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Charles Fort: The Man Who Invented the Supernatural

3.60  ·  Rating details ·  217 ratings  ·  30 reviews
The seminal biography of the twentieth century’s premier chronicler of the paranormal, Charles Fort—a man whose very name gave rise to an adjective, fortean, to describe the unexplained.

By the early 1920s, Americans were discovering that the world was a strange place.

Charles Fort could demonstrate that it was even stranger than anyone suspected. Frogs fell from the sky.
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published May 1st 2008 by TarcherPerigee (first published September 28th 2007)
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Sep 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
I picked this up, not knowing anything about Charles Fort, just knowing the adjective "fortean," meaning having to do with the strange,the bizarre, the unexplained. This turned out to be a truly entertaining read (I was reading it during a trip so it took longer than it it otherwise would have) about a man who was a real eccentric. As a young person, he got into journalism and was interested in writing short stories. But he became obsessed with gathering anecdotes concerning strange things and ...more
Charles Dee Mitchell
Jun 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
Years spent in the used book trade assures that I have always been aware of figures such as Charles Fort, and I can use the term "fortean" in a sentence. But it was while I was reading Sister Carrie a few months ago that I looked up some background material on Theodore Dreiser, and learned that he was largely responsible for getting Fort into print. When I spotted a secondhand copy of Fort's complete works, I picked it up and quickly realized that he would be more interesting to read about than ...more
Dave Maddock
Jan 09, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
You have to know a bit about Charles Fort and his work before reading this biography (otherwise there's little reason to bother doing so), but it is a very well done account of his life and writings. For starters, Steinmeyer is generally skeptical of Fort's claims, but not an ass about it. As he put it in this interview:
I tend to be skeptical, but I don't consider myself a "debunker," and maybe that's why I appreciated Fort's work, even if I didn't always accept the phenomena.

The book is about F
Sep 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
No one wrote quite like Charles Fort, whose four books on the strange phenomena we now call Fortenalia can be read cover to cover in endless rotation and always offer something new and engaging to the reader (In that respect, they're not too different than the Bible).

Author Jim Steinmeyer doesn't write at all like Fort, but he sure has rounded up an awful lot about the writer, and recovered a lot of Fort's writing that was done outside of his four major works.

This was a great way to re-encouter
Aug 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, biography
I've been meaning to read up on Fort since reading Chasing Vermeer, in which he is mentioned. Actually, he comes up in Good Omens, so I've been curious to learn more since 1991 or so.


Poor guy never did quite get the hang of people. But, boy, didn't journalism produce some fine short story writers? Very like Ring Lardner is what I mentioned to the husband, a comparison that Steinmeyer made just a few pages later on. Fort would have loved the modern age for making his collections. He could just
Cayleigh Arnold
Mar 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
I read this because I was a fan of the author rather than a particular fan of Charles Fort, and Steinmeyer didn’t let me down. This was an enjoyable read, one somehow even more unbelievable than the biographies of magicians. If you were going to make up a story about a loveable/annoying daydreamer, you might include anecdotes about them falling asleep on the ground next to a broken tar barrel and being unable to move they woke up in the morning; or inventing a game called super-checkers in which ...more
Apr 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Here's a book about a person I've never heard of but who had significant cultural influence that persists through today. I found the book to be a very entertaining biography, as well as a good effort at explaining the fuzzy and contradictory philosophy of Charles Fort. Also, the author does a great job of explaining the absolutely horrific treatment of Fort and his brothers by their controlling and sadistic father, which surely led to some of the oddities of Fort's life and thinking.

To begin, Ch
Jul 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
Charles Fort's renown rests primarily on four books -- The Book of the Damned, New Lands, Lo!, and Wild Talents -- unclassifiable shaggy dog collections of old newspaper and magazine accounts of rains of frogs and other assorted critters, mysterious disappearances, unexplained phenomena of all sorts, and so forth, all shot through with wryly sardonic humor and a palpable sense of glee at tweaking consensus reality. Unlike Charles Berlitz, Erich von Daniken, or most of the other hucksters who ped ...more
Jan 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
A moderately interesting biography of the source of the eponym "Fortean". Charles Fort started out as a ne'er-do-well writer and journalist and upon inheriting a modest legacy, compulsively collected anecdotes of various strange and unexplained phenomena from newspapers and magazines. He summarized and published these in four books, his most first and most famous being "The Book of the Damned".

Fort himself would be best described as an interested skeptic, like so many who today would watch 'docu
Reading Cat
I started this book while in the hospital, after a morphine injection, and while I don't recommend the hospital part, reading this in a slightly altered state was an...interesting choice.

It's an homage to a weird, reclusive, but impeccable and implacable researcher. Did it do a deep dive on his psychology, as some readers want? No, but I think Fort himself would resent the attempt to find a unifying theory about himself.

Other readers complain of the amount of quotations--his books, his corresp
Sep 05, 2018 rated it liked it
"I tend to be skeptical, but I don't consider myself a "debunker," and maybe that's why I appreciated Fort's work, even if I didn't always accept the phenomena."

Was Fort a Genius? Crank Hack? Visionary? Satirist? Or all of the above?

"More than any other book, more than the Great Gatsby, more than The Wasteland, it was Charles Fort's Book of the Damned that whispered to its readers "Welcome to the 1920s"
May 05, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Man Who Invented the Supernatural

Charles Fort published a book in 1920 that the author feels truly described the 1920s, not F. Scott Fitzgerald. Charles Fort took coincidences and happenstance and brought things together to question science and logic. He brought spiritualism out of religion and brought it into its own. People bought his books in droves and he published four by the end of the 20s and considered the Father of the Paranormal. His books are often the basis for new authors. What
Sep 07, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
If the best defense against isolationist thinking by is to expose oneself to many points of view, then I recommend Steinmeyer's biography of Charles Fort to fellow rationalists.

Loony cult is how I summarized Forteans after a short acquaintance. And the last chapter of Steinmeyer's book does, indeed, link the Fortean approach to works such as Von Daniken's "Chariots of the Gods" which briefly fascinated me in my youth. Even worse is the conspiracy theory contributions of the founding Fortean, Tif
Aaron Boyd
Oct 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was an ok biography. The Author interconnects excerpts of Forts Text into chronological order. The book was basically about how contemporary author Theodore Dreiser gave Charles Fort every chance to write both short stories and encouraged and fought for the publication of Forts first book. “Book of the Damned”

I was hoping that there would be a passage explaining how Fort influenced modern supernatural and horror. There was nothing connecting Fort to H. P. Lovecraft. It was through reading L
Bill FromPA
Jun 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
Steinmeyer obviously did a good amount of research for this, and produced a well-organized and engaging biography. He tells much of the story through quotations, mostly from Fort's writings (many unpublished), but also accounts from friends (especially Theodore Dreiser) and, occasionally, opponents. It is therefore unfortunate that such otherwise exemplary work is marred by basic errors that bring the reader up short: awarding Booth Tarkington a Nobel instead of a Pulitzer, placing the Scopes tr ...more
Apr 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
A good quick read if you're already in the Fortean thought space. It was interesting to see how his work was taken in time, and since his death. He lead quite an adventurous life as a young man then seemed to turtle in and work on his research and writing, a 180 flip indeed. Probably not a book that would interest general readers however. ...more
Apr 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Holy Hell.
Lafayette Lady
Jun 13, 2020 rated it liked it
Never knew about Charles Fort and the crazy, creepy world of Fort. Great bio book
Jun 04, 2013 added it
Was Charles Fort a crank, a genius, or something else all together? Jim Steinmeyer's biography of the little known writer of the early 20th century delves into just what made Fort tick, from his passion for collecting and cataloging true stories of the unexplained to the self doubt and anti-social tendencies that both seemed to hold the author back and were, to some extent at the root of his ability to distance himself from both scientific and religious dogma forging his own objectivist view of ...more
Jim Steinmeyer's biography of the man who inspired the Fortean Times, Charles Fort: The Man who Invented the Supernatural, was an enjoyable, though not very revealing, popular/populist biography of a genuine and important eccentric.

The biography fails to reveal the deeper psycho-pathologies at work in Charles Fort but tends to skim along the surface. What annoys in the book is the over-abundance and lengthy quotes from Mr. Fort's books. It almost seems as if these lengthy quotes function as fil
Mark Potts
Jul 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: magic
If I have one criticism of this book it is that Jim Steinmeyer has chosen a subject, about which, there is just too much information to absorb in just one reading. I'm sure that I didn't take in half of the content.

Fort was a strange man, of that there can be no argument.

Perhaps a genius, perhaps a crazy bloke. I still am not sure. One thing is for sure - he was different. What's more, he ruffled a few feathers too. Perhaps he chose to ignore the facts that didn't fit with his train of thought,
Oct 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
Before reading the book, I knew nothing about Charles Fort. Madman or visionary? At the beginning of the book, I was convinced that he was insane (mostly based on his decision to refer to himself as "we" in his autobiography of childhood) but the more I read, the more I grew to admire him and his journey as a writer. His friendship with Theodore Dreiser is an endearing story, and even Robert Ripley makes an appearance.

If you like books about writers, introverts, hypergraphia, those who don't "fi
Aug 05, 2008 rated it liked it
Fort was a fascinating character. This biography is far more readable than any of Fort's actual books. Interesting and just the right length. I was surprised to learn that Fort was reporting a great deal with his tongue in his cheek. I always thought he was a great big crank. Turns out that's not true. Odd, yes. But crazy? No. There's also a lot of information about Theodore Dreiser here, as he was more or less Fort's mentor. And H. G. Wells provides background snark, as does Mencken. The book i ...more
Apr 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
Charles Fort is one of those peripheral figures you’ll encounter if you venture into the territory of mysteries and the unexplained.

Except for Tiffany Thayer’s brief introduction to Fort’s “Book of the Damned,” little biographical material has been available on the man. Jim Steinmeyer, a historian of stage magic and illusion, has attempted to fill that void with this biography.

My full review is available at
Jun 25, 2016 rated it liked it
Probably essential reading for those with an interest in fringe topics that are now lumped together as "Fortean" in recognition of Charles Fort's seminal influence in the area but not a very compelling read. Fort's life had some interesting aspects but the surface is only skimmed and the numerous and long quotes from Fort's work slow down the book even more. Glad I read it, won't read it again. ...more
Jon Carroll  Thomas
Feb 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
I didn't get much insight on the weird occurrences that Fort discussed (for that I probably need to read his actual books) but I was quite taken by the portrait of the cult figure as a homebody and a struggling writer. ...more
Jun 22, 2008 rated it liked it
What is this weird Charles Fort phase I'm going through? ...more
Jan 20, 2010 rated it liked it
I was disappointed at the lack of information about the supernatural. The original writings included were good. I'm now convinced I should look at the Book of the Damned, one of his books. ...more
Great bio of a far more interesting person than I'd expected.

If nothing else, the world owes Charles Fort for having coined the term "teleportation."
Mills College Library
Biog F7361s 2008
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Jim Steinmeyer was born and raised just outside of Chicago, Illinois, and graduated in 1980 from Loyola University of Chicago, with a major in communications. He is literally the man behind the magicians having invented impossibilities for four Doug Henning television specials, six touring shows, two Henning Broadway shows, and numerous television and Las Vegas appearances.For one of David Copperf ...more

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