Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife

( 120 )

Overview

The best-selling author of 'Stiff' and 'Bonk' 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 ...

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Overview

The best-selling author of 'Stiff' and 'Bonk' 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.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
This book might be best described as the logical sequel to Roach's Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. After probing autopsies, the funeral home business, and the implications of human composting, it seems only natural that the author would turn her attention to the afterlife. To learn what she can about the Other Side, she enrolls in an English school for mediums; banters with reincarnation researchers; and interviews a Duke University professor about a plan to weigh the consciousness of a leech.
Newsweek
“The general reader’s ideal emissary to the arcana of serious science. . . . Roach’s writing has what science has so far failed to find: a divine spark.”— Malcolm Jones
New York Times
“Dependably witty, especially when it ventures far into the ether. . . . [Roach] makes a clever investigator and a thoroughly entertaining, if skeptical, tour guide.”— Janet Maslin
Pittsburgh Union-Tribune
“Investigative reporting has no lighter, more irreverent spirit than Mary Roach. . . . Spook is enormous fun.”— David A Walton
Malcolm Jones - Newsweek
“The general reader’s ideal emissary to the arcana of serious science. . . . Roach’s writing has what science has so far failed to find: a divine spark.”
Janet Maslin - New York Times
“Dependably witty, especially when it ventures far into the ether. . . . [Roach] makes a clever investigator and a thoroughly entertaining, if skeptical, tour guide.”
David A Walton - Pittsburgh Union-Tribune
“Investigative reporting has no lighter, more irreverent spirit than Mary Roach. . . . Spook is enormous fun.”
Vince Darcangelo - Boulder Weekly
“Surreal, fascinating, at times absurd and always hilarious, Mary Roach may not reveal the street address of our final destination, but in Spook she makes it sound less like a morgue and more like a comedy club.”
People
“Funny and smart... since she's a scientist at heart, she also lasers through the smoke and mirrors.”
Dorman T. Schindler - Sunday Denver Post & Rocky Mountain News
“Reading Spook is like attending a lecture by a professor who is equal parts Groucho Marx and Stephen Jay Gould, both enlightening and entertaining.”
People
“Funny and smart... since she's a scientist at heart, she also lasers through the smoke and mirrors.”
New York Times
Dependably witty, especially when it ventures far into the ether. . . . [Roach] makes a clever investigator and a thoroughly entertaining, if skeptical, tour guide.— Janet Maslin
Newsweek
The general reader’s ideal emissary to the arcana of serious science. . . . Roach’s writing has what science has so far failed to find: a divine spark.— Malcolm Jones
Pittsburgh Union-Tribune
Investigative reporting has no lighter, more irreverent spirit than Mary Roach. . . . Spook is enormous fun.— David A Walton
Janet Maslin
How serious is Ms. Roach in wondering about life after death? Not very. She appears more concerned with comic effects than cosmic ones, and she is constantly on the lookout for entertainingly bizarre details and turns of phrase…Spook has great appeal on the basis of Ms. Roach's droll research. But it is afflicted with the same problem common to its spirit-world subjects: insubstantiality. Although she does her best to avoid what the book calls "the Big Shrug," she is not always able to learn much from the string of research outings described here.
—The New York Times
Kate Zernike
Roach is a wonderfully vivid writer and most fun when she is exploring the world of the modern soul-searchers. Spook, like Stiff, is a "who knew?" kind of book, and it's fascinating to discover that a researcher in the 21st century would be, say, trying to weigh the consciousness of a leech. And as a reporter, Roach has a keen eye for the perfect detail, an ear for the zinging quotation and a finely tuned sense of the preposterous…Spook is less about figuring out what science says about the afterlife than it is a celebration of the wide, occasionally crazy spectrum of human pursuit.
—The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly
The deadpan humor and subtle wit that journalist Roach (Stiff) is known for is overshadowed by Quigley's exaggerated delivery in this disappointing audio adaptation. Like Roach's previous book, this exploration of the afterlife is loaded with unusual historical facts, oddball encounters and humorous observations. Unfortunately, Quigley performs rather than reads the material, and her snarky, knowing tone is as out of sync with Roach's earnest investigation as are her atrocious character voices. For reincarnation researcher Dr. Rawat, she adopts a heavily accented voice as subtle as The Simpsons' Hindu grocer, Apu. Professor Gerry Naham is lent a nasally, squeaky voice, apparently to convey his nerdiness (he aims to build a system that can detect the departure of a dying person's soul using electromagnetic energy). Then there's sheep rancher Lewis Hollander, whom Quigley gives the mellow voice of a stoned hippie despite Roach's description of him as "a kindly, soft-spoken guy"; one almost expects Hollander to preface his description of his homegrown soul-weighing experiment with "dude." Quigley transforms these intriguing, eccentric people into caricatures and makes this a grating listen. Simultaneous release with the Norton hardcover (Reviews, Aug. 22). (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This is not about ghosts-rather, science writer Roach (Stiff) looks to science to determine whether the human "soul" exists in death. Unfortunately, neither science nor Roach is up to the task. Three of the 12 chapters deal with contemporary science (infrasound and electromagnetic waves, the personal computer, and the operating room ceiling where University of Virginia cardiologists placed equipment to monitor out-of-body, near-death experiences). The remaining chapters are devoted to such topics as medium school, the weight of a soul, the last surviving ectoplasm sample, and reincarnation. Readers come away with little new information or insight into the question originally posed but with many pieces of arcane trivia. Although deftly written and at times humorous, this book is superficial overall. Recommended for only the largest collections or where Stiff was popular. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/05.]-Michael D. Cramer, Schwarz BioSciences, RTP, NC Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Science writer Roach, having told all about cadavers in Stiff (2003), progresses to the logical next step: What happens after death?Her journey begins in India, where she tracks down stories of children purported to be reincarnations of dead relatives. Lots to debunk here. Then on to all-but-unbelievable experiments to weigh, see or tape-record the soul, as well as tales of celebrated mediums, spirit guides and ectoplasm. Did you know there are mediums being tested in university labs today, and that you can attend medium school in England? While researching this, Roach learned a good bit about human psychology of the "if you wanna believe it it's true" variety. She makes the point that, historically, investigators of the afterlife often capitalize on the latest scientific discoveries of new sources of energy so that they can be invoked to power a soul or, alternatively, explain away a phenomenon. Thus, the perception of ghosts might be due to some people's sensitivity to very low frequency "infrasound." One of her best ghost stories concerns a revised last will and testament whose discovery was attributed to a ghost telling his son where it could be found. The case went to trial and the ghost won. (There's a neat follow-up.) For all Roach's skeptical and often hilarious accounts, she is an eager volunteer and ready to accept evidence if evidence there be. Thus she reports that experiments are under way to study near-death experiences in which patients are briefly "killed" during surgery to implant defibrillators. If even one person reports seeing an image on a ceiling-mounted laptop in the O.R., whose screen faces the ceiling, she might be convinced. As it is, she admits to not "knowing,"but sort of believing in ghosts. Throughout, she is critical and witty-e.g., speaking of postmortem "recordings," she says there is one of Chopin, "who has, we learn, resumed composing following a short stint of decomposing."Truly deft handling of the (mostly) daft.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393329124
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/2/2006
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 112,377
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Mary Roach

Mary Roach is the author of four previous books: Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, and Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. Her writing has appeared in Outside, Wired, National Geographic, and the New York Times Magazine, among others. She lives in Oakland, California.

Good To Know

In our interview, Roach shared some fun facts about herself:

"My first job was as a writer for the San Francisco Zoological Society members magazine; I worked in a trailer next to Gorilla World."

"I've been to Antarctica three times, posing as a science writer."

"My dad was 65 when I was born."

"I like to unwind by going out birdwatching by myself; though the hours don't agree with me."

"I love red papaya, seaweed, a beer after a long hike, polar skies, and I'm a sucker for TV ads with monkeys in them. Dislikes: corporate greed, fluorescent lighting, extreme self-indulgence, weak coffee."

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 120 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(38)

4 Star

(32)

3 Star

(31)

2 Star

(13)

1 Star

(6)

Your Rating:

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 120 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 22, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Conditionally, this may be the best book you ever read

    This book was amazing and I think it deserves a five star review. But only certain people would like it. First of all, you have to appreciate Mary Roach's style of sarcastic humor. I think it's hilarious but some people don't like sarcasm. Secondly, you have to have an open mind or a be able to suspend your disbelief. Narrow-minded people who don't look up when someone says "gullible is written on the ceiling" won't enjoy this book. You have to believe from the start that scientific experimentation can measure spiritual phenomena. Also, I'm one of those people who enjoys ghost/haunting shows so if you aren't an avid fan of Ghost Adventures or you're not at all curious about whether ghosts or the afterlife exist, you won't like this book. This book covers many different topics like does the body become lighter at the moment of death as the spirit departs, is reincarnation plausible, are seances legit, near death experiences, etc. I thought it was all very fascinating. You just need an open mind, some curiosity, and a sense of humor to like this book.

    P.S. You don't have to be a crazy cat lady or psychic to enjoy this book. Also, if you read Stiff and liked it, Spook is narrated in the exact same way aka it is equally as awesome.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 23, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Spook left me a little disappointed......

    Having read and enjoyed Ms. Roach's previous effort "Stiff," I looked forward to reading Spook. I was a little disappointed however because at the end of the book, you come to realize you haven't really discovered anything. For a book to explore the possibility of life after death, all you come away with the same realization that no one knows for sure what happens to the soul. But it took 200 pages to see I was pretty much right back to the same question. I don't profess to expect her to unlock the secret of course, but I thought the research left a little something to be desired. I guess "Stiff" could be better enjoyed considering it's subject is a tangible matter (even if that matter is corpses). I just felt the Spook was a wasted read.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 15, 2012

    A Little Disappointing

    I've read Stiff and Bonk, both by Mary Roach, and enjoyed them immensely. I was super excited to get this book for Christmas, but found that I was really struggling to get through it. I believe this is her second book, and it sounds like she's struggling with her voice a little: this one read more like a research paper, lacking somewhat in her characteristic sense of humor. The subject matter is interesting, and, as usual, you can tell she knows her stuff, but I didn't find it to be as absorbing as her other books.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 18, 2011

    I was dissapointed with this book after reading "Stiff" by Mary Roach.

    This book was not as entertaining to read as Mary Roach's book "Stiff". It had many interesting facts, yet I was glad when I finished reading it.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 11, 2011

    Not So Good

    I've read a couple of Mary Roach's books and this one was not as good as others, in my opinion. I felt it was an overambitious attempt to answer certain questions. There weren't complete answers and it left me unsatified. I also thought there was too much emphasis on certain parts of science and not enough on other areas. I felt there was too much subjectivity and not enough objectivity, which makes for a bad science-based book.

    But that is my opinion. Mary Roach is a fantastic author that tackles amazing topics! If you like death and the afterlife, I'd get "Stiff" if I were you!

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Compelling and Thrilling Read

    Mary Roach followed up Stiff with another home run. Spook is exceptional in both depth and breadth. For me, Mary Roach is what you would have if you combined Michio Kaku and David Sedaris.

    In this clever study of what happens to our spirit and/or soul after death, she presents a witty and entertaining look 12 different arenas that deal directly with after-death. While maintaining a skeptic's edge, Mary nonetheless seems to give the died-in-the-wool (pun intended) believers the benefit of the doubt as she joyfully pursues her research.

    From the silliness of ectoplasm to the sadness of medium school, the author takes us on an original ride that fascinates while repelling and attracting. I really appreciated the footnotes except that I wished she had explored these side roads a bit more. Oh well...maybe in another Roach book.

    I hope you find my opinion helpful.

    Michael L. Gooch
    Author of Wingtips with Spurs

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 22, 2010

    Not as exciting as I'd hoped

    After reading Stiff, I tried this one. It's a good book, don't get me wrong. Unfortunately it didn't really answer any questions or shed any light on anything new for me. I suppose that's because she subtely debunks a great deal of meta-physical nonsense that so many poeple in the world (not including myself) believe. I went in to this book already feeling a certain way. All she did was show me that I'm most certainly not the only one was ultra-sceptical when the lack of any emprical evidence is provided for mediums, afterlifes, out on a limb Shirley McClaine craziness. :)

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2010

    fantastic

    another fabulously interesting book from mary roach

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 11, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Fun for Anyone

    This is a great read whether you are a believer or not. Like Roach's other work, the book is incredibly well-researched and allows for your own opinions and interpretations.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2009

    Dissapointing

    Interesting subject, but quickly became bored.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2007

    misleading

    Ms Roach carries on and on about ancient history! She has no more clue to the afterlife than the rest of us! I didn't find the book-on-tape the least bit witty or funny. Discarded it after suffering thru 5 of 6 tapes. Some of us unfamous,quiet souls DO believe in an afterlife. Many of us have had unexplained experiences.It's not funny. It's not to be scoffed at. It's real! Don't look to this book to give you an explanation-she laughs at anything paranormal!Who cares about the ancient pygmies when there's something in your very own bedroom! And Ms Roach:not everything is sexual!

    2 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 13, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Spook....a terrific follow-up to Stiff

    Mary Roach is an extrodinary writer. The reader accompanies Roach as she travels the globe finding answers, different point of views, and ideas. It is a broad perspective that covers the logical to illogical, always letting the reader draw their own conclusions on the after-life. It is a wonderful follow-up to Stiff, Roach has really mastered the genre.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2009

    Decent Book

    As someone who has interest in science and the unknown, I was looking forward to reading this book. I must admit there were some very good discussions, and the writer explored a number of different experiences. In the end though, was looking for more substance even though the writing style made the book enjoyable.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 5, 2009

    Spook

    Mary Roach has quickly become one of my favorite writers. She is funny and interesting, and always picks a provocative subject to write about. Her books are very well researched and besides being entertained I always feel like I learned something. Spook is great (not quite as good as Stiff) and I would recommend it to anyone.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 27, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Great Read I recommend all of her books

    Mary Roach has a great depth of knowledge of her subject matter and presents it in an understandable, witty and humerous fashion.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 15, 2008

    It's worth every penny.

    I really enjoyed reading Spook. Mrs. Roach knows her trade. I'm looking forward to read her other two books.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2008

    Fascinating.

    Mary Roach is like any other person who wonders about the afterlife. She cleverly wrote this book providing background information and experiences on her journey to find out the inevitable question: Is there really an afterlife? Not really for the religious reader, I would say, simply because religious readers know what they believe in and are very passionate about it. But for others, it is definetly one of the most interesting things you will ever read. This book is fascinating and gives you A LOT to talk about. Good for someone seeking answers and information. Not only that, but Mary Roach is hilarious. I literally L-O-L'ed reading this book. It's a book you don't want to put down. Highly (and I mean highly) recommended.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 29, 2007

    A reviewer

    I've been laughing aloud reading this book. Her deadpan writing style is great, and the history of spirituality is fascinating, not to mention current research. I can't help but notice that the only negative reviews given this book here are from those who already believe strongly in the ghosties. grin

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 1, 2007

    What a weird thing death is

    Have you ever wondered what would happen after you die? So did Mary Roach. In her novel Spook she goes on a search for any evidence that can be found about the matter. She first tackles reincarnation, which is being born into another life after you die. To study this, Roach teams up with Kirti S. Rawat and together they traveled to India to interview children ages 2-4 about their past lives. She then tries to figure out if a soul really does exist and if so, does it weigh something and how much? Another question is if one can you actually see a soul and how? Roach also studies a great deal about spiritualism and mediums. Spiritualism is connecting to the dead through mediums, while mediums are people who talk to the dead. In her book she also addresses mental patient ¿voices¿ and how Wilson von Duson thinks them to be actual spirits and not their imagination at all. She also talks about other peoples own experiences with spirits, and how some are their own relatives supposedly come to tell them important news. This mind boggling question is very hard to handle or even just to think about and I give Roach much credit for her novel. I do believe that this novel was very well written. I would probably recommend this book to skeptics about spirits or the after life, even though they would probably become more confused about what they believe after reading this book, as I have. The writing technique was not my favorite but I did like how she explored many solutions to the same question. Mary Roach is a very good writer who tries to answer her own questions along with others, thus I am very much looking forward to reading many more novels by her.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 9, 2013

    It was ok in parts, but then author tries to be too cute when sh

    It was ok in parts, but then author tries to be too cute when she tries to be funny. I get the feeling if you met her, she would be making fun of you as soon as you left. I can't take her seriously, and I will not read any more of her books.

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