The story opens on July 22, 2004. Cook Public Relations, a firm hired by Watkins Publishing of London, an esoteric publisher, to promote the U.S. release of Civilization One, sent Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine an advance set of uncorrected, bound galley proofs of Civilization One along with publicity material for the book. “I have enclosed an advance copy of the book and press materials for review,” Sharon Cook wrote. This was typical for publishing, where advance copies are sent out for review to garner publicity for forthcoming titles. Occasionally, a publisher will “embargo” a title, meaning that a review cannot be published before a specific date, but this was not a condition of Civilization One.
The press materials were dated July 15, 2004 and promised “cast iron proofs, illustrated by the easiest of maths” that civilization had been founded by an advanced race utilizing a megalithic yard of the “very precise unit of 82.966656 cm.” It also contained Watkins’ list of suggested questions for an author interview. I will save everyone the embarrassment of repeating the sycophantic inquiries the publisher suggested reviewers ask.
Shermer passed the book on to me because he thought that I might be a good fit for reviewing it, given my interests in ancient astronauts and fringe history. I had just published “Charioteer of the Gods,” the article that would grow into The Cult of Alien Gods and a review of Anatoly Fomenko’s strange idea that the Middle Ages never happened. I was 23 years old, and I had never had the opportunity to publish a book review before.
I read the book and wrote my review. I sent it in to Skeptic, at which point I was no longer in control of the material. The review would be published in the first Skeptic of 2005 (11.3), after the publication date of the book. To be entirely honest, I don’t recall exactly what happened next. In those years I was an occasional participant in discussion boards on Graham Hancock’s website as well as The Hall of Ma’at. So far as I remember, at one of those websites, while working on the review, I indicated that Skeptic had asked me to review the book and that I had read galleys of the book. In so doing, I had asked for help in fact-checking a claim made in the book, which turned out to be false, that 730 million Egyptians had been mummified. (The authors confused all mummies—animal and human—with humans, in copying material from a website that was in turn copying from the Encarta encyclopedia, nearly verbatim.) This is what set off the authors. One or both of them saw the posting asking for help verifying facts and freaked out.
On August 17, 2004, Christopher Knight sent me an email on behalf of himself and Alan Butler demanding to know how I obtained “illegal” copies of his book
You claim to have been asked to read galley proofs of the, yet to be published, book called Civilization One by Christopher Knight and Alan Butler.
Your comments, however wild and ill-informed, appear to indicate that you seen [sic] some parts of the manuscript. Any contact you have had with the manuscript appears to be illegal and we require you to explain how you have come to view this confidential material.
Only mathematicians and astrophysics have had the confidential opportunity of reviewing this ground-breaking material and we would like to know how a low level journalist has gained access.
Statistics cited from an outside source and not original to the author are not protected by copyright and cannot be embargoed or otherwise restricted.
I replied a few hours later:
Despite my lowly status, I was asked to review the manuscript by Skeptic magazine, which received your galleys from Sharon Cook of Cook Public Relations. Her letter of 22 July 2004 makes expressly clear that the advanced copy is for review and places no embargo on discussing the contents of said book. Please forward any inquiries about how Skeptic received your galleys to your publicist, Ms. Cook.
If you have a complaint you should take it up with your own publisher, as that is who sent me a copy of the bound galley, which is standard procedure for publishers seeking to have their books reviewed. As I do with such bound galleys, I arranged to have someone read the book and review it for Skeptic magazine. If you do not wish to have your book read and reviewed, then you should contact your publisher, not the magazines to whom they sent copies.
Sincere apologies for the correspondence you received from the author, Christopher Knight.
The author did not know that there is no embargo in the United States, however, there is one in the UK until September 15th. This was an unfortunate mix-up.
In my memory, I remembered this incident as a threat of civil action, but I guess I was wrong. Knight and Butler apparently wanted me criminally investigated. Funny how I remembered them as being less harsh and more gracious than they really were. So, there you go.