Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife – Book Review

Spookby: Mary Roach

Publisher:  W. W. Norton & Company

Copyright: 2005, ISBN: [0393329127]

Cover:  Keenan

Type:  Hardcover

reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, January 6, 2006


Summary: Amazing vapor in 311 pages of print: ghostly in fact. An examination of what happens at the time of death.



Somewhere in this little 311 page mirthful tome where “science tackles the afterlife”, there may be a genuine perspective on science and the “afterlife”. Between relating what she had for lunch, how long it took her to travel from one researcher to the next, author Mary Roach successfully avoids providing the reader with a perspective on the topic discussed-reincarnation, spiritualism, etc.. SPOOK is the ultimate demonstration of an open mind swamped by reality, tethered to the conviction that if you don’t understand it, you can at least laugh at it. Wrong.

At the end of the book, the author offers what some may take as an apology for what proceeded when she writes, “People assume that authors are experts in the field about which they have chosen to write. . . Possibly I’m the only one who begins a project from a state of near absolute ignorance. . .it makes me an especially irksome presence in my sources’ lives.” And to this, she could have added, without fear of being accused of exaggeration, an irksome presence in the lives of readers.

SPOOK covers topis related to death and the “afterlife”-more properly called, the afterdeath. Reincarnation for instance. We die. We are born again in a new body but without memories of the previous life. That’s the beginning and end-so to speak–of reincarnation as a concept. Roach takes us to India. Here, we are to surmise that children will affect memories of having lived a previous life in another village so that they can get attention and possibly a little fame and travel. After dragging us through twenty or so pages to us arrive at this rather non-earthshaking conclusion, she writes, “How would the suddenly homeless soul get itself situated someplace new? How does spirit. . .infuse itself into a clump of cells quietly multiplying on a uterus wall? How do you get in there?” Presumably, the author went through a lot of thought before posing these questions because they are awfully darn presumptive. We have just come through twenty pages of discussing the validity of reincarnation and get tossed all the way back to pondering whether there is any concept we can append the tag “soul” onto. And then, we are prompted by her questions to figure out the “soul’s” itinerary and whether that itinerary might take it to a cell in a woman’s uterus. This is a little too much work for this reader. And so it goes.

As you read through the book, there is nothing memorable-nothing jumps out at you as an original thought, perspective or slant on the commonality of the subject. If you have read noting on “New Age” spiritualism, this book might, just might, give you the correct shot of skepticism to wade through the nonsense. (A more entertaining and informative route if you’re looking for a foundation to judge “new agism” would be to read introductory material on quantum physics-most of the new age lingo-vibrations, channeling- was lifted from quantum physics).

SPOOK is supposed to be humorous. None found. There are gripes about car traffic, hotels, food, rats, yada, yada, yada. Hey! it’s your dime, your ticket.

Will reading this add anything substantive to my life?

Mary Roach’s first book was titled STIFF. This reviewer has not read it. If you follow these pages at all, you know we do not read authors, we read books. Could be that STIFF was an excellent work. SPOOK is not. Aside from the research she refers to, SPOOK is awfully darn boring, without a cohesive, well thought out perspective, and, alas, alas, without a purpose.