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
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
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.