Author: Mary Roach
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: 2005
Number of Pages: 311
Series: Stand Alone
Reason for Discovery: I love Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.
According to GoodReads:
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 lap-top?" In an attempt to find out, Mary Roach 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 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.
In each of Mary Roach's books, she has focused on a part of the human body. In this book, she studies a very different part of the body: the soul/human spirit. If you are not familiar with Mary Roach's books, they are filled with both source documents and interviews and are written in a fun, narrative style. This book is no different from her others. I feel like I am taking a journey with her. At the end of each chapter, she discusses what she learned and new questions that she has, which leads to the next adventure (and next chapter). With that said, if certain chapters are particularly interesting to you, you can skip to particular chapters and not miss too much.
I always end up comparing all of Mary Roach's books to Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, which I loved (or at least that is how I remember it when I read it about 10 years ago). This book is great. I don't love it as much as Stiff; however, it is still a strong book. Let me explain my thinking. The book feels well researched. Roach cites many of her sources within the text and has notes and references in the back of the book too. Additionally, she interviews a lot of people within the field. Ghosts and spirits are not an area of research that I am familiar with, so maybe all of her sources are horrible. Everything sounds sound though. I appreciate Roach's narrative style. I really hate when nonfiction books are written as the be all end all truth, when in reality, the writing is the author's opinion. As a science writer, I don't get to use verbs like "proves." I have to use verbs like "suggest" and "indicates." If I have to couch my writing, I feel other authors have to as well. I feel when authors don't couch their writing, they are providing a disservice to their readers. Granted, there are times when writers can say something is a fact, but I feel that authors write a lot of statements that sound like facts when they are opinions. *getting off my soapbox* Before I move on to what I didn't like, I do want to say that in addition to enjoying her writing, I learned a lot about possible reasons for paranormal phenomena and the history of psychics.
There were two things that bothered me a bit about this book. First, in the first two chapters of this book, Roach discusses research regarding the soul. Normally, I like her fun and cheeky writing; however, in these chapters she is very close to making fun of people's religions and the belief of reincarnation. I don't think she is trying to be disrespectful; however, she was definitely dancing on the line. Second, normally in her books, Roach jumps into the topic and takes things a bit more at face value. In this book, Roach states that she is a skeptic, and I don't see her ever truly believing in the paranormal. I understand why she doesn't believe in ghosts (although she says she might at the end of the book); however, this skepticism took away a little bit of the fun.
I give this book 4 out of 5 ghosts.