Book Review by Dr. Ron Westrum
"Bigfoot: A Personal Inquiry Into a Phenomenon"
Author Kenneth Wylie
Viking Press, New York, 1980. 268 pp.
There are good books and bad books about Sasquatch. This one holds the distinction of being both. On the one hand, it makes a number of useful points; but, on the other hand, the book simply cannot be a good overall assessment, since the information on which it is based, and the thinking that went into it, are too thin. What the book badly needs is depth.
The author presents a host of interesting details. He has read a surprising amount on the subject, and talked with many--although not all--of the principal figures in Sasquatch research; an interview with Grover Krantz is notably lacking. Wylie, who holds academic credentials in African studies, has done some fieldwork and interviewing of Sasquatch witnesses--but largely in Michigan, rather than Oregon, Washington, or British Columbia.
Those who expect a large number of Sasquatch case studies in the book will be disappointed. There are some (it is evident that Wylie believes they represent either hoaxes or mistakes), but only in Michigan, a state where good Sasquatch evidence is rare or nonexistent. (I, like the author, live in Michigan.) He rightly emphasizes how easily people delude themselves or are deluded by others into perceiving things that are not really there. He deals frankly with many of the problems that confront amateur efforts to investigate anomalous animals, and the book is a useful corrective to more sanguine views about the accuracy of testimony and the honesty of witnesses. But he does not go into the heaviest cases in the depth that one would like, even though he evidently has a flair for detective work.
His detailing of discrepancies in the Patterson-Gimlin movie film case is suggestive; one would also like to hear Gimlin's comments, and those of others familiar with the case. One may wonder, in fact (if the author did as much traveling in the Northwest as he claims), why he talked to so few Sasquatch witnesses, since he evidently talked to a large number of others who did not think much of such accounts. He is certainly well-read on Sasquatch, but the absence of more personal case studies is surprising.
Probably the most valuable contribution in the book is the debunking of Wayne King's "Michigan Bigfoot Information Center," which he suspects of being a sham. He may be right, although one should first like to get a look at King's files. I know of one case in which King promised confidentiality to witnesses, and then proceeded to give the details to the newspapers.
What I personally found disconcerting about the book was its chatty, offhand quality. This comes through particularly in his portraits of leading figures in Sasquatch research, some of which I found agreed very little with my own impressions. This casual approach, although easy to read, diverts the author from larger and more precisely formulated scientific questions about anomalous hominoids, and prevents his marshaling of the evidence in a tight, logical manner. Although his treatment of many of the individuals is sympathetic, he often makes too cursory an examination of their views and their reasons for them. To prove his points, he often slips into loaded language, rather than closely reasoned arguments. A slight air of snobbish superiority pervades the book.
This volume is useful for the information it does provide, and for many 'the author's worthwhile insights into the psychology of testimony and fraud. Yet I found it difficult to escape the feeling that a hard, central core missing. Perhaps this is ultimately due to the author's belief that there not be a Bigfoot, and to my own that there probably is.
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