Shapeshifters: A History

Written by John B. Kachuba
Review by Xina Marie Uhl

In my opinion, Shapeshifters: A History should have been titled Shapeshifters: An Examination. Histories of singular subjects such as this tend to proceed chronologically and if they include contemporary times at all, they are usually relegated to a final chapter. That is not the case with this book, which makes an attempt at chronological examination, but ping-pongs around history while covering a dizzying array of subjects. These include werewolves, vampires, dragons, and other monsters as well as religious figures, and even modern-day phenomena like Transformers toys and cosplay.

Author Kachuba is a creative writing instructor and ghost hunter rather than a historian, and it shows. He defines shapeshifters not only as humans who turn into animals, but males who become females, and vice versa, and other types of transformers such as Lot’s wife who appears in the Old Testament fleeing a city that God was destroying. She defied God’s warning to look back and thus became a pillar of salt. Somehow, the book even includes the notion that shapechangers involve alien lizard people who have concealed their reptilian nature in favor of becoming modern-day CEOs, heads of state, and other powerful but devious individuals.

The book is a look at the cultural forces which generate tales of shapeshifters as much as it is a history, if not more so. The writing is engaging and the content interesting, so you will not go wrong by reading this book for diversion. Look elsewhere for a serious historical examination of the subject, however.