Written by Mary Roach
Published by W.W. Norton & Company
When last we heard from author Mary Roach, she detailed for her readers what happens to many bodies after those living within have departed in her book Stiff: The Curious Lives of Cadavers (review). Not content with merely the body, it seems, Roach returns for an equally brilliant look at what happens to people once they’ve left their bodies behind. To be fair, Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, is not horror in any traditional sense. There are no bloody disembowelments, monsters, or psychotic killers stalking innocent victims. Spook does, however, explore a theme that any ghost hunter or paranormal enthusiast holds dear to his or her heart: the concept of life after death.
Roach begins her journey in India, looking for proof of reincarnation; from there, she travels across America and England, searching for psychic researchers, parapsychologists, mediums, and discarnate beings to try to find a definitive answer to the age-old question of what happens to people after they die. Included in this latest offering are in-depth looks at the very beginning of afterlife investigation. Wild theories, strange gizmos, and mediums of questionable morals and motives dot the way as Roach continues on to the most modern and recent attempts to document the existence of the soul.
Mary Roach is at her best in Spook, combining strange facts with her own sardonic wit, leaving the reader both giggling madly and slightly disturbed at the same time. Some of her best moments involve the crazy things that people do to try to dupe the unsuspecting out of their money in the name of the afterlife. With deft humor, Roach details the vast movement of “mediums” and the sudden emergence of ectoplasm. While the substance in question turned out to be terrestrial in nature, it’s Roach’s description of what it actually was, and where it was hidden, that gives readers a bad case of the squirms. She also documents many of the failed attempts to contact the dead via machines as well as the desire to weigh the soul of a common leach.
While Roach takes the high road and asks for proof of findings, this book doesn’t refute the existence of the afterlife in any way. Roach’s purpose in Spook is simply to lay out the facts, however ridiculous and funny they may be, and let the reader decide for him/herself what to believe. She even goes so far as to enroll in a “Medium School” to try to gain insight on the subject but ultimately comes away with more questions than answers.
Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife is a must-read for anyone with even a passing interest in the world of the supernatural. While some of the information may come across as saturated in minutiae, the facts are fascinating. But thanks to the writing skills of Mary Roach, they’re also amusing and engaging.
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