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Book Review

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How UFOs Conquered the World
The History of a Modern Myth


Author: David Clarke
Publisher: Aurum Press
RRP: £18.99
ISBN: 978 1 78131 303 9
Publication Date: 14 May 2015

The term "flying saucer" was born in America during the summer of 1947. A lone pilot spotted nine mysterious objects that flew "like a saucer would if you skipped it across water" and the media did the rest. Today almost half the population of the Western world believe we are not alone. Millions of people claim to have seen a UFO. An alarming number report being "abducted" by aliens. And some are convinced there is a conspiracy by governments to hide "the truth". As a child during the 1970s, David Clarke wanted to believe. He joined a UFO society, went "skywatching", and later, as a journalist, spent decades investigating sighting reports, unearthing Top Secret government files and interviewing those who claimed they had seen interplanetary craft and had met their occupants. He never found a crashed flying saucer, or received a visit from the sinister Men in Black. Instead he discovered something no less astonishing...

How UFOs Conquered the World: The History of a Modern Myth describes David Clarke's strange journey to the heart of the UFO phenomenon. He has close encounters with abductees, hoaxers and conspiracy theorists. He meets people who think aliens are angels (or demons). And he tracks down the boffins who ran the British government's now defunct 'UFO desk' to find out what their investigations really uncovered. Along the way he reveals how the human will to believe turned the stuff of science fiction into the most enduring myth of modern times.

Like Clarke, I too was a child of the '70s, grew up in South Yorkshire and had a keen interested in UFOs. My interest started in the '80s, probably after watching Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I saw several UFOs as a teenager... but these always seemed to materialise when I was looking for them (I remember walking home from a friend's one night and as I looked at the bright stars in the night sky I thought: "wouldn't it be cool if I saw a UFO"... And, almost instantly, there in the sky was (what my memory remembers as) a circular shaped object with multicoloured flashing lights all around it. It looked like no helicopter or plane I'd ever seen.

I was brought back to this event a few months ago. I live on Dartmoor now, and I was chatting to a friend who has a huge interest in UFOs, ghosts and Big Foot TV shows. He was excited because he'd been out walking his dog when he looked to the sky and thought "it's such a clear night... certainly a night for UFO watching" and the next thing he saw was a strange light in the sky. As he was close to home he rushed inside to tell his girlfriend, so that he would have a witness to his experience. She too saw the same lights.

It was this looking, expecting to see something, and actually witnessing a strange event, that has always intrigued me. Is it possible to will something into existence - to your mind, at least? I read an interesting book recently (The Future of the Mind) which has a section that highlights how our brains constantly lie to us; that what we think we see isn't necessarily reality.

Clarke, who has been interested in UFOs since he was young, has spent his life exploring every facet of the phenomena. From going UFO watching to interviewing those that claim to have been abducted; from reading UFO investigation files unread by anyone since they were archived, to talking to servicemen and government officials who claim to have witnessed strange phenomena that they can't find a rational explanation for.

But Clarke also illustrates that credible witnesses with nothing to gain don't necessarily make the best eye-witnesses. The pilot, whose original sighting gave way to the "flying saucer" wave, had a service record that would indicate that nothing could have fooled him. However, it seems likely that what he saw was the sun reflecting off a formation of flying birds.

Most of the more credible UFO reports don't stand up to scrutiny. In fact a deliberate hoax attempt, designed to see what a "believing" audience would witness revealed that a couple of balloons fitted with blinking lights made witnesses truly believe that these "spacecraft" were trying to communicate with them through their flashing lights which they claimed only happened in response to actions on the ground... which they clearly didn't.

So, it would seem that the vast majority of UFO sightings are mistaken planets, stars, aircraft, deliberate hoaxes, or the witnesses's minds playing tricks on them. As Clarke points out, there is very little possibility of any government being able to keep under wraps the fact that aliens are amongst us, or visiting us on a regular basis. A rag week prank proved that there is nothing in place to keep such leaks out of the press.

How UFOs Conquered the World is probably the best researched (Clarke has been digging through the evidence his entire life) book on the subject you'll ever come across.

I couldn't help but hear the faint voice of Arthur C. Clark closing any one of the many episodes of Arthur C. Clark's Mysterious World as I reached the end of the book: "Do UFO's exist? Personally I doubt it."


Darren Rea

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