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978-0-19-286047-7 / 9780192860477

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About the book:

This wonderful book contains both the best evidence that the sinking of the Titanic was perceived in advance by extrasensory perception, and the best scientific assessment of that ESP evidence.

Exhibit A is the weirdly prescient Morgan Robertson novel published 14 years before the 1912 calamity, The Wreck of the Titan (originally published as Futility). From early-20th-century spiritualist Ella Wheeler Wilcox to modern woo-woo guru Uri Geller, who helped launch a whole Library of the Supernatural series with the strange coincidences in Robertson's book, people have puzzled over how, as Wilcox put it, Robertson managed to "fix on almost the very name which was afterward given to the ill-fated sea monster."

And there are more than 20 startling similarities between the dread tale of the Titan and the real, subsequent Titanic--both ships, for instance, were considered unsinkable, were the biggest ever, grazed an iceberg on the starboard side near midnight on the New York-England line at just over 22 knots, and were owned by a British firm with headquarters in Liverpool and a branch office in New York. On Broadway, to be eerily specific.

Robertson's story, and the story of his life, are interesting, but what makes this book great is the essay that makes sense of it all. The author (and editor of the book) is Martin Gardner, one of the most fun-to-read science writers ever. He is a fellow of CSICOP, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, and coauthor of How to Think About Weird Things. (Gardner also urges you to read Michael Shermer's delightfully illuminating Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time.)

Gardner also includes the short story "From the Old World to the New," by W.T. Stead, a spiritualist, whose story features an iceberg-caused shipwreck on the North Atlantic, a captain named Edward J. Smith, and two lovers-at-first-sight named Rose and Jack (Kate Winslet's and Leo DiCaprio's characters' names in the 1998 film). After writing it, Stead boarded the Titanic, run by Capt. Edward J. Smith, and died in the shipwreck. (Key Twilight Zone music.)

Gardner includes other good stuff: a neat, evocative photo of the Titanic's Veranda Cafe, plus poems anticipating and commemorating the disaster, the best being Arthur Conan Doyle's "Ragtime!":

Ragtime! Ragtime! Keep it going still!
Let them hear the ragtime! Play it with a will...
There's glowing hell beneath us where the shattered boilers roar,
The ship is listing and awash, the boats will hold no more...
Don't forget the time, boys! Eyes upon the score!
Never heed the wavelets sobbing down the floor!

--Tim Appelo

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