Thursday, July 25, 2024
  The Believer     Source

The Believer is the weird and chilling true story of Dr. John Mack. This eminent Harvard psychiatrist and Pulitzer Prize–winning biographer risked his career to investigate the phenomenon of human encounters with aliens and to give credibility to the stupefying tales shared by people who were utterly convinced they had happened.

Nothing in Mack’s four decades of psychiatry had prepared him for the otherworldly accounts of a cross-section of humanity including young children who reported being taken against their wills by alien beings. Over the course of his career his interest in alien abduction grew from curiosity to wonder, ultimately developing into a limitless, unwavering passion.

Based on exclusive access to Mack’s archives, journals, and psychiatric notes and interviews with his family and closest associates, The Believer reveals the life and work of a man who explored the deepest of scientific conundrums and further leads us to the hidden dimensions and alternate realities that captivated Mack until the end of his life.

“This extraordinary biography reads like a fast-paced thriller. It deftly weaves the detailed richness of John Mack’s genius and complex life through the historical backdrop of the alien-abduction phenomena. Ralph Blumenthal has so beautifully captured the essence of Mack’s soul and his relentless curiosity that by the end of the book I mourned that Mack is no longer with us.”
— Trish MacGregor, coauthor of Aliens in the Backyard: UFO Encounters, Abductions, and Synchronicity

“As a person sane enough to hold a driver’s license, I say, what are we to make of Mack’s findings? Read this gripping, factual account of a mental-health pioneer and truth-seeker by a soundly accredited successful author, veteran New York Times foreign correspondent, and reporter. Decide for yourselves and then tell me!”
— Dan Aykroyd

“Anyone who is intrigued by the involvement of John Mack, a psychiatrist on the faculty of Harvard, or by the interest of psychiatrists in the anomalous in general and UFOs in particular, should not miss reading this book! It is filled with details on the topic, both pro and con, that are not publicly available in any other place that I know.”
— David J. Hufford, author of The Terror that Comes in the Night: An Experience-Centered Study of Supernatural Assault Traditions

“John Mack was one of the few prominent American intellectuals who saw and said what was, and still is, really at stake in the UFO phenomenon—reality itself. And Ralph Blumenthal is the perfect biographer to take up Mack and bring him to life, in all his humanity and complexity, on the page. A major achievement.”
— Jeffrey J. Kripal, author of The Flip: Epiphanies of Mind and the Future of Knowledge

always and forever


my faithful believer

I never said it was possible, I only said it was true.

Sir William Crookes · 1874


Compared to the obstinate mystery he was chasing, John Mack was an open book, compiling a voluminous record of his formative thoughts, feelings, ideas, and presentations, a good part helpfully preserved in audio and video recordings retained by the family. No words or thoughts ascribed to Mack or anyone else in this book are the author’s speculation or invention; all come from interviews, articles, recordings, emails, letters, or other documentary accounts by Mack and other principals. I am deeply grateful to Danny, Kenny, and Tony Mack for making the material available through Mack’s devoted archivist and adviser, Will Bueché, and for providing their recollections and encouraging others to be forthcoming as well.

I was exceptionally fortunate to have spent time with Mack’s wife, Sally, at the end of her life. Despite their split, Sally remained a faithful and loving supporter of her husband and his work. Others particularly close to Mack who generously shared their recollections and insights included Dominique Callimanopulos, Karin Austin, Pat Carr, Roz Zander, David Ingbar, and Budd Hopkins, whom I was privileged to interview also shortly before his untimely death, along with Temple professor David Jacobs, the third of their triumvirate, whose academic standing, like Mack’s, also took a beating.

Mack’s cousins, Walter Henry (Terry) Liebman and his sister, Susan Butler, were vital sources of family history. Wes Boyd and Stan Grof opened the door to transformative chapters in Mack’s story. Gurucharan Singh Khalsa and Rick Tarnas, Mack’s confessors, who were party to his taped therapy sessions and other personal consultations, gave away no confidences that Mack himself hadn’t already recorded for posterity, but they helpfully provided context.

Robert Jay Lifton, Bernard Lown, Daniel Ellsberg, Vivienne Simon, Anne Cuvelier, Leslie Kean, Roberta Colasanti, and David Pritchard also offered valuable perspectives.

Randall Nickerson, one of Mack’s first experiencers, generously shared his memories of Mack and his extensive research into the child-witnessed 1994 UFO landing in Ruwa, Zimbabwe—the subject of a documentary film, Ariel Phenomenon, that he had been working on for years.

Professional photographer Stuart Conway took some of the most atmospheric photos of Mack and generously allowed their use in this book.

Jerome Clark’s magisterial 2018 The UFO Encyclopedia is a treasure, and so, for anyone studying the phenomenon, is he. I am indebted, too, to Leon Friedman, Barbara Lamb, Whitley Strieber, Rudolph Schild, Christopher Green, Linda Napolitano, Will Maney, David Gotlib, Mike Briggs, Jeffrey Kripal, Diana Pasulka, Ann Druyan, Luise White, Susan Lepselter, Margaret Meese, David Cherniack, Phil Isenberg, Lester Grinspoon, Edward Khantzian, Artemis Joukowsky III, Amy Anglin, Eric MacLeish, Dan Sheehan, Carl Sapers, David Hufford, Jeffrey Rediger, Russell Targ, Jane Katra, Shawn Randall, Carol Rainey, Leslie Hansen, Jill Neimark, James Willwerth, Donna Bassett, Victor Gurewich, the Rockefeller Archive Center, Elizabeth Robinson, Susan Manewich, Judy Einzig, Rachael Donalds, Cheryl Costa, Linda Miller Costa, Michael and Trish Mannion, Michael Murphy, Norie Huddle, Terry Hunt, and Amy and Elliot Lawrence.

My agent, Al Zuckerman of Writer’s House, was an unfailing champion and savvy guide through the literary wilderness. James Ayers of the University of New Mexico Press was a scrupulous and sensitive copy editor, an author’s prayer answered. Stephen P. Hull, director of the University of New Mexico Press, was an enthusiastic and supportive publisher, and I thank his legendary author and dean of western writers, Ol’ Max Evans, for pointing me his way and for regaling me with the absolutely best cowboy-UFO stories. As always, my greatest debt is to my closest friend and shrewdest critic and editor, my wife, Deborah, who has been, as John Mack might say, not only witness but cocreator.

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 24
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 29
Chapter 29
Chapter 30
Chapter 31
Chapter 32
Chapter 33
Chapter 34
Chapter 35
Chapter 36
Chapter 37
Chapter 38
Chapter 39
Chapter 40
Chapter 41
Chapter 42
Chapter 43
 Chapter 44
Chapter 45
Chapter 46
Chapter 47
“They Are Telling the Truth”
Terror in the Night
This Budd’s For You
The Mystery of Anomalous Experience
“Have We Visitors from Space?”
The Sources of Suffering
Mack the Knife
A Prince of Our Disorder
“UFO Chiller”
“The Interrupted Journey”
The Peacemaker
Danny’s Gift
“More Activist than the Movement”
“They Put a Hole in My Psyche”
The Turquoise Maiden
“Sane Citizen Sees UFO in New Jersey”
Mack’s Secret
“He’s Got This Glass Jar …”
“The Abduction Syndrome”
Aliens at Harvard
“You Cannot Go Ahead!”
Iron John
Hello, Dali
Aliens at MIT
“Good Evening, Doctor”
“The Whole Bloody Snowsuit”
PEER Pressure
Aliens in Brazil
The Time Bomb
“The Man from Outer Space”
“A Review of Your Work”
Not an Inquisition
“What if You’re Wrong?”
Aliens in Africa
“Have Good Manners!”
“Oh God!”
“We Watch The X-Files”
The Lighthouse
Abduction and Divinity
“Passport to the Cosmos”
A Cosmic Marriage
The Holy Grail
The Rune of Doom
“I Never Knew It Would Be So Easy”
“John Mack Now Knows Everything”
About the Author

Author photo

Ralph Blumenthal was a reporter for The New York Times from 1964 to 2009, serving as a foreign correspondent in West Germany, South Vietnam, and Cambodia; a national bureau chief in the Southwest; and an investigative reporter and arts writer. He was a member of the metro desk team that won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news coverage of the 1992 truck bombing of the World Trade Center. In 2017 he and two colleagues broke the story of a secret Pentagon program to track UFOs, with videos of encounters between the objects and Navy pilots. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, the author of six nonfiction books, based on investigative crime reporting and cultural history, and is a distinguished lecturer at Baruch College of the City University of New York.

His latest book The Believer: Alien Encounters, Hard Science, and the Passion of John Mack was published by High Road Books of the University of New Mexico Press on March 15, 2021. It’s the first biography of Pulitzer Prize-winning Harvard Psychiatrist John E. Mack (1929-2004) who risked an esteemed career to investigate stupefying accounts of human abductions by aliens. Vanity Fair excerpted the work-in-progress in 2013.

He lives in Manhattan with his wife, Deborah, a children’s book author.


Because John Mack’s personal archive, much of it digitized by Will Bueché for the family and John Mack Institute, is not—or is not yet—open to scholars, it will be of limited use to detail where in Mack’s voluminous files any particular material was located, particularly since it may well be reorganized once the collection is professionally processed. Some of Mack’s articles and links to Abduction, Passport, and other material are posted on the John E. Mack Institute website,

Owing to Mack’s celebrity, much more can be found on the web. These notes should provide as full an accounting of my sources as possible, along with the provenance of other material in the public domain. When citations are given in the text, there may be no need for additional data in the notes.

Note to Epigraph: Crookes, Sir William, “Researches in the Phenomena of Spiritualism,” 1874. Mack cites Crookes in Passport to the Cosmos, as noted in chapter 42. Crookes was a decorated British scientist of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, later knighted for his discoveries with cathode rays, radioactivity, and helium, who was sent to debunk a celebrated spiritualist, Daniel Dunglas Home, then astounding Europe with his mediumship. Crookes witnessed Home (pronounced “Hume”) materialize body parts in séances, levitate his body, and play a locked-up accordion without ever touching it, and he returned a believer. When told that what he had seen was impossible, Crookes wrote, “The quotation occurs to me—‘I never said it was possible, I only said it was true.’”

© 2021 by Ralph Blumenthal

high roadHigh Road Books is an imprint
of the University of New Mexico Press

© 2021 by Ralph Blumenthal
All rights reserved. Published 2021
Printed in the United States of America

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Blumenthal, Ralph, author.

Title: The believer: alien encounters, hard science,
and the passion of John Mack / Ralph Blumenthal.

Description: Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2021. |
Includes bibliographical references and index.

Identifiers: LCCN 2020038248 (print) | LCCN 2020038249 (e-book) |
ISBN 9780826362315 (cloth) | ISBN 9780826362322 (e-book)

Subjects: LCSH: Mack, John E., 1929-2004. | Psychiatrists—United States—
Biography. | Alien abduction—United States.

Classification: LCC RC438.6.M33 B58 2021 (print) |
LCC RC438.6.M33 (e-book) | DDC 616.890092 [B]—dc23

LC record available at

LC e-book record available at

starry sky | Rastan |
flying saucer in sky | George J. Stock | public domain

Designed by Mindy Basinger Hill

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