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American Ghost: A Family's Extraordinary History on the Desert Frontier

3.42  ·  Rating details ·  2,584 ratings  ·  445 reviews

“A haunting story about the long reach of the past.”—Maureen Corrigan, NPR’S Fresh Air

“In this intriguing book, [Nordhaus] shares her journey to discover who her immigrant ancestor really was—and what strange alchemy made the idea of her linger long after she was gone.” —People

La Posada—“place of rest”—was once a grand Santa Fe mansion. It belonged to Abraham and J

Kindle Edition, 341 pages
Published March 10th 2015 by Harper (first published January 1st 2015)
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Susan I agree that it had a great blend of ghost story, history, local culture and women's history. I enjoyed it thoroughly and am considering it as suggest…moreI agree that it had a great blend of ghost story, history, local culture and women's history. I enjoyed it thoroughly and am considering it as suggesting to my book clubs.(less)

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Diane S ☔
3.5 Although I expected this to be more of a ghost story, which many different, psychics, dowsers, and other paranormal professionals do give their opinions, I found so much more. The story of a Jewish family, settling Santa Fe, in its earliest days. So much history, politics, the railroad and the family with Julia as its matriarch and Abraham as the paternal head. From the beginning Julia missed Germany where her family was very prominent and she never truly embraced her new home. They had many ...more
Apr 27, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I was so excited to read this book because the premise was so intriguing. The author has an ancestor that was supposedly haunting a hotel room in Santa Fe, New Mexico and she set out to learn as much as she could about her relative, Julia Schuster Staab. The haunting was so famous that it was even featured as an episode on Unsolved Mysteries. After reading this book it turns out I could have just watched that episode and probably been satisfied.

The author really had to reach to get enough to fi
Jo Ann
I've decided to abandon this one at 28%. I was hoping for a good ghost story and it's not happening. This appears to be more a genealogy about a Jewish family who immigrated from Germany to Santa Fe, New Mexico then about a haunting. The author has repeated several times that she knows very little about her Great grandmother Julia Staab, so quite bit of her story so far is speculation. She seems to want to give endless descriptions of New Mexico in the 1800's and lots of Jewish history before th ...more
Mar 31, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After some thought, I'm being generous to go to a 4 star evaluation. It was a full 4 star for me up until about the 2/3rds point when she tended to leave the story of Julia Staab behind in some great portions. And that was the base issue if I would have reduced it to a 3.

This is not a "Ghost" story as some seem to surmise, especially the trailer, as much as an author's memoir of her Sante Fe genealogy search. In whole it is far more a thorough multi branch and generational genealogy coupled with
Aug 23, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
This non-fiction pursuit of Ms. Nordhaus's is well-organized and professionally written. However, I struggled terribly with the title. . . this isn't really about an American Ghost, and it falls short of being a substantial or tantalizing ghost story. This boils down to one woman's genealogical research of a more illustrious family than most, but I still struggled with the feeling that there just wasn't enough meat on this bone.

The author makes some lovely observations at the story's end, and I
American Ghost: A Family's Haunted Past in the Desert Southwest by Hannah Nordhaus is a 2015 Harper publication. I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher and Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

With a title like this one, I was sure this book would make an excellent Halloween read. I'm not a slasher, blood and gore type horror fan, but instead lean toward the creepy, chiller ghost and haunted house stories. So, I was all set to immerse myself in a little history, a little haun
Mar 20, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, non-fiction
Even though this is about the author learning about her relative, Julia, who supposedly haunts her family's old house in Santa Fe, it's really about German Jews immigrating to New Mexico in the 1800s - or one family in particular. I lost interest when she spent time on other relatives, finding it hard to keep track and not caring as much, since I'm not a family member. Her spiritual attempts to reach Julia were fascinating; I wanted more of that. An epilogue would be useful; does Julia still hau ...more
Mark Stevens
Mar 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“Now I know what a ghost is. Unfinished business, that’s what.”

That’s a Salman Rushdie line (from "The Satanic Verses") but it’s a perfect description of what Hannah Norhaus sets out to do with American Ghost—chase down some unfinished business.

In this case, the ghost is from her own past—a great-great-grandmother whose life and death deserved, well, fleshing-out.

The woman was Julia Schuster Staab. Her life began in Germany. It ended half way around the world, as the lonely and disheartened wife
First, to comply with the "Terms & Conditions", I hereby disclose in this, my review, that I received this book for free through Goodreads First Reads. This was my first work of non-fiction received in this manner.

I must say that, unfortunately, I was less than thrilled. I found it put together quite haphazardly, at times, with chapters that had very little to do with Julia Staab. Almost half way through, we'd learned what felt like next to nothing about the ghost or her story. Instead, the auth
Sarah Beth
I received an uncorrected proof copy of this book from HarperCollins.

Part memoir, part family history, part ghost story, this work of non-fiction follows the author's investigation into her great-great-grandmother, Julia Staab, who is said to haunt a hotel in Santa Fe. Apparently the ghost is quite infamous, as TV shows, spiritualists, and novelists have flocked to the story. Julia and her husband Arthur became the subject of many books and articles after the appearance of her ghost in the 1970
I give this book 3.5 stars only because the title was a little misleading to me. American Ghost is a book that centers around the author's great-great grandmother Julia Staab who is a ghost who haunts La Posada hotel, which used to be her Santa Fe, New Mexico home. In part, the book is the author's quest to find out if the rumors about Julia's ghost are true. That is only about one half of the book, hence the slightly misleading title.
Interspersed with the ghost hunt is a family history from Ju
Oct 28, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Intriguing historical narrative interwoven with paranormal elements. An intimate portrait of Julia Staab--the author's ancestor and, according to legend, the ghost who haunts a hotel in Santa Fe. Also a fine exploration of Santa Fe, immigration, the Wild West, mental illness, and being a woman in the Victorian era.
Feb 02, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who enjoys pioneering SW of the US.
This title caught my eye. Hannah Nordhaus’ American Ghost: A Family’s Haunted Past in the Southwest centers on the author’s great-great-grandmother who was brought to Santa Fe, NM as a German bride of Abraham Staab, a German of the Jewish faith, who had opened a dry goods store in Santa Fe in 1859. Julia Schuster, this German bride who was also Jewish, left her home in Germany and came to Santa Fe in the 1860s when Indian wars were happening, to live in a small adobe (mud) house in Santa Fe whic ...more
This was an intriguing read. It got a little too bogged down in history for my liking sometimes, but there were bits that really held my attention. I found the section about mental health particularly fascinating, as well as the overarching theme of telling your story and preserving it. This is not a "light" read...expect some thought provoking twists and turns.
Mar 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This story of a woman's search for her great-great-grandmother's true life story was absolutely captivating. It raises questions about what historical truth really is, and how much our own evolving biases and prejudices shape how we view our ancestors. The author's visits to psychics and mediums in an attempt to communicate with her ancestor's "ghost" are kind of tedious, but it's also clear the author doesn't put much stock in them. By the end, she realizes such attempts to communicate with the ...more
Joyce Vorbach
Mar 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really moving memoir of a very interesting family. Starts with a paranormal hook, which made me think it could go unserious or lightweight, and then completely surprised me by how absorbed I became in the various family stories.

Today's Nonfiction post is on American Ghost:The True Story of a Family's Haunted Past by Hannah Nordhaus. It is 336 pages long and is published by HarperCollins. The cover has the corner of a room with white window drape fluttering in the wind. There is some mild language, no sex, and talk of violence in this book. The intended reader is adult, someone interested in Jewish American history, ghost stories, or just history in general. The story told in both first person and third; first person by
May 29, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I listened to this book as an Audible book and loved it! I should hasten to add that I have traveled to Santa Fe several times and have always been fascinated by the story of the German Jews who settled there. In the Palace of the Governors history museum there are several portraits of these early settlers and now after reading the book, I can't wait to return there to match names to faces. The author explores the story of her great great grandmother (Julia Staab) who must have suffered from cli ...more
Carol D
May 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was truly an excellent book about a Jewish woman and her extended family who immigrated from Germany in the late 1800's to New Mexico before it was a state. The book is written by the great, great Grand-daughter of the matriarch of the family, Julia Staab. I enjoy historical books that include diaries and first hand knowledge from relatives and stories that are passed down through each generation. This book is not only about the Staab's and their involvement in helping to make Sante Fe a pr ...more
Harriett Milnes
Ms. Nordhaus covers a lot in this book: she researches and re-imagines the life of her great-great-grandmother, Julia Staab, who lived in Germany as a young Jewish girl and moved to Santa Fe with her new husband. Abraham Staab was a Santa Fe mover and shaker; he was involved in real estate and the mercantile business. They married in 1865 and crossed America by covered wagon! In the 1970s, Julia Staab became somewhat famous as a Santa Fe ghost, seen in her home which became La Posada, a hotel. M ...more
Apr 03, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This would be a 2.5 stars.
I was rather disappointed with this book. I thought the premise was good and there were certain parts of the book that were very good and interesting. However it felt more like a history lesson rather than dealing with what the synopsis lead you to believe, being a ghost story. I do think that it was important to provide a background on Julia and her family but really that was the major meat of this book and very little about the actual ghost story or the author's exper
Jessica Leight
Apr 19, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This was an impulse pick (an impulse download, really) from my library's collection of electronic books, and it's one I regret! I hoped for an interesting work of social and personal history. However, at least half of the book is the author's chronicle of meeting psychics and other assorted charlatans, or her own personal reflections about ghosts. She doesn't in fact know very much about the life of the protagonist (her ancestor), and what she does know, it seems, was largely discovered by other ...more
First, this is NOT a paranormal investigation, exactly. It's not a spine-tingling ghost story. But it is the story of the author who learns a lot about her family and herself after pursuing her curiosity about ancestor Julia Staab, who is said to haunt a hotel that was once the family home. I really admire the way Nordhaus pursued Staab's story and shared it through her book. Recommended, especially for people with an interest in genealogy, local history, Jewish history, and immigrant history.
Caidyn (he/him/his)
DNF at 60%

Well written, but, for me, boring. I felt meh for most of the book that I read, although there were parts of it I liked. I think that this is one I should try when I'm older and have taken an interest in looking back at my own family tree.
Connie D
Mar 19, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is more a genealogical mystery than a ghost story; both aspects are fascinating. It was strangely a page turner...I wanted to know what Hannah found out.
D Dyer
I started this book expecting a family history and perhaps a ghost story. And the book is that though not a particularly good one. Nordhaus seems unsure whether she wants to tell a story or relate history and consequently does both not very well. There is a very casual attitude about citing sources that I didn’t particularly appreciate and because so little facts are known about the subject, The life, death and subsequent haunting in Santa Fe New Mexico of the authors great-great-grandmother Jul ...more
Jul 26, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Having spent 3 years in my 20's living in Santa Fe, I was familiar with the ghost stories about La Posada, a ritzy downtown hotel. A descendant of the house's original owner and alleged ghost Julia Staab, author Hannah Nordhaus first became aware of the stories while visiting family in New Mexico as a child in the '70's. As she grew older and became a mother herself, Nordhaus decided she needed to know more about the woman behind the stories, and set off on a journey to discover as much as she c ...more
Jenny Shank
Mar 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Colorado Bookshelf: "American Ghost"

Boulder-based journalist Hannah Nordhaus goes hunting for the ghost of her great-great-grandmother, who is said to haunt a famed Santa Fe hotel, in this heavily researched historical (and personal) nonfiction narrative.

MARCH 11 2015, 4:00 PM

It's a safe bet that Boulder-based journalist Hannah Nordhaus has a better campfire ghost story than you do. Her tale involves a spirit that has alternately haunted and
Mar 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
First of all I would just like to mention that there is a fight over who gets to keep this book - my sister or myself. As of this moment she is going to snatch it away while having it disappear in her collections although I have dibs on getting it back if she chooses not to keep it.

When I read the first few pages I was caught up and then came upon the part with the first psychic. I was thinking to myself this isn't going to be good since she is going to weaken the book with all this drivel but
Jun 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
5/5 ⭐️ American Ghost by Hannah Nordhaus

I loved, loved, loved this nonfiction book about the author trying to separate family lore from the true story of Nordhaus’ great great great grandmother, a German Jewish mailorder bride who traveled across the dangerous American landscape in the mid 1800s to become wedded to the most successful businessman in the newly developing Santa Fe NM. The lavish home he later built for her has now been turned into a hotel, La Posada, and there are reports of it be
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Hannah Nordhaus is a journalist and award-winning author of The Beekeeper’s Lament (HarperCollins, 2011) and American Ghost (HarperCollins, 2015), both national bestsellers.

Her most recent book, American Ghost, untangles the life and legend of Hannah’s great-great-grandmother Julia Staab, who traveled the Santa Fe Trail to New Mexico in 1866 as a mail-order German-Jewish bride — and whose phantom

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