Saturday, September 12, 2009

Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife

Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife
Written by: Mary Roach
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: WW Norton & Co
Language: English
October 2006, $13.99
Genre: Non-Fiction/Humor

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.


I first read Mary Roach’s Stiff a couple of years ago and absolutely loved it. I loved her writing style. It was humorous, it was honest and yet at the same time I learned something. I was thoroughly entertained and so when I saw Spook on sale, I had to pick it up.

I wasn’t as hooked on "Spook" as I was "Stiff". It was still an engaging read, but there was something missing for me. Maybe it was because I wanted Mary to find something in all of her research, that the Ghost Hunters watching, I want to believe inner Smirking was disappointed that Casper isn’t looking over my shoulder or hiding all of my socks. It isn’t that Mary isn’t hopeful because she is. As much as she is firmly rooted in the rational scientific aspect of it all, I think there is part of her that wants to be proven wrong, that there really is something outside of death.

Things I loved: I like that faith isn’t really brought up in this. The book is really about if science as a whole tackles and measures the ghosties, the soul and reincarnation well or if at all. Can science bring any new truths to the table? Mary keeps her impartial attitude for the most part though admittedly the few subjects she did tackle it seemed like she chose a few subjects that you knew were a bit iffy going in.

*I did laugh, don’t get me wrong. The chapter where she enrolls in Medium school is probably one of the best. Or possibly the chapter after that where she tries telecommunicating with the dead. It is those chapters where I get her quirky sense of humor, that I can relate to her and genuinely laughed out loud.

Things I didn't love so much: The historical bits aka the first few chapters were a bit dull and tended to drag on. Not exactly the way to start a book as I picked up a few times and admittedly did the skimming thing a bit just to get through them. It just wasn’t as interesting for me as some of the latter chapters.

*Roach could have taken her book in a very different direction and waxed poetically on every spiritual path and while I would have applauded her widely for such a task and been very interested, her books have been about the scientific approach to things, not philosophy. But as I said there was something missing in this volume of scientific humor. It seems like she spent more time debunking everything than really going in to discover all that the ideas of death and the afterlife could offer. Yet, at the same time, she tells us going in that she is skeptic and that she is just looking for proof. However, for me there was an underlying tone that almost said ‘I don’t want there to be proof’. Maybe that is just my Mulder self talking again.

Buy or Borrow: Borrow. While not a bad book, I just wasn’t as entertained as I was with Stiff. I am hoping and thinking Bonk will be better.

Part of: Stand Alone

Also Recommended: “Stiff” and “Bonk” also by Mary Roach. Carl Sagan's "The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark"

3 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks

Have your own review? Let me know and I will post it.

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