Nigel Watson's UFO Investigations Manual is partly an overview of UFO history, and partly a how-to guide for anyone interested in making UFOs a little less unknown. And it will delight you with hints of forbidden information waiting to be discovered.
When I first saw this book, I was inexplicably delighted. I think it's that vaguely ominous saucer hovering there in the cover image, and the textbookish way it's all presented. It reminds me of how books on mysteries and supernatural phenomena delighted me when I was young. I had a well-worn copy of the Hamlyn Book of Mystery that was a cornerstone of my formative years, so there's certainly some nostalgia at play here.
In some ways, UFO Investigations Manual is the perfect book for the adult version of that mystery-loving kid, the one who writes about science and skepticism, and has come to realize that the odds of aliens visiting us in fancy flying ships, weighed against any number of more prosaic explanations, are vanishingly small. The book only dallies with the more lurid chapters of UFO lore, offering a few exemplars of broad categories of UFO encounters (Betty and Barney Hill, the Cisco Grove robot, the one involving the Secretary-General of the UN, and so on). Watson maintains a carefully neutral tone about all the but the most outlandish theories, but after he's explored the options you tend to come away feeling as if, "Weather balloon," or, "Top secret airplane," are the best options.
The broad overviews this book offers are valuable in their own way, revealing interesting societal and psychological patterns in the "waves" of UFO cases. When you're reading the details of many individual cases, you really can fail to see the forest for the trees, so it's nice to see the connections Watson is able to draw between the cigar ships of the 1800s to the contactees of the 1960s and the abductees of the 80s and 90s. You start to see how sightings are interpreted to fit the greater social anxieties happening at the time.
Where you will find detail is on the various investigations of UFOs that have occurred over time, from official government efforts like Project Grudge to the panoply of civilian UFO organizations. This can make for dry reading at times, but there are some excellent insights as well. For instance, Watson observes that when estimates on the number of abductees in the world were extrapolated to the total population, the results appeared ludicrous, requiring a parade of literally thousands of spaceships shuttling people in and out of their homes every night.
For the budding UFO investigator, there are several extremely useful chapters. Watson breaks down multiple systems of classifying UFO encounters, including historical systems that have since been discarded. These systems are surprisingly more complex and detailed than the "close encounters of the n kind" you're likely familiar with, and there are alternate classification systems depending on the investigator's expertise or area of interest.
The "search for theories and explanations" chapter is also very useful. It moves through theories involving aliens, otherdimensional beings, star children and the like, but then presents a very thorough and well-illustrated guide to natural or human-made phenomena that could account for UFO sightings. There are great photos of rocket launches, weather balloons, unusual cloud formations, etc. that give an investigator a solid starting point for explaining a given encounter.
You'll even find chapters on how to complete an accurate and thorough investigation report, what tools you'll need to make and record observations, and a guide to sky watching.
If you're interested in the history of UFOs as a cultural phenomenon or plan to investigate some sightings yourself, I do think you'd enjoy UFO Investigations Manual. Even if the prose can be a bit dry at times, the numerous photos and drawings from various UFO archives paint a colorful picture of this strange part of our history.