I’ve been reading Karen Cerulo’s Never saw it coming and while it’s generally pretty good, it contains what I assumed was a howler of a mistake, but turns out to be a gross misjudgement. Cerulo argues that the generally optimistic view taken by Americans does not extend to deviant groups, and uses as an example, the Heavenâ€™s Gate cult which, as she states believed that they would be removed from the Earth by a spaceship following the comet Hale-Bopp, their true homeâ€™. As she says, most reporting of the group treated it as the epitome of the lunatic fringe. I assumed that Cerulo was somehow unaware of the fact that all the members of the group had committed suicide in an attempt to ensure that the spaceship didn’t miss them. I looked at the endnotes to check the dates on some of the cited media reports and discovered a note reading
144. Henry 1997, 4. Readers may recall in order to hasten their arrival in heaven, all thirty-nine members of the group engaged in a mass suicide
which to my mind justifies the lunatic fringe description. In any case, surely this point was important enough to include in the main text, or a footnote on the same page.
While Iâ€™m on this subject, is there any excuse for persevering with endnotes in books*? They’re just about useless, (those that don’t give something worse than useless like “ibid” or “loc cit”). If the material is of too little interest to be included in the main text or in footnotes, and can’t be omitted altogether for reasons of academic nicety, couldnâ€™t it be placed in a supporting website?
* Footnote/endnote: A bit more discussion of this at Andrew Norton’s blog (thanks to Damien Eldridge for locating this for me)