For as long as I can remember, I've loved crazy people.

I mean that, quite frankly, entirely in the abstract. I've met very few people I could really consider insane, and with those few, I either felt entirely helpless in how to deal with them, or entirely terrified and eager to remove myself from their presence.

In the abstract, crazy people are awesome. Mad scientists of both the fictional and real-world variety, people who have completely impossible delusions, the most off-the-wall conspiracy theorists, exaggerated serial killers on the silver screen.

Yes, it's entirely insensitive. Yes, I realize that people who suffer from mental illness are not cartoons, not figures of fun or horror, and are entitled to our empathy, assistance, and ultimately respect.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that, from a very early age, I've been fascinated with people who are the craziest of the crazy. I'm not real sure why. Maybe it's related to my love of horror movies -- when your heroes are cinematic mad scientists, psycho killers, and twisted monsters, maybe you acquire an interest in the more mundane versions, too. Maybe I've always recognized that I was a bit bent myself.

Ultimately, I think that some of the more entertaining crazy people are the ones considered crackpots, cranks, and kooks. They're a wildly variable group of people, but they can generally be classified as fanatically delusional egomaniacs. They're not often violent, but they are relentless self-promoters. They usually have a strong dislike of authority figures and experts, consider themselves very technically proficient (usually incorrectly), and have trouble admitting that they're wrong about anything.

I don't even remember how I stumbled upon Donna Kossy's magnum opus "Kooks: A Guide to the Outer Limits of Human Belief" but I was always glad I found it.

Kossy is a writer who published her first zine when she was in sixth grade and has had a passion for publishing and self-publishing ever since. She published a zine called "False Positive" in the mid- to late-1980s that featured spotlights of crackpots in every issue and even had two issues that were entirely devoted to them. She published "Kooks Magazine" from 1988 to 1991 as a spinoff of the "Kook Pages" from "False Positive."

Finally, in 1994, Feral House published "Kooks" as an anthology of many of her articles from the zines, along with original articles and profiles written just for the book.

It's a bit difficult to describe this book. Saying it's a collection of profiles of cranks is, really, a bit dry. Even the table of contents doesn't adequately communicate the scale of the project.

It has a complete history of the Flat Earth Society -- and not the jokey Flat Earth Society -- the one that believes the world is literally flat as a pancake. It has white supremacists and black supremacists. It has people who believe that men can give birth. It has prophets and self-proclaimed gods. It has alien contactees and alien worshipers.

It has people who believe they're being spied on and controlled by government-operated machines -- and are willing to ineptly sue the government and subpoena presidents to prove it. It has Raëlism, the global new-age UFO cult. It has people who practice trepanation. It has radical psychoanalyst/orgone enthusiast Wilhelm Reich. It has New World Order fanatic William "Bill" Cooper. It has British Israelism, the belief that white Europeans are the direct descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel.

It has believers in the Hollow Earth, people who think Satan was a dinosaur, and Dr. Bronner's All-One Soap. It has pages and pages of reproduced leaflets handed out on street corners and tacked up on telephone poles by paranoid schizophrenics. 

And here's the most interesting thing about the book -- the vast majority of those profiles are positive and affectionate. Kossy acknowledges that these people are not conventionally sane, but she has no difficulty helping you get to know and like them.

You're not laughing at these people. You're learning to understand them. You're even learning to appreciate them. The full effect is a bit like having a particularly vivid fever dream.

The other thing that gets to you after a while of reading this is that, as creatively crazy and aggressively weird as all these people may be, they're not a whole heck of a lot crazier than some of the people you see hosting talk shows on the big news networks or publishing opinion columns in major newspapers or chairing powerful committees in Congress. And their ideas are doing a lot less damage to the world than the supposedly sane people who run governments and media organizations and expensive think tanks and schools and churches and global mega-corporations.

The entire book is a great little treasure trove of high weirdness and fringe beliefs. If you've got any interest in those topics -- or in the zine culture of the 1990s, which pervades the entire book almost invisibly -- you might want to check this one out.

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