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Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife

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3.56  ·  Rating Details  ·  24,641 Ratings  ·  2,084 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: ...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)
102nd out of 3,896 books — 5,758 voters
Stiff by Mary RoachThe Devil in the White City by Erik LarsonSalt by Mark KurlanskyEats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne TrussBonk by Mary Roach
You Read a Book about What?
8th out of 1,154 books — 523 voters


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Community Reviews

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Lena
Mar 25, 2008 Lena rated it liked it
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
Will Byrnes
Apr 30, 2014 Will Byrnes rated it really liked it
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
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
Brandon
Mar 04, 2015 Brandon rated it liked it
Want to know what happens when we die? You and everyone else apparently. Many people believe in some sort of continuation be it an afterlife, reincarnation or maybe that your soul sticks around and haunts old, abandoned mansions? Unfortunately, no one really knows for sure. With Spook, Mary Roach isn’t going to provide you with a concrete answer but rather an exploration of several beliefs and possibilities.

I didn’t enjoy this one nearly as much as Stiff. It’s not to say it’s a poorly written bo
...more
Clidston
Jul 10, 2007 Clidston rated it it was ok
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 it was amazing  ·  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
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
Trevor
Feb 23, 2011 Trevor rated it liked it
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
April
Apr 13, 2009 April rated it it was ok
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
Margitte
I have this book on my Kindle. Not a good idea. Spook is not a novel. It is a thoroughly-researched publication about the search for the soul by scientists and everyone else looking for it in different ways.

This is the kind of book that should be on a coffee table, or in the throne room of the house. It is for interest's sake. It can be entertaining, or it can be serious, depending on your approach to the subject. It can be many things to many people. It is just not a book that should be read in
...more
Richard Derus
Dec 21, 2011 Richard Derus rated it liked it
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
Sammy
Aug 19, 2007 Sammy rated it really liked it
Shelves: b-the-good
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
Karen
Jun 21, 2012 Karen rated it did not like it
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
Wigs
Jun 24, 2012 Wigs rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Noah Soudrette
Nov 21, 2007 Noah Soudrette rated it really liked it
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
Lisa Vegan
Sep 25, 2011 Lisa Vegan rated it really liked it  ·  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.
Carmen
Mar 28, 2016 Carmen rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone
This is a funny and fascinating book on the soul. Does it exist? Is it physical? Can it be seen or measured? Are NDEs (Near Death Experiences) real? Do animals have souls? Mary Roach fearlessly dives in head first. This book comes down on the side of 'no'. No proof of a soul, no proof of a next life, no proof of ghosts. Even though in the end, she says “I believe in ghosts”, that is just because she WANTS to believe that there is something more out there. The book will turn people into skeptics. ...more
Ashvin
Jan 13, 2012 Ashvin rated it did not like it
Shelves: didn-t-finish
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
David
Dec 20, 2010 David rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Dec 20, 2013 Victoria Tu rated it liked it
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
Jamie Collins
Aug 24, 2009 Jamie Collins rated it liked it
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
Mandy
Feb 25, 2016 Mandy rated it it was ok
(Whoops -- I totally shelved STIFF when I meant to add SPOOK. Although I wish I did read STIFF instead, so maybe it was a Freudian slip.)

DNF @ 36%

I still love Mary Roach's writing, but even she can't make me care about pseudoscience -- which, going into a book like this, I pretty much anticipated it being Not For Me. I might check out some of the later chapters, but I'm not feeling a great need to finish this, despite my wanting to read all of Mary Roach's books. (Oh well.. I tried!)
Nola Redd
Of all of her books, this was good but in my opinion Roach's least greatest. Once again, she adds a subtle sense of humor to her search for science, this time the science of...ghosts? Or, more correctly, an afterlife. It's interesting to see the various ways folks have approached the subject with an eye towards science, more or less.

And please note, when I say this is my least favorite of Roach's books, I have read and loved every other one. This one, I just liked.
Praxedes
May 22, 2016 Praxedes rated it liked it
Roach's insatiable curiosity is so compelling that one tends to forgive her hit-or-miss attempts at humor. I enjoy the methodical nature of her approach, exploring techniques used over the years to prove an afterlife (seances, infrasound, EVPs, etc.). I also like her honesty as she evaluates each one: it's almost as if she wants to believe in an afterlife but cannot overlook the lack of hard evidence.

When she includes a clever footnote her humor works well, but inserting witticisms in the middle
...more
Amanda
Jan 02, 2015 Amanda rated it really liked it
Shelves: klub-książki
I really enjoyed this book, and given the subject matter and sources cited in cases found it remarkably easy reading. I thought the author had a similar style to Bill Bryson, as far as the humorous but still serious and informative style she presented in. I will read more by her!
Charity
I thoroughly enjoyed Mary Roach's sarcasm throughout the book. Frankly, I applaud Roach's restraint on that front. I would not have been able to keep my eyes rolling out of my head while researching/witnessing most of the events detailed in the book. Alas, I ended up giving Spook 3 stars, as there are only so many paranormal experiences/experiments a skeptic can read about before growing weary and a bit bored. And the last sentence of the book left me exasperated. Really, Mary? Really??
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
Susanna - Censored by GoodReads
Apr 29, 2013 Susanna - Censored by GoodReads rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
Amusing and well-written. Still giggling at the section wherein a North Carolina court accepted ghost evidence back in the 20s.
Darlene
May 06, 2015 Darlene rated it it was ok
I was very interested in reading this book, 'Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife' , as I have had a lifelong interest in the supernatural and paranormal. I was curious to know just what science has contributed to this topic. In this book, Mary Roach ambitiously tackles a wide range of topics. The first subject she delves into is reincarnation… a subject I have read a great deal about. She recounts a visit she made to India and her meeting with Dr. Kirti Rawat, director of the International Cent ...more
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Mary Roach is the author of the New York Times bestsellers STIFF: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers; GULP: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, PACKING FOR MARS: The Curious Science of Life in the Void; and BONK: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex.

Her most recent book, GRUNT: The Curious Science of Humans at War, is out in June 2016.

Mary has written for National Geographic, Wired, Discover
...more
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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.” 24 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.” 14 likes
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