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Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife

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3.55 of 5 stars 3.55  ·  rating details  ·  19,631 ratings  ·  1,801 reviews
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: s ...more
Paperback, 311 pages
Published September 26th 2006 by W.W. Norton & Company (NYC) (first published 2005)
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The Devil in the White City by Erik LarsonFreakonomics by Steven D. LevittIn Cold Blood by Truman CapoteA Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill BrysonGuns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
Best Non-Fiction (non biography)
99th out of 2,885 books — 4,944 voters
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You Read a Book about What?
8th out of 878 books — 394 voters


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Community Reviews

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Will Byrnes
Roach is the author of Stiff, a raucous romp through the wonderful land of death. It is only natural that she might continue that escapade with a look past the curtain. Are there ghosts? Is there life after death? She examines a host of topics under her conceptual umbrella, looking at reincarnation, the hunt for the seat of the soul, the notion that the soul weighs 21 grams, ectoplasm, the effectiveness of mediums, including her stint in medium school, (she outgrew small but was not yet advanced ...more
Lena
I learned a number of interesting things reading Mary Roach's survey of the historical and scientific efforts to prove the existence of a soul.

Her discussion of the scientific inquiries into stories of reincarnated children provides an excellent example of the difficulties of trying to objectively prove something when your main resource is the shaky memories of those who are already convinced of whatever it is you're trying to prove.

Though I was already familiar with the theory that infrasound
...more
Simeon Berry
Not bad, but Roach reveals her limitations in this book; namely, she writes mostly to entertain. She spends most of her time making fun of mediums from the spiritualism craze in the 20's (which, let's face it, is like shooting fish in a barrel).

But you can also sense the places where her unspoken thesis (i.e. that the idea of a soul, and any attendant special effects, is bunk) runs into problems.

She hurriedly scurries past it (as in the case of Kirlian photography, or a scientific experiment whi
...more
Clidston
A trip through various scientific and not-so-scientific attempts to ascertain whether or not the human soul, consciousness, personality, or whatever survives the death of the body. Looks at reincarnation, mediums, ectoplasms, attempts to measure or weigh the soul, anatomical searches for the seat of the soul within the body, electromagnetic haunting, quantum physics theories of consciousness, ghost-hunting, electronic voice phenomena and near-death experiences. Not at all a "scholarly" work and ...more
John Wiswell
Mar 30, 2014 John Wiswell rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: If you give a crap about the paranormal or the afterlife and aren't bitter about it
Mary Roach's book has two great strengths. The first is that she's damnably funny; she brings humor to any place of uncertainty and any place of anyone's absolute certainty. The second strength is that she's humble and friendly; her prose is downright gregarious, so that reading often comes off as chatting with a well-versed (but not know-it-all) friend. She is less interested with one person being right and more interested in finding every available source of information, which often means tran ...more
Trevor
This would have been a much better book if I had read it, rather than listened to it as an audio book. The problem was that the person reading it had been told Roach is funny, in much the same way bad actors spend too much time remembering Shakespeare wrote his plays as ‘poetry’ – so she read this almost with a laugh-track playing throughout. Nothing kills a joke quite so stone-dead as telegraphing it in your voice two sentences ahead of the punch-line.

Given that the humour in this one had been
...more
Laura
This is a book that tries too hard to be cutesy. From page one, we're dumped with tons of cute little footnoted anecdotes about quaint pseudo-scientific afterlife-related topics (many of her anecdotes tend to veer far off topic), but nothing meaningful or even slightly memorable. Furthermore, Roach's humor comes across not as funny but as smug, even mean-spirited (and, as a firm non-believer, I was predisposed to agree with her point of view anyway).

Her research and organization were both terrib
...more
April
I enjoyed "Stiff", also by Mary Roach, so perhaps my expectations were too high for this book. Although I liked Roach's irreverent style in "Stiff", I found it forced and distracting in "Spook". The copious footnotes, that were only sometimes relevant, annoyed me. Perhaps "Stiff" was more interesting because it was full of facts that surprised me, things that made sense, but that I didn't know about. For example, I didn't know that if you donate your body to science it could end up in an experim ...more
Wigs
Maybe a 3.5, but I'll round up because I laughed out loud several times and I'm hard pressed to do more than a smirk when I find something I'm reading funny.

If you've never read a Mary Roach book before, her work is like this: she researches a bunch of scientific studies about a particular subject, and then presents them to you with witty prose and tons of oddball stories along the way. It's quite enjoyable, but beware that there is a fuck-ton of name dropping constantly, to of course credit all
...more
Lisa Vegan
Sep 25, 2011 Lisa Vegan rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of books by Mary Roach; any reader interested in the subject matter
I loved Mary Roach's Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (how can I not adore an author who has me laughing heartily as I read about what happens to dead human bodies?!) (a 5 star book for me) and I’d like to read her book Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void and maybe Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex too, but I wasn’t that enthusiastic about reading this book. But, it’s the October selection for my real world book club so I dived in, with maybe not an op ...more
Karla
A lot of wordy waffling from the author, with some interesting historical strange-but-true stories from the halls of crank science (just enough so I didn't DNF from boredom). Roach's inability to let a peanut gallery opportunity go by made the tone wearying after awhile, and some sections were long-winded and deathly dull. Maybe it was the subject matter or the way she presented it, but at any rate, it was just ok in the end. 2.5 stars.
Karen
Given the title, I expected a little more actual science and less mockery of fringe and historical science. The last two or three chapters came the closest to what I'd actually expected this book to be-- chapters where she's researching subjects she felt were credible-- but the rest of the book was... meh. The subjects were mostly interesting, but the author's superior and mocking tone REALLY got up my nose. (For the record, no, I don't believe in most of the stuff she talks about, either, but I ...more
Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways
Rating: 3.5* of five

The Book Report: Hot off the success of Stiff, Roach launched herself at an equally surprising topic: Does the soul exist? Is it possible to find it? Can the soul's survival of individual death account for the mysteries of reincarnation and hauntings?

In a word, No. Roach travels the globe looking for the kind of evidence that scientists look for when postulating the existence of muons and Higgs bosons, sans the billion-plus dollar measuring equipment and teams of serious guys
...more
David
Mary Roach is smart and funny, which made this a mostly entertaining read. But I don't really feel like she had anything to say. It was more of an exploration of kooky metaphysical or pseudoscientific people throughout history, most of whom were full of shit. Each chapter is connected to the next by one paragraph of half-assed segue, and there is no apparent reason for her chapter order. At the end, she seemed to realize she needed an overall theme for the book, so she used the last few pages to ...more
Victoria Tu
Mary Roach's Spook tells the story of her research on the afterlife, a mystery that many are more than eager to learn about. The book consists of her quest to search for answers to her questions which cause her to look through various books, explore ideas from the past and travel to different locations in the world, bringing us readers along for the ride. This book doesn't have a set conflict or problem, but rather tells a story of a curious woman who hunts for evidence in an attempt to prove or ...more
Noah Soudrette
Nov 21, 2007 Noah Soudrette rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people with a paranormal interest, ghost fans, science, people who like to cut through the crap
Shelves: non-fiction
When I sat down with my newly purchased copy of Spook and started to read, I was rather surprised. The first thing I find myself reading about is reincarnation. This is not a subject I readily think of when I think of ghosts, nor is it a topic I care much about. However, as I read I was fairly engaged and found Mary Roach to have an opinion of the whole thing similar to my own. As I kept moving through the first few chapters I began to realize something rather disappointing. While this book is ...more
Sammy
I picked up Spook first because it's subject matter interested me and then I knew I had to buy it when I saw that the author was none other than Mary Roach who had written another interesting and intriguing book dealing with the physical body at death. Remembering how amusing and fascinating that read had been (I recommened it to several friends who have the same weird sense of humor and morbid curiosities I do) I had a feeling this book would not disappoint. And it didn't.

First off I'm going to
...more
Ashvin
Ugh, holy shit did Mary Roach drop the ball on this one. "Spook" reads like a terrible first draft. I didn't finish it.

I read "Stiff" and "Bonk," two of her other books. They were entertaining, informative, and light. "Spook" was just horrible. She didn't bother to come up with a real story for the book, so she resorted to the lazy device of describing her own experiences in chronological order (as if those experiences were the story). While uninspired, that would be OK if her experiences were i
...more
Jamie
Not as good as the author's previous work, Stiff, but still entertaining.

This book would be more accurately named "Mary Roach Tackles the Afterlife", as it's an account of her personal search for proof of life after death. If you like Roach's writing and her sense of humor, you'll probably enjoy the book. She does have a tendency to include amusing yet irrelevant anecdotes about the people and places she encounters during her research.

Part of the book is concerned with the historical efforts to
...more
Nikki
I don't think I'm the greatest fan of Mary Roach's style. It's informal, easy to read, self-deprecating -- but when it comes to a topic like this, I don't want to hear all about Mary Roach unless it really illuminates the subject matter. Granted, stuff like near-death experiences and the various ideas of what happens to us after we die are things I've been interested in for a long time, and don't really need an entry-level primer on. (I had to memorise the stages of an NDE as described by Kennet ...more
Cassandra Kay Silva
Ok to be fair I really liked this authors writing style. I like her train of thought, I like her humor, I like her immensely and this is the only thing of hers that I have ever read. But as a book? This was not at all what I was looking for. Were I to probe into that great question of what is there in the hereafter from a "scientific approach" the last thing I would do is go chase down mediums and stories on reincarnation. I found that both demeaning to science and utterly a waste of time. There ...more
Mark Juric
I have a crush on Mary Roach. Seriously. A for real, honest-to-god, schoolboy crush. When I read her books, I find myself flipping to the author's page to look at her picture. She makes me laugh at things I shouldn't laugh at, and I like her for it. I imagine us huddled together in the corner of some austere laboratory or solemn place of worship, covering our mouths and trying to stifle an inappropriate giggle.

My crush started with "Bonk". Here was a woman who devoted two years of her life to p
...more
Adrian Fradnle
Jul 19, 2007 Adrian Fradnle rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Megan
By the Mary Roach, the same author that managed to deftly maneuver the (st)icky subject of what happens to cadavers (in the book Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers) with unexpected grace and humor tackles another delicate topic: the afterlife. She analyzes a hodgepodge of different beliefs about what happens when we shed our mortal coil with the scrutiny (and footnotes) of a meticulous scientist. The twist, however, is that Ms. Roach proves that "straight science" is a slippery slope th ...more
Kim
This is the third of Mary Roach's scientific exploratory books I've read and feels the weakest so far. In this book Mary tackles the idea of after-life but from a scientific angle. For me one of the issues I have with this book, and it shows in her other books, is she never really engages the people she's talking to. Sure there will be quotes and little anecdotes but never any real discussion. It always leaves me wanting to know more but then she moves on to the next subject.

The part of the boo
...more
Ian
This book was much like Roach's earlier Stiff, which I also enjoyed, but seems not as well-honed as her prior effort. She does a good job of keeping the tone light, but it can be too "jokey" to read for long stretches; nearly every paragraph ends with a rimshot, with many other punchlines interspersed. This jocularity seems to be Roach's MO, and it serves science writing well, but it can be wearying at length. The gleefully inconclusive conclusion was also a bit tepid, but likely a result of the ...more
William
This book was interesting at times but at times it was just plain dull. The main thing that kept me reading was the author's sense of humor. I don't know what I expected but there are no answers here. Deep down I knew that would be the case but one can still dream. Most of the case studies and research that was mentioned was just rife with fraud. It was good to see there was some actual science backed research going on in the area of Out of Body experiences. I think Ms. Roach is a talented write ...more
Kerrie
I just can't get into this; reading about people putting so much energy into an angels/head-of-pin argument is just ridiculous. Weighing people and animals at point of death to determine how many grams a "soul" weighs? Do people actually believe this crap? And it's important HOW?

I just don't have the patience for reading about such stupidity right now.
Susanna - Censored by GoodReads
Amusing and well-written. Still giggling at the section wherein a North Carolina court accepted ghost evidence back in the 20s.
Teechbiz
this is the second book I've reach by Mary Roach and it was very enlightening
Greg Bates
I'm waffling hard between three and four stars for this one - whichever it ends up being, consider this one a 3.5. At it's best, Roach's Spook reads like a funny junior-league version of Carl Sagan's The Demon Haunted World: a tongue-in-cheek debunking of ridiculous pseudoscientific concepts like ectoplasm and electronic voice phenomena. Roach has a good ear for the amusing anecdote and the clever factoid, I just wish she wasn't obviously casting her net at the widest possible audience. It's a v ...more
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  • Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death
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Mary Roach is the author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers and Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. Her writing has appeared in such publications as Salon, GQ, Vogue, and the New York Times Magazine. She lives in Oakland, California.

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More about Mary Roach...
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal My Planet: Finding Humor in the Oddest Places

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“In my experience, the most staunchly held views are based on ignorance or accepted dogma, not carefully considered accumulations of facts. The more you expose the intricacies and realtities of the situation, the less clear-cut things become.” 23 likes
“I am very much out of my element here. There are moments, listening to the conversations going on around me, when I feel I am going to lose my mind. Earlier today, I heard someone say the words, "I felt at one with the divine source of creation." Mary Roach on a conducted tour of Hades. I had to fight the urge to push back my chair and start screaming: STAND BACK! ALL OF YOU! I'VE GOT AN ARTHUR FINDLAY BOX CUTTER! Instead, I quietly excused myself and went to the bar, to commune with spirits I know how to relate to.” 13 likes
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