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Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlifeby Mary Roach
In her remarkable debut, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Mary Roach explored what happens to the body after death, and in the process brought the corpse to glittering life. In her follow up, she stakes out similar terrain. What happens to the soul after death? And how can you tell? This time her subject is more elusive. Still, though Roach may not arrive at clear answers, she is such a consistently fascinating and entertaining writer, hard facts are decidedly beside the point.
Synopses & Reviews
The best-selling author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers now trains her considerable wit and curiosity on the human soul.
"What happens when we die? Does the light just go out and that's that — the million-year nap? Or will some part of my personality, my me-ness, persist? What will that feel like? What will I do all day? Is there a place to plug in my laptop?"
In an attempt to find out, Mary Roach brings her tireless curiosity to bear on an array of contemporary and historical soulsearchers: scientists, schemers, engineers, mediums, all trying to prove (or disprove) that life goes on after we die. She begins the journey in rural India with a reincarnation researcher and ends up in a University of Virginia operating room where cardiologists have installed equipment near the ceiling to study out-of-body near-death experiences. Along the way, she enrolls in an English medium school, gets electromagnetically haunted at a university in Ontario, and visits a Duke University professor with a plan to weigh the consciousness of a leech. Her historical wanderings unearth soul-seeking philosophers who rummaged through cadavers and calves' heads, a North Carolina lawsuit that established legal precedence for ghosts, and the last surviving sample of "ectoplasm" in a Cambridge University archive.
"Roach made an exceptional debut two years ago with Stiff — it might seem a hard act to follow. Yet she has done it again: after her study of what becomes of our mortal coil after death, she now presents an equally smart, quirky, hilarious look at whether there is a soul that survives our physical demise. Roach perfectly balances her skepticism and her boundless curiosity with a sincere desire to know. She ranges into the oddest nooks and crannies of both science and belief (and scientists who believe), regaling the reader with tales of Duncan Macdougall, a respected surgeon who weighed consumptives at their moment of death to see if the escaping soul could be measured in ounces, and of female mediums who, during sances, extruded a substance called ectoplasm from their private parts (she even examines a piece of alleged ectoplasm archived at Cambridge University). She goes to school to learn to be a medium, subjects her brain to electromagnetic waves to see if they induce the experience of seeing ghosts and joins a group trying to record sounds made by the spirits of the Donner party. The text is littered with footnotes: tangential but delicious tidbits that Roach clearly couldn't bear to leave out. She is an original who can enliven any subject with wit, keen reporting and a sly intelligence. Agent, Jay Mandel. 12-city author tour; 40-city radio satellite tour." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[I]ntellectual, assiduously attentive, but the obvious undercurrent is 'People do the wackiest things!' And depending on your frame of mind, you find yourself either oddly entranced or wondering, 'Why am I listening to this?'" Kate Zernike, The New York Times Book Review
"Throughout, [Roach] is critical and witty — e.g., speaking of postmortem 'recordings,' she says there is one of Chopin, 'who has, we learn, resumed composing following a short stint of decomposing.' Truly deft handling of the (mostly) daft." Kirkus Reviews
"Although deftly written and at times humorous, this book is superficial overall." Library Journal
"The journey itself...is gripping, and Roach's witty asides liven up an already interesting and unusual read." Booklist
"The author herself...is what makes this book shine. As in her previous book, she takes us into areas we might not go on our own. With her, we cover our eyes at the scary stuff, but then peek eagerly through our fingers." San Jose Mercury News
"Ultimately, Spook is something of a letdown because it does not contain any big revelations. You keep turning the page hoping...Roach will chat with a dead relative or discover she is the reincarnation of someone from the 19th century." St. Petersburg Times
"[D]ependably witty....Spook has great appeal on the basis of Ms. Roach's droll research. But it is afflicted with the same problem common to its spirit-world subjects: insubstantiality." Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"Roach is funny, lively, fair-minded and impartial and endlessly curious....Spook is enormous fun, but it doesn't settle any questions about the afterlife." Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
In an attempt to find out what happens when people die, the author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers brings her tireless curiosity to bear on an array of contemporary and historical soul-searchers: scientists, schemers, engineers, mediums, all trying to prove (or disprove) that there is an afterlife.
"Equal parts Groucho Marx and Stephen Jay Gould, both enlightening and entertaining."--Sunday Denver Post & Rocky Mountain News
About the Author
Mary Roach is the author of Stiff. Her writing has appeared in Salon, Wired, Outside, GQ, Discover, Vogue, and the New York Times Magazine. She lives in Oakland, California.
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