Monday, June 02, 2008
monday book review - spook: science tackles the afterlife, by mary roach
Before writing this, her sophomore effort, Mary Roach (author of Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers) spent nearly a year traveling, interviewing, researching, and even enrolling in medium school, with the hopes of either proving or disproving the seemingly unprovable: the afterlife.  With a keen sense of a humor, a scientific mind and a mostly skeptical point of view, Roach writes of her experiences traveling to India to investigate claims of reincarnation, exploring the theory that a body loses 21 grams (presumably, the weight of the human soul) after death, charts ectoplasm's strange history, follows ghosthunters as they try to track down spirits with infrared cameras and tape recorders, and more.

Unfortunately (fortunately?), Roach's year-long investigation produces no real proof of the existence of a soul or of the possibility of an afterlife, but even still her stories are no less fascinating. It also doesn't hurt that she has a fairly well-developed sense of humor for a skeptic. And it's this skepticism that makes her final statements in the book's afterward that much more eyebrow-raising, as she ends her year-long, largely fruitless journey with these reflections:
I guess I believe that not everything we humans encounter in our lives can be neatly and convincingly tucked away inside the orderly cabinet of science...I believe in the possibility of something more...The debunkers are probably right, but they're no fun to visit a graveyard with.  What the hell.  I believe in ghosts.
And even though the book doesn't produce one iota of evidence to support her final claim, I have to say that I wholeheartedly agree.  After all, isn't it simply more fun to believe than to not?

In sum, Spook - 'though far from spooky and a bit dry in spots - is a enjoyable, quirky read for skeptics and believers alike.  (Although be warned that weak-stomached readers may just want to skip the chapter on ectoplasm.  It's truly amazing how much cheesecloth a scam medium can fit into her most private places.  Ick!)

Mary Roach
2005, 295 pages

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