Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach

“I quietly excused myself and went to the bar, to commune with spirits I know how to relate to.”

Spook” by is a historical and investigative review by science author/ my imaginary best friend Mary Roach. I’m a huge fan or Mary Roach’s writing: this is my second review of one of her books, I’ll be putting up a third review later on tonight, and I’m halfway through her fourth book right now. My friends are probably very relieved that the Roach train is almost at the station considering the creepy science Snapple facts I’ve been spouting over the last few weeks. They’re a patient bunch.
This particular book is about science tackling the afterlife. Can science definitively prove or disprove the existence of a heaven? It’s an intriguing concept that disproves the stubborn idea that science and religion are inexorably opposed. The book begins with an exotic trip to India to find scientific proof for reincarnation. During the book, written as an informal travelogue, Roach tours through topics such as the weight of a soul, ghosts, ectoplasm (which seems to involve women hiding a great many things in their vagina, from yards of fabric to, inexplicably, a skinned rabbit) “sensed presence” research with electromagnetic fields and an ill-advised trip to medium school. Roach is, as always, a fantastic writer, especially adept at highlighting the absurd, such as using a tape recorder to hear the voices of the spirits of the Donner Party. The medium seminar is equally amusing, as an instructor who looks like a drag queen variation of Elizabeth Taylor instructs them to “project their energy to encompass the subject” whatever the hell that means. The other Mediums-in-Training get annoyed when their subjects don’t seem to respect the awesomeness of their power. One such woman was talking to a man about the spiritual presence of his grandmother. She tells him that she’s sensing a problem with windows. He has no idea what she’s talking about. She snaps, “Well there is. Had she changed the curtains? Was she thinking about changing the curtains?”
As amusing as this book was, it was ultimately my least favorite of Mary Roach’s books (which is like saying that shortbreads are your least favorite Girl Scout cookies. They’re still pretty awesome). But I think the premise of the book was more interesting than the content, and nothing she writes is likely to change your mind. If you don’t believe in ghosts or an afterlife then you will find a perfectly valid scientific explanation for every scenario Roach presents. But if you do believe in such things, any scientific evidence to the contrary probably won’t shake your faith. Still, it is an interesting and funny read.

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