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Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife (edition 2006)

by Mary Roach

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2,8771322,008 (3.53)164
Member:jsetla
Title:Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife
Authors:Mary Roach
Info:W. W. Norton & Company (2006), Edition: 1st, Paperback, 311 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
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Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach

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Showing 1-5 of 132 (next | show all)
I enjoyed this book far more than I expected to. I decided to read it because it seemed like a natural sequel to the excellent "Stiff." I feared that since the most likely results of the research in the book would be entirely negative or at best offering some narrow wiggle-room for their most optimistic interpretors. Which is exactly what the experiments produced. But Mary Roach knows how to keep her writing interesting and moving at an energetic pace despite the mundane results produced by those searching for proof that people outlast their corporal bodies. Highlights include a trip to meet a North Carolina family whose great-grandfather returned from the grave to make changes to his will, descriptions of the various contraptions invented to weigh the human (or animal) soul, scientists investigating the possibility that electro-magnetic fields and infrasound might cause feelings of being haunted, and descriptions of mediums from the spiritualism movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries with their methods of producing "ectoplasm" from a variety of bodily orifices. I would definitely read more of her books. ( )
  AaronPt | Sep 20, 2016 |
Now this was fun! I've never read Mary Roach before, but I enjoyed her exploration of possible evidences for life after death very much. She's a skeptic, but not a debunker – she would like to see solid evidence that some sort of consciousness continues after the body dies, but for the most part what she finds is that even where scientists and other investigators are trying to be rigorous in their experiments, squishiness often intrudes. Results can be interpreted in various ways, and the ways subjects and investigators perceive occurrences are influenced by their beliefs. Still, some of the researchers Roach visits are surprisingly objective, and on a few of occasions Roach allows that the paranormal explanation of events might have something to it. And, as she points out, choosing to believe that the more mystical answer might be right might just be more fun!

”Has my year among the evidence-gatherers left me believing in anything I didn't believe in a year ago? It has. It has left me believing something Bruce Greyson believes. I had asked him whether he believes that near-death experiences provide evidence of a life after death. He answered that what he believed was simply that they were evidence of something we can't explain with our current knowledge. I guess I believe that not everything we humans encounter in our lives can be neatly and convincingly tucked away inside the orderly cabinetry of science. Certainly most things can – including the vast majority of what people ascribe to fate, ghosts, ESP, Jupiter rising – but not all. I believe in the possibility of something more – rather than in any existing something more (reincarnation, say, or dead folks who communicate through mediums). It's not much, but it's more than I believed a year ago.”

Roach reminds me of Bill Bryson or Sam Kean – a fine storyteller. She includes some personal information and responses, but she doesn't overshare.. Her description of her efforts to unobtrusively examine the “ectoplasm” she has borrowed from the Cambridge University library archive, while sharing a library table with other library visitors, is entertaining, and certainly conveys the repulsiveness of the stuff. Tales of her participation in other experiments, such as when she sits in a soundproofed room at Laurentian University to find out if exposure to EMF's will make her sense presences and see and hear ghosts, and in investigations, such as when she brings in a forensic handwriting expert to determine the authenticity of a “ghostly” will, are engaging and told with sympathetic, if sometimes flippant and earthy, humor. Her footnotes are also amusing.

This was particularly interesting in conjunction with The Witch of Lime Street (also better than that one, btw) in that Roach includes a couple chapters which overlap the subject of that one – Harry Houdini and the Scientific American “medium challenge.” Roach actually gives a better context for understanding how serious scientists could have been taken in, at least temporarily, by mediums who appear now to be so obviously fakes. The table tipping and cheesecloth ectoplasm still looks pretty blatantly phony from where I sit, but at the time, when photography was in its early years and X-rays, radio waves, etc. were newly discovered and poorly understood I can imagine how things might have looked different, and open-minded people might more plausibly have imagined disembodied personalities zipping about in the ether.

So, lots of fun, and recommended for those with an interest in the subject. 4 stars. ( )
  meandmybooks | Jul 22, 2016 |
I am fond of Mary Roach's books and enjoyed this book as well. Mary does a nice job on researching the topics and describing her findings with a sense of humor. She has an inquiring mind and a logical analysis. This was not my favorite of her books but still recommend the book. ( )
  GlennBell | Apr 26, 2016 |
When "science tackles the afterlife" in Mary Roach's 2005 book "Spook," you don't find much in the way of answers to age-old questions, but you do find a good time. Roach, as in other books with mostly one-word titles like "Stiff," "Gulp" and "Bonk," seems more interested in satisfying her curiosity and discovering science's lighter side than in hard science. Her college degree was in psychology. Still she imparts some information you are not likely to find, at least not all in one place, in any other science book.

Her most amazing bit of information may be simply that a few scientists really have made serious studies of such questions as: Do human bodies lose weight after death, possibly because of departing spirits? Can mediums really communicate with the dead? Do near-death experiences really give glimpses into heaven? Can cameras, recorders and other devices capture evidence of spirits that cannot be detected by the human senses?

The evidence in these studies proves inconclusive, yet often suggestive. Roach herself, if still skeptical about an afterlife at the end of her book, nevertheless seems hopeful. "I believe in the possibility of something more ...," she writes. "It's not much, but it's more than I believed a year ago."

Thus, "Spook" is a book both believers and skeptics can take some comfort in. It doesn't prove their position, but neither does it disprove it. Is there life after death? This book leaves most of us where we began, relying not on science but on what we believe, or what we want to believe. ( )
1 vote hardlyhardy | Mar 21, 2016 |
As usual, an entertaining read by Mary Roach. I didn't enjoy it as much as most of her other books, however, maybe because she didn't seem as completely delighted about researching this topic as she has seemed with all of her other books.

Also, the e-book edition that I read was not a good one. On the last page of every chapter was a note stating that no pictures were included because of "permissive" issues. I assume they were referring to the photos that often are used at the beginning of a new chapter, but the strange misuse of permission always left me wondering if I was reading a book that had been tranlated from Italian, or something.

Also, one of the pleasures of reading her books is reading the footnote asides...but the asterisk character used here is SO small that when I would follow one, I would often realize that I had missed two or three others before. So l finally just stopped following them at all, and read them when I finished the rest of the book. Still fun to read, but not as much fun. ( )
  magerber | Feb 22, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 132 (next | show all)
Roach ranges far and wide in "Spook," traveling to India to look into reincarnation and England to take a course in how to be a medium. She is a skeptic, but comes to some surprising conclusions in "Spook."
 
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For my parents, wherever they are or aren't.
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My mother worked hard to instill faith in me.
I don’t recall my mood the morning I was born, but I imagine I felt a bit out of sorts.
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Also published under the title of "Six Feet Over".
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0393329127, Paperback)

If author Mary Roach was a college professor, she'd have a zero drop-out rate. That's because when Roach tackles a subject--like the posthumous human body in her previous bestseller, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, or the soul in the winning Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife--she charges forth with such zeal, humor, and ingenuity that her students (er, readers) feel like they're witnessing the most interesting thing on Earth. Who the heck would skip that? As Roach informs us in her introduction, "This is a book for people who would like very much to believe in a soul and in an afterlife for it to hang around in, but who have trouble accepting these things on faith. It's a giggly, random, utterly earthbound assault on our most ponderous unanswered question." Talk about truth in advertising. With that, Roach grabs us by the wrist and hauls butt to India, England, and various points in between in search of human spiritual ephemera, consulting an earnest bunch of scientists, mystics, psychics, and kooks along the way. It's a heck of a journey and Roach, with one eyebrow mischievously cocked, is a fantastically entertaining tour guide, at once respectful and hilarious, dubious yet probing. And brother, does she bring the facts. Indeed, Spook's myriad footnotes are nearly as riveting as the principal text. To wit: "In reality, an X-ray of the head could not show the brain, because the skull blocks the rays. What appeared to be an X-ray of the folds and convolutions of a human brain inside a skull--an image circulated widely in 1896--was in fact an X-ray of artfully arranged cat intestines." Or this: "Medical treatises were eminently more readable in Sanctorius's day. Medicina statica delved fearlessly into subjects of unprecedented medical eccentricity: 'Cucumbers, how prejudicial,' and the tantalizing 'Leaping, its consequences.' There's even a full-page, near-infomercial-quality plug for something called the Flesh-Brush." While rigid students of theology might take exception to Roach's conclusions (namely, we're just a bag of bones killing time before donning a soil blanket) it's hard to imagine anyone not enjoying this impressively researched and immensely readable book. And since, as Roach suggests, each of us has only one go-round, we might as well waste downtime with something thoroughly fun. --Kim Hughes

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:14 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Draws on the achievements of scientists, engineers, and mediums to consider the feasibility of life after death, from a reincarnation researcher's experimentation with out-of-body experiences to laboratory investigations into ghosts.

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