Old Souls: The Scientific Search for Proof of Past Lives

Old Souls: The Scientific Search for Proof of Past Lives

3.8 18
by Thomas Shroder

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In a book that will fascinate skeptics and supporters alike, award-winning journalist Tom Shroder reveals one of the astonishing, untold stories of our time. It is the story of thousands of young children who speak of remembering previous lives. They provide detailed, accurate, and emotionally laden information about people who died before they were born, people they…  See more details below


In a book that will fascinate skeptics and supporters alike, award-winning journalist Tom Shroder reveals one of the astonishing, untold stories of our time. It is the story of thousands of young children who speak of remembering previous lives. They provide detailed, accurate, and emotionally laden information about people who died before they were born, people they claim they once were. Dr. Ian Stevenson, the distinguished scholar who holds an endowed professorship at the University of Virginia, has been traveling the world for thirty-seven years to investigate and document more than two thousand of these phenomenal cases. Despite voluminous and meticulously detailed scholarly reports, and the respect of an enthusiastic group of colleagues, Professor Stevenson's life's work has until now remained essentially unknown to the world at large.

It took years for Tom Shroder to persuade Dr. Stevenson, now eighty, to allow him to observe his field research -- first in Lebanon, then India, and finally the American South -- the first journalist ever to have that privilege.

Old Souls is a riveting firsthand account of this compelling scientific evidence of past lives -- not from the hypnotized confessions of adults in psychiatric treatment, but straight from the mouths of babes, small children who spontaneously speak of previous lives, beg to be taken "home," pine for mothers and husbands and mistresses from another life, and know things there seems to be no normal way for them to know. Shroder, who began his journey as a hardened skeptic, quickly comes face to face with concrete evidence that, try as he might, he cannot discount.

From the moment these children can talk, they speak of people and events from previous lives -- not vague lives of centuries ago, but lives of specific, identifiable individuals who may have died just months, weeks, or hours before the birth of the child in question. These individuals are often completely unknown to the child's family, and live in a different town or a different part of the country. Yet, when these families are brought together, total strangers united by a child's claim of reincarnation, the emotional force of mutual recognition and the factual verification of the child's past-life memories can be utterly astounding.

In a combination of real-life adventure story and scientific mystery, Shroder plunges ever deeper into a world in which small children have vivid memories and strong feelings that compel them to seek out strange families they insist are their own. From Lebanon to India to suburban Virginia, shroder follows Stevenson into the lives of children and families touched by this phenomenon and struggling to grasp its meaning. The result is a spellbinding true story.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
While it is easy for Western science to dismiss as fantasy or wish fulfillment the recollections of individuals who "remember" being Cleopatra or Napoleon, how is one to explain a young boy's insistence that he is really a nondescript auto mechanic who died in a car crash a few years before? American psychiatrist Ian Stevenson has spent more than 30 years studying the cases of some 2000 children who spontaneously remember concrete details about dead strangers whose experiences can be documented. On his two final field trips, to Lebanon and India, he was accompanied by journalist Shroder, Sunday Style editor of the Washington Post. Shroder's account of these expeditions emphasizes physical detail over in-depth analysis but nevertheless makes for engrossing reading. In many cases, the subjects exhibit birthmarks or extreme phobias corresponding to injuries or traumatic events in their "past lives." They recognize the deceased's relatives and friends; in one case, a Lebanese boy asked the deceased's mother if she had finished knitting the sweater she was making for him when he died. That the compelling questions raised by such cases are ignored by the scientific establishment causes Stevenson great disappointment. "For me," he claims, "everything now believed by scientists is open to question, and I am always dismayed to find that many scientists accept current knowledge as forever fixed." The journalistic objectivity Shroder brings to his material makes this an exceptionally valuable treatment of an often disparaged subject. Agent, Al Hart, Fox Chase Agency. (Aug.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Shroder, an editor at the Washington Post, persuaded psychiatrist Ian Stevenson to take him along on six months of field research in Beirut, India, and America. The research involved tracking reports of children claiming to recall vivid details about a stranger who has lived before and possessing certain birthmarks related to that person's violent death, such as a bullet wound. When the historical data are matched, we have a mystery suggesting that old souls are reborn into new bodies. During 37 years of research, Stevenson has documented over 2500 alleged cases of reincarnation--evidence that has been ignored by mainstream science. Shroder has effectively captured some of Stevenson's work, but we are still left wondering about the mechanics of the transfer of identity and markings. For larger collections on reincarnation/paranormal studies.--Leo Kriz, West Des Moines Lib., IA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A bemused journalist•s firsthand report of his travels with an aging research scientist on arduous, often perilous journeys throughout Lebanon and India seeking to verify children•s claims of having lived previous lives. Shroder, a Washington Post editor, discovered Dr. Ian Stevenson, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Virginia, while researching a piece on Dr. Brian Weiss, author of a book about a woman who, under hypnosis, claimed to have had several past lives. Unconvinced by Weiss•s evidence, Shroder turned to the work of Stevenson, who has spent nearly 40 years investigating claims of small children who spontaneously reported memories of prior existences. The first trip on which Shroder accompanied Stevenson was in 1997 to Lebanon, where Stevenson tracked down and reinterviewed subjects he had first studied some 16 years earlier. In 1998, the two traveled together to India on a similar mission. Stevenson, a researcher well versed in the scientific method, looked for flaws, discrepancies, and explainable coincidences in the stories he collected and meticulously measured birthmarks on living persons to compare them with trauma on the dead bodies of those whose souls the living believed now inhabited them. Shroder, whose journalistic background makes him a clear-eyed observer and brilliant reporter of his surroundings, provides unforgettable descriptions of living conditions amid the wreckage of once-prosperous Lebanon and the medieval filth and poverty of India. His stories of American children with possible past-life memories pale by comparison, as does his account of an odd happening in his own youth that shaped his thinking about life•s enigmas. Shroder•sconclusion is not that old souls are being reincarnated in new bodies, but that the world is indeed a mysterious place and that we are all connected by forces beyond our understanding. While true believers will find much here to buttress their notions about the immortality of the human soul, skeptics will enjoy watching a trained scientist in his careful explorations of the inexplicable.

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Simon & Schuster
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6.45(w) x 9.57(h) x 0.99(d)

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Chapter One: The Question

It is late, nearly lightless. Smoke from a million dung fires hangs in the headlights as the Maruti microbus bangs along the narrow, cratered hardpack that passes for a paved road in the Indian outback. We are still hours away from the hotel, an island of First World comfort in this simmering Third World ocean, and the possibility that we will never get there looms as large as the oncoming truck, absurdly overloaded and undermaintained, shuddering violently as it hurtles toward us dead in the middle of the road. Using every inch of the rutted dirt shoulder, we barely escape. Through the thin tin of the Maruti, I can feel the truck vibrate, smell death in the exhaust pumping from its tailpipe. In escape, there is no relief. We bounce back onto the road's pitted surface and immediately overtake a wooden cart lumbering to the heavy gait of yoked oxen with immense horns. Our driver leans on his horn as he swerves around the cart into a blind curve that I can only pray is not occupied by a bus loaded to the dented metal ceiling with humans and farm animals. I try not to think about the lack of seat belts or the mere half inch of glass and metal that separates the front seat from whatever we plow into -- or the Lonely Planet article I read that said fatal accidents were forty times more likely on Indian roads than on American highways. Or the account of a Western traveler who hired a car and driver in northern India, exactly as we have, only to crash head on into a truck, then regain consciousness in agony in a crude hospital, stripped of passport, money belt, and insurance papers. I try not to think about dying ten thousand miles from home, about never seeing my wife and children again, about their lives going on without any trace of me. I try not to think about absolute darkness.

But even within my bubble of fear, I am aware of the irony. Sitting in the backseat, apparently unconcerned about the two-ton mud-splattered torpedoes racing toward us, is a tall, white-haired man, nearly eighty, who insists that he has compiled enough solid, empirical evidence to demonstrate that physical death is not necessarily the end of me or anyone else.

His name is Ian Stevenson, and he is a physician and psychiatrist who has been braving roads like this and worse for thirty-seven years to bring back reports of young children who speak of remembering previous lives and provide detailed and accurate information about people who died before they were born, people they say they once were. While I struggle with my fear of dying, he is wrestling with his own fear of annihilation: that his life's work will end, largely ignored by his peers.

"Why," he asks for the third time since night has fallen, "do mainstream scientists refuse to accept the evidence we have for reincarnation?"

On this day, and for the past six months, Stevenson has shown me what he means by "evidence." He has permitted me to accompany him on field trips, first to the hills surrounding Beirut and now on a wide swath of India. He has responded to my endless questions and even invited me to participate in the interviews that are the heart of his research. The evidence he is referring to does not come from fashionable New Age sources, past-life readings, or hypnotic regressions during which subjects talk about being a Florentine bride in the sixteenth century or a soldier in the Napoleonic Wars, rendering the kind of details one might garner in an hour's time paging through a few romance novels. The details Stevenson's children recall are far more homely and more specific than those. One remembers being a teenager called Sheila who was hit by a car crossing the road to collect grass for cattle feed, another recalls the life of a young man who died of tuberculosis asking for his brother, a third remembers being a woman waiting for heart surgery in Virginia, trying and failing to call her daughter before the operation she would not survive. It goes on and on: These children supply names of towns and relatives, occupations and relationships, attitudes and emotions that, in hundreds of cases around the world, are unique to a single dead individual, often apparently unknown to their present families. But the fact is, the people the children remember did exist, the memories that the children claim can be checked against real lives and their alleged feats of identification verified -- or contradicted -- by a variety of witnesses.

This is what Stevenson has been doing for almost forty years; it is what we have been doing in Lebanon and India: examining records, interviewing witnesses, and measuring the results against possible alternative explanations. I have seen close up, as few others have, how compelling some of these cases can be -- and not just factually, but in the emotion visible in the eyes and the voices of the subjects, their families, and the families of the people they claim to have been. I have seen and heard astonishing things, things for which I have no easy explanation.

Now we are near the end of our last trip together, perhaps the last trip of Stevenson's career. It dawns on me in the noisy chill of the microbus, droning and rattling through the night, that Stevenson's question is not rhetorical. He is asking me, the outsider, the skeptical journalist who has seen what he has to show, to explain. How can scientists, professed to hold no dogma that reasonable evidence cannot overturn, ignore the volumes of reasonable evidence that he has provided?

I begin to go into some long riff about how, in the absence of any knowledge about the mechanism of the transfer -- the means by which personality, identity, and memory can be reassigned from one body to another -- it is hard to talk about proof. But then I stop cold. I hear myself rambling, and realize what he is really asking: After all I have seen and heard, do I, at least, believe?

I, who have always felt mortality in my marrow, who have stared inward but never seen a ripple nor heard a whisper of any life but my own, who have seen people near to me disappear into death with an awesome and unappealable finality and learned in my flesh, where it counts, that the only thing abiding is an unyielding sense of diminishment. What do I think?

He wants to know. He is asking me. He deserves an answer.

Copyright © 1999 by Tom Shroder

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Old Souls: Compelling Evidence from Children Who Remember Past Lives 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
Maria_of_amor More than 1 year ago
Emphasis was placed upon the adjectives in this book. The stories were painted as pictures, so clearly that the reader is allowed to enter the interviews with each individual person. The wording and placement in time was so vividly evident that one could truly enjoy the content and develop interest with the beauty of the writing in itself. However, it is important to admit that the content of his stories and research, itself, was also highly interesting, intriguing, and eye opening. There were points of shock, slight points of confusion, and several points leading to "ah - ha," within the text. Tom Shroder, the first journalist to have been present with Dr. Stevenson during fieldwork studies, was fabulous at bringing you to a point, by way of lead and follow. He clearly wants you to understand how he arrived at conclusions, not allowing you to be judgmental without knowing his historical findings. There were so many stories that appeared flawless, despite slight contradictions from the interviews conducted. The photographs shown, within the text also depict strong resemblance to the people who claim to have lived a past life to those who are alive at the time of question. The fascinating part of this was that Dr. Ian Stevenson made efforts to locate and meet the past life families of these individuals, well into his old age. He fought for answers, for as long as he was able. I felt some confusion within the course of the book. It seemed to lead us to think that only the soul was transferred from one body to another body. It brought up the theory that the body was like clothing to the soul and could be changed without consequence, after death. However, later into the stories, the author seemed to show more and more about shared birth marks from the deceased to the new born person, and other physical similarities, not just mental transfer, but almost total all body transfers. I would like to know more about how much of a person, if truly possible, can be re-created in another body? Also, as Dr. Stevenson struggled to figure out, does the transfer of soul happen at birth? Conception? After birth? How does that soul chose its new body to belong to? Does the soul decide? This reading has brought me into an entirely new world of interest. I plan to obtain more information within this subject for further education about the beliefs and research leading to reincarnation. This book is not a disappointment.
Timebomb777 More than 1 year ago
Having done considerable research on this subject, I'm familiar with what's available. This is one of the most objective and critical books that I've found. There's a good deal of garbage out there on this subject but this gives compelling evidence by a skeptical journalist. Definitely worth reading and keeping in the library.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A man sets out against incredible odds, traveling through perilous lands and braving endless tests of faith to deliver Truth to the masses. Is reincarnation a reality? No one can prove it, not definitively. But no one seems to be looking for concrete proof either way. With the exception of Dr. Ian Stevenson and a small handful of other researchers he has inspired to believe in his work. "Old Souls" is a fascinating portrait of one of the last true heroes: the scientist. Dr. Stevenson has dedicated his life to investigating children's claims of past-life memories, claims the majority of modern science has turned it's back on. The book, filled with descriptions so vivid you feel as if you can smell, taste and touch the surroundings, takes the reader on a colorful journey to Beirut, India and Middle America. We are following the 79 year-old scientist on what may be his last interviews with the families, past and present, of the children who have memories of another life. These spontaneous memories are not the grand, theatrical "I was Cleopatra"-type claims that have become old hat in New Age philosophy. They are not a product of regression-hypnosis. The past life memories in Stevenson's research are simple, plain and out of the mouths of babes--often with enough details and names to identify the adress and family of the person they claim to have been. In almost all of the cases covered in the book, the families of the past personality support the cliams of the child, believing, despite any descrepancies, that they have regained their departed relative. Stevenson has fought to keep his records accurate, copious and, most of all, sane. 
MoreInput More than 1 year ago
I came across this when I was searching for books on Karma, and this caught my eye. Whether you believe in reincarnation or not, this is an enjoyable book. The journey is fascinating and getting a journalistic view of other countries was great. Lots of great tales and interesting conversations! The only criticism I would have is the author's detailed complaints about the travel are extensive and for me was distracting from the information he was presenting.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Old Souls is such a riveting and mouth dropping real-life epic. It is an eye opening adventure to what happens when we die, but more so when we are alive. An extraordinary book worth reading more than once.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have done research using nearly all the books written by Dr. Ian Stevenson and it is refreshing to see a man of Tom Shroder's stature accompany him on two trips to study cases of children who remember previous lives and then strongly endorse the man and the results of his work.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was expecting to read stories of children who remember past lives. Inxtead this book was all about the authors experience with the researcher and travel. The very few parts where he didinclude stories of the kids, were few and far between and were skimmed over. Waste of time znd money.
bgtg2 21 days ago
A fascinating read. I have read some of Dr. Stevenson's work previously and I very much enjoyed reading this account from a respected reporter's skeptical perspective. Tom Shroder's vivid descriptions and observations make you feel as though you are right there with them. Some other reviewers complained that the author spends too much time explaining the difficulties of traveling in underdeveloped countries, however for me it served to underscore the dedication and perseverance that Dr. Stevenson poured into his research. I would highly recommend this to anyone, skeptic or believer, who is interested in the subject.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
VERY clinically researched, too much description of their travels as another reader pointed out, as well as being skeptically viewed throughout (not a bad thing, just noted.) I wish i had read the reviews before purchasing, i think i would have skipped this one. LOVE this subject matter though, the "subject" is definitely worth exploring.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I read it and it's very good!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
i didnt care for this book at all.  it was not a first hand account of past lives, instead, it was an author writing about what other people are saying about other people.  very dull
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
The author spends much of his time explaining the difficulties of traveling in underdeveloped countries. The children seem almost secondary to the story. Best to read of Dr. Stevenson's work from other publications.