Early in “Anatomy of a Beast,” author Michael McLeod observes that when the legend of Bigfoot became a national story during the 1970s it marked an unfortunate milestone. It was “the first widely popularized example of pseudoscience in American culture,” he says, a hoax that paved the way for the proliferation of junk science and gently encouraged the rise of anti-intellectualism.
The author’s thesis aside, what separates McLeod’s work from previous Sasquatch books is that instead of refuting (or giving credence) to the legend, he focuses on the obsessive, attention-seeking men who created the story, as well as those who perpetuated it. It’s a colorful cast of characters, especially the duo of Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin, who were responsible for the single most famous piece of Bigfoot media, a snippet of film from October 20, 1967, which depicts a mysterious (not to mention hairy) figure striding away from the camera.
Of course, even with an assist from the Internet, Bigfoot isn’t nearly as famous as s/he used to be. But that doesn’t make McLeod’s book—part history, part biography, and part adventure story—any less compelling. It’s a vivid reminder of how a myth can propagate when one combines widespread deficiencies in basic education with a media that is all too willing to disseminate far-fetched stories. “If people can delude themselves into believing in the existence of an eight-foot-tall ape-man,” notes McLeod, “what on earth might they be thinking about truly important matters?”