Last week, while doing a radio show, I was asked by the host what I personally considered to be my favorite UFO books. Well, the list changes from time to time, albeit subtly and slowly. But, I replied something along the lines of: "I would consider my favorites to be those that have actually added something new and meaningful to the study of the UFO phenomenon." So, keeping that in mind, I have listed below (in no particular order) my current ufological top five:
THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES, BY JOHN KEEL
I was just a kid of about 11 when I first read John Keel's The Mothman Prophecies and I have to say that it chilled me to the bone! Of course, the book is not strictly a UFO book. Yes, it does indeed contain a huge amount of UFO material, but like most of Keel's work, it's definitively Fortean in nature and perspective. This was the first book I ever read that suggested UFOs just might not be extraterrestrial at all, but something far weirder. Something that masqueraded as extraterrestrial - in much the same way it may have masqueraded as numerous other anomalies in times long gone. Admittedly, in my pre-teen years I was still stuck in the "It's all aliens" mentality. But, Keel's book was the one, more than any other, that ultimately led me to veer away from the extra-terrestrial hypothesis.
MESSENGERS OF DECEPTION, BY JACQUES VALLEE
I kind of place Vallee's book in broadly the same category as Keel's The Mothman Prophecies. Messengers of Deception (published in 1979) is an excellent study of the UFO phenomenon and the multi-layers of deception that surround it. Robert Anton Wilson described MoD as being "as suspenseful as a Hitchcock thriller." He was not wrong. Contactees, cults with sinister agendas, manipulation of witnesses and of the UFO research community, and the Machiavellian actions of the intelligence community, all combine to create one of the most absorbing and thought-provoking UFO books ever written. If you have not read Messengers of Deception then you really should. Like, now.
THE CRYPTOTERRESTRIALS, BY MAC TONNIES
Mac Tonnies' death in 2009, at the age of just 34, was a tragedy - for his family, for his friends, and for Ufology. Not only was Mac someone who had a great writing style, he was also someone who had a brilliant ability to think outside of the box. That much can be seen in the pages of his final book, The Cryptoterrestrials, which was published in 2010. It's a book that suggests our assumed alien visitors are actually the denizens of some dark underworld. An ancient, subterranean race that coexists with us, albeit largely in stealth. It hides its true identity behind a body of ufological lies. Of course, there is nothing new in this theory: one only has to read the words of Richard Shaver to see that. But, what Mac did was to present the theory to a whole new audience, and in a well-presented fashion that actually made the scenario plausible.
COMMUNION, BY WHITLEY STRIEBER
For me, the 1987 publication of Strieber's Communion was a landmark. Not just for alien abduction research, but for ufology in general. Books like John Fuller's The Interrupted Journey and Budd Hopkins' Missing Time followed fairly conventional pathways (to the extent that Ufology can be considered conventional!). They were books that focused on the abduction issue from an "alien scientists are kidnapping our citizens" perspective. Communion, however, was very different, and refreshingly so. Strieber noted the parallels between today's abductions and centuries-old fairy lore. He delved into the matter of how our assumed alien visitors appear to have connections to the realm of the dead and to the human soul. He didn't shy away from the curious way in which synchronicities seem to plague people in ufology. Many people in the field didn't want to hear any of that. They wanted their safe and predictable "nuts and bolts" UFOs. To his lasting credit, Strieber didn't give them that. What he did do, in my opinion, was to get closer to the truth of the abduction enigma than most have ever managed to do.
PROJECT BETA, BY GREG BISHOP
Hang around in ufological circles for even a short time and the matter of "government disinformation" will soon become a topic of debate. There's very little doubt that, since the late 1940s, both the UFO phenomenon and those who investigate it have been manipulated by military and intelligence agencies, and for reasons that range from the baffling to the weird. No-one has better managed to capture the sheer scale to which such disinformation programs have operated than Greg Bishop. His 2005 book, Project Beta, is a captivating and disturbing study of how the life of one man - Paul Bennewitz - was pretty much destroyed. And all because of Bennewitz's fascination for UFOs. Bishop's book is part-Robert Ludlum, part-The X-Files, and part-The Invaders. But with one big and important difference: it's not fiction. It's an enthralling and, at times, grim story of the hazards that surround Ufology - and of what can happen when the spying eyes of "them" take secret note of the UFO research community.