Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife” as Want to Read:
Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife

3.57  ·  Rating Details ·  27,409 Ratings  ·  2,283 Reviews
The best-selling author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers now 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 laptop?" In
Hardcover, 311 pages
Published October 24th 2005 by W.W. Norton (first published 2005)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
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
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
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
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
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
John Wiswell
Jan 27, 2008 John Wiswell rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 09, 2007 Clidston rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Now this was fun! I've never read Mary Roach before, but I enjoyed her exploration of possible evidences for life after death very much. She's a skeptic, but not a debunker – she would like to see solid evidence that some sort of consciousness continues after the body dies, but for the most part what she finds is that even where scientists and other investigators are trying to be rigorous in their experiments, squishiness often intrudes. Results can be interpreted in various ways, and the ways s ...more
Richard Derus
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
Mar 10, 2009 April rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Noah Soudrette
Nov 21, 2007 Noah Soudrette rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 14, 2007 Sammy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 21, 2012 Karen rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Megan Baxter
I am feeling a little tired of Mary Roach's books. I think this is the fourth I've read, and I'm starting to get the same feel from many of them, and it is this: she finds interesting stories, but she doesn't do enough with them, just plops them down in front of the reader like her job is done with the anecdote, and without delving more deeply into the issues that really interest me.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can r
Jun 13, 2012 Wigs rated it really liked it
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
Jill Hutchinson
Jun 04, 2017 Jill Hutchinson rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I was totally disappointed in this book. Although I like the premise, which is looking into the scientific aspects of afterlife/reincarnation, I did not like the way that the author approached it. . The first chapter is about reincarnation and she travels to India to investigate some of the reincarnation reports. I should have gotten a hint of the tenor of the book at that point as she is condescending and borders on being offensive about the Indian people and the Hindu religion. The rest of the ...more
Nov 18, 2011 Ashvin rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Lisa Vegan
Jun 26, 2011 Lisa Vegan rated it really liked it
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
Nov 17, 2013 Carmen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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.
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
Jamie Collins
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
Nov 28, 2010 David rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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.
Feb 19, 2017 Cloak88 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017, audiobook-2017
Is there a soul? -- Mary Roach 3.5 stars

Mary Roach goes at it again. This time she tries to find out what happens with your soul after death. Basicly she tries to find out if there is such a thing as a soul and how would you observe, measure and quantify it. How would reincarnation work and how do you prove it. Meanwhile she unearths a lot of interesting information and shines a light on past and present research on the hereafter.

Science with ghost and humour.
”The debunkers are probably right, but they’re no fun to visit a graveyard with.”

With that one sentence, Mary Roach sums up my whole view of the survival of a soul. She explores reincarnation stories, Victorian spiritualism, and ghost hunting. She attends a workshop to develop her mediumship. In general, she treads the odd pathways that I would if I had the freedom to do so, and she does it with her characteristic humour.

I think one of the key things, that gets several mentions in the book, is t
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
Nov 14, 2008 Charity rated it liked it
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??
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
  • Not In Kansas Anymore
  • Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed
  • Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death
  • The Mummy Congress: Science, Obsession, and the Everlasting Dead
  • Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep
  • Death's Acre: Inside the Legendary Forensic Lab the Body Farm Where the Dead Do Tell Tales
  • Why is the Penis Shaped Like That?: And Other Reflections on Being Human
  • Body of Work: Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab
  • Final Exits: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of How We Die
  • The American Way of Death Revisited
  • The Whole Death Catalog: A Lively Guide to the Bitter End
  • Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud
  • Unbelievable: Investigations into Ghosts, Poltergeists, Telepathy, and Other Unseen Phenomena from the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory
  • A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities
  • The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries
  • Never Suck A Dead Man's Hand: And Other Life (and Death) Lessons from the Front Lines of Forensics
  • My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science, and Our Favorite Dinosaurs
  • The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science
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 about Mary Roach...

Share This Book

“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.” 27 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.” 16 likes
More quotes…