted? Paying attention not only to the true facts behind a ghost story, but also to the ways in which changes to those facts are made—and why those changes are made—Dickey paints a version of American history left out of the textbooks, one of things left undone, crimes left unsolved.

Spellbinding, scary, and wickedly insightful, Ghostland discovers the past we’re most afraid to speak of aloud in the bright light of day is the same past that tends to linger in the ghost stories we whisper in the dark.

Other Writing

Subterranean Homesick Blues, Los Angeles Review of Books

Peak Adventure, LA Review of Books

A Faithful Hound, Lapham’s Quarterly Roundtable

The Dispossessed, LA Review of Books

Abyssal Alphabet, Reanimation Library, Word Processor

Pet Cemetery, The Revealer

The Redemption of Saint Anthony, Public Doman Review

The Addicted Life of Thomas De Quincey, Lapham’s Quarterly Roundtable

The Canny Valley: Social Memoir, Used Furniture Review

The Haunted Hotels of Los Angeles, Virginia Quarterly Review

Pitch Battles, The Believer; read the whole thing at

A Fire in the Belly, Lapham’s Quarterly Roundtable

Dark Pages, The New Inquiry

One Book Opens Another, LA Review of Books

On the Trail of the Elusive Vampire Squid from Hell, LA Review of Books

The Canny Valley: The Self-Help Avant-Garde, Used Furniture Review

St. George, the Monstrous Saint, The Revealer

The Canny Valley: True Enough, Used Furniture Review

No Success Like Failure, LA Review of Books

King & I, LA Review of Books

Very Superstitious, Lapham’s Quarterly

About a Genre: John D’Agata and the Essay, LA Review of Books

Living in the Margins, Lapham’s Quarterly Roundtable

Dancing with Memory: On Brian Castro’s Shanghai Dancing, The Millions

The Patron Saint of Dark Days, Lapham’s Quarterly Roundtable

We Will Re-Bury You, LA Review of Books

Quack Prophet: Nostradamus, Lapham’s Quarterly, The Future (Fall 2011)

After Bloomsday: Thoughts on an All-Day Reading of Ulysses, Writers’ Houses

Dear S–, The Orphan

Skyscrapers of the Dead, Lapham’s Quarterly, Roundtable

Necropolis, Lapham’s Quarterly, The City (Fall 2010)

On Bones and Libraries, Lapham’s Quarterly, Roundtable

The Twice-Bought Head of Cardinal Mezzofanti, Wonders and Marvels

Seismograph, Phonautograph, Skull: On Useless Recordings, This Recording

The Cadaver Method, Lapham’s Quarterly, Roundtable

The Fate of His Bones, Cabinet Magazine, Issue 28 (Winter 2007/2008)

On Passports: W. G. Sebald and the Menace of Travel, Image & Narrative, Issue 19 (Fall 2007)

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