June O'Neill's book offers the reader an overview of the historical record, going back over 300 years, of the incidents of reported unknown aquatic animals off the coast of New England. These unknown aquatic animals, Sea Serpents, are treated through the text as narratives and described for the most part from the actual records of those reporting the animals. Hence, a rehashing of previous books and articles is not presented but a thorough historical record of New England reports is offered from the perspective of witnesses, doubters and researchers.
Others have dealt with the natural phenomenon of Sea Serpents from both regional accounts, such as Dr. Paul LeBlond and Dr. Edward Bousfield's Cadborasaurus: Survivor from the Deep (Horsdal & Schubart; Victoria. B.C.; 1995) to global accounts, such as Rupert Gould's The Case for the Sea Serpent (Philip Allan; London; 1930) and Bernard Heuvelman's In the Wake of the Sea Serpents (Hill & Wang; New York; 1965). In which reports from New England do appear as notations or selected chapters in an overview of the phenomenon. Although these mentioned books are excellent sources for their regional or global views, O'Neill's book is the first hard treatment of the New England occurrences.
Beyond just the first true New England book treatment of recent years, O'Neill's book uncovers new informational treasurers. Among these uncovered treasurers is the scrapbook of George W. Woodbury from the Cape Ann Historical Association. Within this Scrapbook #15 (as listed at the Historical Association) are accounts from personal correspondence and rare archival information of local newspaper sources. Another scrapbook was found by a Wayne Wilcox at the Calais Free Library and was a scrapbook collected by a W.W. Brown (listed as Miscellaneous Scrapbook #8 at the library).
These new items, although viewable as only more anecdotal accounts of Sea Serpents, are valuable in piecing together the history of the areas. A job O'Neill has done admirably in a stylized manner of intermingling background historical data (for example - the accounts of P.T. Barnum, ecology and history of the fishing industry and overall theories) and the original texts of the eras. These texts serve then to show the changing language and culture of the people, as well as their familiarity with the oceans, a crucial key to their livelihoods as well as an added merit to their credibility in accurate reporting.
If one comes onto the book expecting answers, one will not find them. The answers may never been uncovered, but the elements leading to those answers in New England are laid out for all to judge independently with The Great New England Sea Serpent. In her own words June O'Neill lays the framework for skeptic or believer at the close of her book:
"In the absence of an actual specimen, all is conjecture. But, if we dismiss the various "explanations" - seals, seaweed, and any number of large fish or selachians swimming in a line - offered for the New England sea serpents and take as a matter of faith that this is not a hoax of two hundred years' duration or a mass hallucinations, we are left with creatures that many individuals with significant collective knowledge of the sea and its inhabitants have described as unknown to them."