Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife
By Mary Roach
W.W. Norton & Company
While I don’t foster much belief in the afterlife, I do have a thing about ghosts. I don’t know whether or not I actually believe in them, but I love stories about them. This is what partly led me to read Spook, that and I love Mary Roach’s approach to non-fiction. She doesn’t go all crazy and make you feel as if you must believe everything she’s writing about because it’s non-fiction — in some cases you even wonder if she believes it all — which is refreshing.
In Spook, she takes a look at what science has to say about the afterlife. She starts out with reincarnation, moves on to measuring the weight of a soul, discusses debunking mediums and psychics, looks at the science of ectoplasm, tries to communicate with the dead, and wraps up with the effects of electromagnetic fields on humans. For some of the topics, the weight of the soul and ectoplasm in particular, the science is rather thin and doesn’t leave you with a lot of hope or really any good scale for noting how much the soul would possibly weigh. It seems very little but that doesn’t deter the author here. She goes with it and at times even pokes fun at some of the methods used to determine such things and why someone would even be interested in finding out the information in the first place.
While I found the chapter on reincarnation interesting, what I loved was the section on debunking mediums. I’m always fascinated by this, the debunking not crackpot mediums, and the lengths that people will go to to defraud someone, especially someone hurting from the loss of a loved one. Communicating with the dead was another good chapter especially when she gets into describing the activities involved with talking to, or at least trying, to hear the dead.
Roach approaches her subject with a bit of humor but never lets it overcome what she’s set out to prove or disprove. I’m not sure that I can say this book made me want to re-visit my belief system but it did provide me with some good info to talk to my sister about who also loves ghost stories.