Ghosts: A Natural History: 500 Years of Searching for Proof

Overview

A New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice
"Roger Clarke tells this [the story that inspired Henry James' The Turn of the Screw] and many other gloriously weird stories with real verve, and also a kind of narrative authority that tends to constrain the skeptical voice within… [an] erudite and richly entertaining book." --New York Times Book Review
"Is there anybody out there?" No matter how rationally we order our lives, few of us are ...

See more details below
Hardcover
$19.43
BN.com price
(Save 28%)$26.99 List Price

Pick Up In Store

Reserve and pick up in 60 minutes at your local store

Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (21) from $8.25   
  • New (10) from $13.50   
  • Used (11) from $8.25   
Ghosts: A Natural History: 500 Years of Searching for Proof

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 7.0
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 10.1
  • NOOK HD Tablet
  • NOOK HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK eReaders
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$12.99
BN.com price

Overview

A New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice
"Roger Clarke tells this [the story that inspired Henry James' The Turn of the Screw] and many other gloriously weird stories with real verve, and also a kind of narrative authority that tends to constrain the skeptical voice within… [an] erudite and richly entertaining book." --New York Times Book Review
"Is there anybody out there?" No matter how rationally we order our lives, few of us are completely immune to the suggestion of the uncanny and the fear of the dark. What explains sightings of ghosts? Why do they fascinate us? What exactly do those who have been haunted see? What did they believe? And what proof is there?

Taking us through the key hauntings that have obsessed the world, from the true events that inspired Henry James's classic The Turn of the Screw right up to the present day, Roger Clarke unfolds a story of class conflict, charlatans, and true believers. The cast list includes royalty and prime ministers, Samuel Johnson, John Wesley, Harry Houdini, and Adolf Hitler. The chapters cover everything from religious beliefs to modern developments in neuroscience, the medicine of ghosts, and the technology of ghosthunting. There are haunted WWI submarines, houses so blighted by phantoms they are demolished, a seventeenth-century Ghost Hunter General, and the emergence of the Victorian flash mob, where hundreds would stand outside rumored sites all night waiting to catch sight of a dead face at a window.

Written as grippingly as the best ghost fiction, A Natural History of Ghosts takes us on an unforgettable hunt through the most haunted places of the last five hundred years and our longing to believe.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Roger Clarke tells this [the story that inspired Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw] and many other gloriously weird stories with real verve, and also a kind of narrative authority that tends to constrain the skeptical voice within… [an] erudite and richly entertaining book." —New York Times Book Review

"Ghost-hunting gets a gentlemanly makeover in this meticulous history of hauntings. Clarke indulges his lifelong interest in the paranormal in this well-documented look at ghost stories and the people who have told them throughout history… He covers everything in loving detail… Clarke's discussions of geography also lend realism...a useful index, a chronology and a reference list ...will serve other paranormal researchers well. Excerpts from letters, illustrations of experiments and many complex family trees ground in reality what could be dismissed as fantasy."- Kirkus

“Beautifully written ... lithe, complicated and hugely rewarding.” —Sunday Times

“A gripping history that traces the scientific and social aspects of ghostly sightings. . . . [A] voyage through the half-lit world of lost souls ... tales told with ghoulish relish” —Telegraph

“Compelling ... Research into the paranormal necessarily involves a fair degree of debunking, and Clarke is careful to be skeptical. The narrative of ghost-hunting is simultaneously a history and exposure of fraud and popular delusion ... [yet] Clarke retains a boyish and ... well-informed enthusiasm for his subject.” —Independent

“Splendid ... compelling ... Clarke manages to give goose-flesh and a giggle while informing the reader - an enviable feat.” —Scotsman

“Compelling ... Research into the paranormal necessarily involves a fair degree of debunking, and Clarke is careful to be sceptical. The narrative of ghost-hunting is simultaneously a history and exposure of fraud and popular delusion ... [yet] Clarke retains a boyish and ... well-informed enthusiasm for his subject.” —Independent

“A fascinating social history ... exceptionally well written and researched.” —Starburst Magazine

“Outstanding ... Clarke's dissection of the shocks, sadnesses and sexiness of the seance tables from the late Victorian era is brilliantly done ... The book is deeply enjoyable, hugely informative and at times distinctly unsettling” —Shade Point

“Lively and absorbing ... [Clarke] has proven himself an ideal guide to this troubled and disorderly realm.” —Literary Review

Kirkus Reviews
2014-09-09
Ghost-hunting gets a gentlemanly makeover in this meticulous history of hauntings.Clarke indulges his lifelong interest in the paranormal in this well-documented look at ghost stories and the people who have told them throughout history. As the youngest person ever to become a member of the Society for Psychical Research, the author has pursued his passion since childhood—and it shows. He covers everything in loving detail, from Victorian mobs congregating at haunted houses to Harry Price's 1920s radio show, which helped launch modern ghost-hunting. Excerpts from letters, illustrations of experiments and many complex family trees ground in reality what could be dismissed as fantasy. Clarke's discussions of geography also lend realism. England is the focus throughout: The English countryside, class distinctions and small-town gossip feature nearly as prominently as the ghost stories themselves. The author relates all of this information in the same smooth, careful style, presenting them truly as natural history and not necessarily as spine-tingling stories, although some are spooky enough even when viewed through Clarke's objective lens. This objectivity cuts two ways in the narrative: The author's open-mindedness is admirable and suitable to a work billed as a "social history," but the attendant ambiguity saps the sense of direction sorely needed in such a detailed book. When Clarke touches on the cultural history of ghost stories—how their social classes, gender and even fashions have changed with the times—he begins to invite readers to consider the reasons behind these oft-told tales, but then he quickly changes direction. The book will be more useful as a reference than an afternoon's entertainment, and Clarke also provides a useful index, a chronology and a reference list that will serve other paranormal researchers well. An informative but surprisingly sedate tour of haunting's storied past.
Sunday Times

Beautifully written ... lithe, complicated and hugely rewarding.
Telegraph

A gripping history that traces the scientific and social aspects of ghostly sightings. . . . [A] voyage through the half-lit world of lost souls ... tales told with ghoulish relish
Scotsman

Splendid ... compelling ... Clarke manages to give goose-flesh and a giggle while informing the reader - an enviable feat.
Starburst Magazine

A fascinating social history ... exceptionally well written and researched.
Shade Point

Outstanding ... Clarke's dissection of the shocks, sadnesses and sexiness of the seance tables from the late Victorian era is brilliantly done ... The book is deeply enjoyable, hugely informative and at times distinctly unsettling
New York Times Book Review

Roger Clarke tells this [the story that inspired Henry James' The Turn of the Screw] and many other gloriously weird stories with real verve, and also a kind of narrative authority that tends to constrain the skeptical voice within… [an] erudite and richly entertaining book.
The Barnes & Noble Review

"Even if I saw a ghost, I wouldn't believe it." Albert Einstein, a man known for believing in things he couldn't see, said that. But read between the lines and it sounds like bunkum. The very fact that the great mind had to consider the case suggests that part of him believed — and proves he was no more than human.

At some time or another, you likely have experienced it: a discomfiting feeling out of the blue, which builds into a state of pinging alertness, a message — though more probably a warning — from the otherworld. It might be the quality of the air, or inexplicable lights, or courtesy of a manifestation: an apparition, poltergeist, shade, specter, spook, wraith, fetch, jinn, revenant (they're the really mean ones), demon, will-o'-the-wisp, and my favorite: the exceedingly primitive entities known as elementals. Ghosts by any other name, and there are more names for ghosts than you could shake an Inuit's gallery of snowflakes at. So really, what's not to believe?

Roger Clarke believes — or at least entertains belief, for he has never laid eyes on a ghost, even after all these years. He was a ghost prodigy, the youngest member elected to Britain's Society of Psychical Research, when he was fourteen years old. Ghosts: A Natural History is not a book out to prove the existence of ghosts: as far as Clarke is concerned, there's no more need to prove the existence of love or beauty: 'In a basic sense, ghosts exist because people constantly report that they see them. . . . This is a book about what we see when we see a ghost, and the stories that we tell each other about them.'

And it is a good book, a highly entertaining book — scholarly but tuneful, open and critical, braced with those promised stories, and full of characters who are enjoyable to meet on the page, if maybe not in real life. Almost all of the material he draws from is from the British Isles, with an excursion or two abroad. They are names and places as familiar to the British as the Headless Horseman is to residents of Sleepy Hollow, New York: the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall (who — talk about creepy — once turned her head and grinned at a man peeking at her through a crack in the door as she walked down the Hall's corridor late at night; a photograph of her is included), Mrs. Veal, the Devil of Mâcon, Hinton Ampner, Cock Lane, Borley Rectory.

Many go back hundreds of years, like William Drury, whose drumming haunted Tedworth House. Drury was "a traveller existing on the fringes of society and occasionally indulging in petty criminality," who met some rough treatment at Tedworth House and was sent packing before he could grab his drum, which he used for busking. Big mistake, for the drum figured prominently in the subsequent cursed possession of Tedworth, much of it never explained. There is also the smack of class here: social hierarchy inevitably plays a part in most ghost stories: "for the past few hundred years, only the upper and lower classes tended to believe in them . . . the haunted pub and the haunted stately home; the poltergeist in the beer cellar and the white lady in the minstrel's gallery." The middle class strove to be above such vulgarity or, more probably, was too busy taking over the country to notice.

Clarke reveals some ghostly shenanigans as pranks. Others are still shrouded in mystery. One spirit bedeviled a lawyer: "The lawyer was then treated to a seventeenth-century radio show of bawdy songs, fairground cries from quack doctors and the huzzahs and halloos of a hunt in full fig and flight through the countryside . . . a large viper was caught slithering out of [the lawyer's] house, like Satan from Eden." Although the Royal Society never publicly investigated ghosts, the likes of Christopher Wren, Isaac Newton, and Robert Boyle did, each one fascinated in the occult, prophecy, and aerial bodies.

Ghost stories make up a satisfying portion of Ghosts, but Clarke itches for more: exactly what are we seeing? Some are cut-and-dried: swamp gas, delirium tremens, and waking dreams. Plenty of theories have been put forth: the brain's cognitive overlay of visual perception could place a memory into an active visual experience; a projected mimetic memory; hereditary nervous conditions; the influence of planetary bodies; tectonic plate shifts provoking hallucinations. Neuroscientists suspect that ghosts are the products of a microseizure in our temporal lobes. Let that be a lesson: be careful of your temporal lobes; that's where all the fun stuff happens. We have met the ghost, and it is us.

Though the Reformation — the Age of Humorlessness — felt it had rid us of ghosts once and for all, no such chance. Ghosts have been with us since the first humanoid wondered about what happened after cousin Ork started to rot. There is no proof that ghosts don't exist, whether they are fragments of our pagan past or the unfinished business of your aunt Millie. As for our relishing ghost stories, it feels as though Clarke hits the nail squarely. "We love ghost stories not just because they explain what happens at the end of our lives but because they take us to the beginning . . . ghost belief is a pleasure, a thread of light back to our childhood selves," when the plentiful daylight was still something we loved to have scared out of us.

Peter Lewis is the director of the American Geographical Society in New York City. A selection of his work can be found at writesformoney.com.

Reviewer: Peter Lewis

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781250053572
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 10/7/2014
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 163,517
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

ROGER CLARKE is best known as a film-writer for the Independent newspaper and more recently Sight & Sound. Inspired by a childhood spent in two haunted houses, Roger Clarke has spent much of his life trying to see a ghost. He was the youngest person ever to join the Society for Psychical Research in the 1980s and was getting his ghost stories published by The Pan & Fontana series of horror books at just 15, when Roald Dahl asked his agent to take him on as a client.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(0)

4 Star

(0)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)