Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Spook by Mary Roach

Yay Mary Roach! She is always fun to read! Spook is subtitled "Science Tackles the Afterlife" and that pretty much sums it up. This book goes into all kinds of people looking into what happens to the mind/soul after death. The methods and topics range from bizarre to silly to genuinely scientific. Plausible explanations are given for all kinds of phenomena that people take as evidence of souls or ghosts. For example, electric fields and infra-sounds both can cause ghost-like hallucinations. Roach writes Spook with her characteristic humor and passion for science!

I think that Roach succeeds in offering an honest exploration of the science and pseudoscience of the afterlife, without being tendentious or biased. I went into the book with a higher degree of certainty regarding the so-called soul's demise at death than I left with, which really surprised me. Some of the legitimate researchers she interviewed definitely makes me think there could be more to the whole soul thing than I had thought! I am not saying this book suggests the existence of a typical, cloudy and harp-intensive heaven (if you go in thinking that you may be disappointed) but it does suggest that maybe some energy or something could exist that is not (yet) properly accounted for by science.

Mary Roach's excellent style can be summed up as a combination science-mindedness, great writing and humor. She interjects one or the other in frequently, and it really works for me. Her humor often uses a certain formula. Roach will note an amusing phrase, or a word used in a funny context in her interviews or research, and then shortly later refer to the phrase again in a slightly different context as if it were a normal thing to say. It cracks me up every time!

One problem I have with Roach's writing is her casual references to animal cruelty. She did this extensively in Stiff as well as in Spook. It diminishes my enjoyment of a book (or TV show, or movie...) to feel like I have to have my mental guard up against vivid images of disturbing things. I am sure the horrible ways in which pseudo-scientist researchers trying to measure souls killed little animals is important to the subject at hand, but I really, really could have done without it.

All in all, this is a great book. I wouldn't hesitate to suggest it to most adults. Probably not kids, because it has rather adult themes at times and it even disturbed me in places. I would suggest this book to my die-hard atheist friends, my religious friends, or my new-age mom. I even suggested it to my fiance who is very defensive of his idea of the afterlife! Whatever your perspective on the afterlife is, Mary Roach's humor, tact, use of science and research and disinterestedness is engaging, fascinating and fun! I can't wait to read her other books!

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