The Book of the Damned was the first published nonfiction work of the author Charles Fort (first edition 1919). Dealing with various types of anomalous phenomena including UFOs, strange falls of both organic and inorganic materials from the sky, odd weather patterns, the possible existence of creatures generally held to be mythological, disappearances of people under strange circumstances, and many other phenomena, the book is historically considered to be the first written in the specific field of anomalistics.
The title of the book referred to what he termed the "damned" data - data which had been damned, or excluded, by modern science because of its not conforming to accepted guidelines. The way Fort sees it, mainstream scientists are trend followers who believe in what is accepted and popular, and never really look for a truth that may be contrary to what they believe. He also compares the close-mindedness of many scientists to that of religious fundamentalists, implying that the supposed "battle" between science and religion is just a smokescreen for the fact that, in his view, science is, in essence, simply a de facto religion. This is a theme that Fort would develop more heavily in his later works, New Lands and Lo! particularly.
Fort was one of the first major writers to deal extensively with paranormal phenomena (see parapsychology), and in that aspect at least, The Book of the Damned should be considered an important work. It should be viewed as a formulative work, perhaps understandably, as it is his first major book. Though Fort's uniquely acerbic writing style is already in evidence, and there are plenty of interesting phenomena to read about, Fort's theories (as such) are only beginning to be developed, and Fort tends to ramble in this book more so than his later ones. Still, it's a very readable book for those interested in this subject, and a solid introduction to Fort and his works.
Content of the Book
The first few chapters of the book deal largely with explaining Fort's thesis (as mentioned above). As a particular instance, he cites the strange glowing in the sky worldwide, which supposedly resulted due to the 1883 eruption of the volcano Krakatoa. Fort shows that such phenomenon had in fact preceded the eruption by several months, and suggests that the scientists, who had been puzzled by the phenomenon initially, used Krakatoa as a convenient explanation to something that they could not previously explain.
While Fort has a particular interest in strange "falls" - focusing quite a bit of the book on the falls of fish, frogs, and various unidentifiable materials - he does not focus exclusively on this category. He also has chapters discussing the findings of "thunderstones", which supposedly fell from the sky during lightning storms; a discussion of evidence for the existence of giants (huge oversized axes too big for any person to use) and fairies (so-called "fairy crosses" and "coffins"); a brief chapter on poltergeist phenomena; the disappearances of many people (including the supposed disappearance of several hundred people in a shelter during the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake; the bodies of the "missing" were discovered in late 2006; he also briefly mentions the famous case of the Mary Celeste, which he would detail much more in his later Lo!); a rather long section on a number of purported UFO sightings (this book was written well before 1947, Kenneth Arnold, and the start of the modern UFO craze); and sums up with a mention of the famous "Devil's Footprints" mystery in England in 1855, also citing a number of similar cases.
Fort's Theory and Criticism
Fort's explanation for the above "falls" and UFO sightings is that of the Super-Sargasso Sea - i.e., kind of a stationary "sea" where all things on Earth that are lost mysteriously turn up in, and occasionally rain back down on Earth. (He would develop this idea in much more detail in his later books.) Though Fort himself apparently doesn't really believe this explanation, he (at least in this book) does not purport to explain the phenomena as a whole, simply stating the facts as they are, and leaving the reader to make their own conclusions.
Due to this lack of explanation for the phenomena he presents, some skeptics and critics, particularly Martin Gardner, have attacked Fort as simply a destructive critic (or "crank") presenting negative claims with no positive accounts.