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Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife

3.59  ·  Rating details ·  37,408 ratings  ·  2,877 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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Cindy Kennedy I'm guessing it's because it was published in England and in the US under different titles. It's often the case that books published in the UK are tit…moreI'm guessing it's because it was published in England and in the US under different titles. It's often the case that books published in the UK are titled differently here or at least receive different covers. I think perhaps different publishers handle the books in different countries. This was particularly irksome years ago when I was reading a lot of Agatha Christie. She has about a hundred books, all with British titles and US titles. I constantly found myself reading books I'd already read, thinking it was a new one.(less)

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Will Byrnes
Oct 24, 2008 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
Mar 19, 2008 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
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
Dec 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
All of Mary Roach's book have a few things in common:

(1) They are brilliantly and exhaustively researched.

(2) They are incredibly engaging.

(3) They are hilarious without ever being silly.

Spook is not the exception. Roach take on the afterlife is a fresh one, aimed at explaining the many similar phenomena reported by every culture around the world in a compelling way, one that doesn't alienate but widens our view of the world.

Whatever the reader's background--religiously, culturally--this book o
John Wiswell
Jan 27, 2008 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
Feb 21, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015, non-fiction, science
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
Trevor (I sometimes get notified of comments)
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
Jul 09, 2007 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
Jul 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 05, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
5 Stars for Spook (audiobook) by Mary Roach read by Bernadette Quigley.

It was fun getting to hear Mary Roach’s take on the afterlife. I think it’s amazing how much research she does on these unusual subjects. And she has a knack for making all that research interesting.
Mar 21, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: couldn-t-finish
I was unable to get through the first chapter of this book, as the narrator, when reading the quotes of an Indian doctor, spoke with a fake Indian accent to the likes of Apu from the Simpsons. Audiobook directors: DON'T DO THIS. IT'S RACIST. ...more
Oct 20, 2014 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
Jun 21, 2012 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
Jill Hutchinson
Jun 04, 2017 rated it did not like it
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
Jan 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
"I could not believe these things had happened, because another god, the god who wore lab glasses and knew how to use a slide rule, wanted to know how, scientifically speaking, these things could be possible. Faith did not take, because science kept putting it on the spot."

This was a fun read. I love Roach's sense of humor, which is self-effacing and witty without being condescending. But make no mistake about it, she's a natural-born skeptic, an agnostic with a keen eye and a heart of gold. Spo
Richard Derus
Dec 21, 2011 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
Mar 10, 2009 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
Lisa Vegan
Jun 26, 2011 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
Nov 17, 2013 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
Two realizations I had while reading this book:

1) I enjoy listening to Roach's books more than I like reading them with my eyes.

2) This isn't her strongest work. She did her normal amount of research but, in this case, there just isn't really anything new to share. There's no proof of an afterlife and, at least for me, there wasn't much I hadn't already encountered elsewhere.

Written in Roach's breezy-yet-serious style, which I love, it's thoughtful and thorough. This was just one of those things
Noah Soudrette
Nov 21, 2007 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
Stephie Williams
Jun 24, 2018 rated it it was ok
The author approaches her subject (the afterlife) with an open mind, if not with a little bit of wishful thinking. She looks into the research (mostly pseudoscientific, or bordering on it) on reincarnation, the soul, ghosts, mediums, and near death experiences (NDEs). She also relates research using some technology, like telecommunicating, electromagnetic fields, and acoustics. Almost all of the research she investigated she found wanting as it should be, but a few she still felt that the jury w ...more
Nov 18, 2011 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
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
Apr 29, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: ebook
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. ...more
Jun 13, 2012 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
Jun 14, 2007 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
Maria V. Snyder
Mar 23, 2018 rated it liked it
This wasn't as interesting as I'd hoped. The subject is very hard for science to pin down - and while she doesn't come right out and say there's no afterlife, she also doesn't find any proof. I wanted more stories and anecdotes, which doesn't match the whole "science" thing. I enjoyed Grunt much more. I've a couple of her other books on my shelf so I'm sure to read more. Stiff looks particularly interesting ;) ...more
Megan Baxter
Jul 08, 2015 rated it liked it
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
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Mary Roach is a science author who specializes in the bizarre and offbeat; with a body of work ranging from deep-dives on the history of human cadavers to the science of the human anatomy during warfare.

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

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  Mary Roach is a science author who specializes in the bizarre and offbeat. With a body of work ranging from deep-dives on the history of...
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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.” 35 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.” 17 likes
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