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Spook by Mary Roach

An Empirical Look at the Spirit World

Less than two years after releasing bestseller Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers, Mary Roach presents readers with a thorough investigation of a more eerie topic surrounding death: the afterlife. In Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife Roach chronicles her search for a definitive description -- supported with empirical data, no less -- of the soul's journey after death. Complete with the same witty cynicism plaguing Stiff, Spook comes off as a fun, but serious investigation into what's often written off as frivolous concerns among the scientific community.

It is this disregard expressed by today's scientific community that led Roach on her journey, and she remains true to that assertion throughout the book. Even while investigating ectoplasm -- used in rituals to channel spirits -- Roach remains objective.

Roach's desire to consult reputable researchers from respectable universities took her around the globe as she traveled from India to Scandinavia to seek out appropriate data. Her jaunts expose the reader to such varied case studies as an Indian boy whose family believes he is the reincarnation of a neighboring villager to a Massachusetts study aimed at quantifying the weight of a soul by placing the death beds of comatose patients on a giant scale until time of death -- interestingly the same study which coined the phrase "21 Grams".

Not all of the studies carry a scholarly tone. Roach goes on excursions that reveal the more widely held view that tags similar methods as absurd, yet her curiosity extends to question the actual existence of the soul after death and her research comes full circle as Roach traces the believed origins of the soul and presents an overview of research conducted by humans from as early as ancient Egypt.

The cynicism evident in Roach's tone might lead the reader to believe Spook to be a skeptic's tale, however Roach, for the most part, remains relatively objective throughout the course of the book. Aside from the occasional impatience in the face of her persistence at getting all points of view, no matter how ridiculous, Roach follows the studies that most of us would put to rest with even extensive research.

This collection of case studies, nauseating at times, leads the reader to a definitive conclusion: that his preconceived beliefs regarding an afterlife path for the soul are, either way, wholly supported by the research presented in this book. So far, science can only tell us that we don't yet know with statistical certainty where the soul goes, or if it even goes anywhere after it leaves the body.

If you are a reader looking for that ghoulish tale to celebrate your Halloween, Spook is not the book for you. However, if you enjoyed Stiff, Spook will not disappoint. Additionally, if you already harbor a strong belief about the afterlife, Spook will no doubt lend support to your claim.

Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach
W.W. Norton & Company (October 10, 2005)
Hardcover/$24.95
ISBN: 0-3930-5962-6
288 pages