The Science of Ghosts – “Spook” by Mary Roach
So let me get this out of the way before we begin.
Of Mary Roach’s four books (all of which I’ve now read) “Spook” is my least favorite.
This isn’t really an insult, as her previous works, “Stiff,” “Bonk,” and “Packing for Mars,” were all such brilliantly crafted pieces of non-fiction that I couldn’t put them down, and have passed my copies on to other people so they, too, could experience the wonder of Ms. Roach and her nerdy-self-deprecating-science writing.
Where the other books tackled the science behind humans in space travel, sex research, and what happens to cadavers after they’ve been donated, “Spook” tries to take a scientific approach to a completely un-scientific thing; ghosts. Roach calls up the experts and the history in the fields of everything from EVP recording to the long-held legend of how a ghost helped a man uncover a long-lost will.
It all adds up perfectly. But something is missing. Maybe it’s because where Roach has knocked it out of the park with the science of dead bodies, sex, and space (all established sciences), ghost hunting is more free-form, and less easy to prove or disprove.
That said, she gives it her all.
Roach, as always, is lively and candid as she trudges through the trenches. She’s not afraid to go where other, more squeamish, writers might fear to tread. Like a champ, she picks up her tape recorder and, you know, goes to one of the reported sites on the Donner Party trail. Just another day at the office.
I didn’t dislike this book. Far from it. I’m really glad I read it. The section on ectoplasm and the lengths early mediums would go to is mind-blowing. (And must have been pretty convincing for early 20th century minds – Houdini himself was brought in to see if he could figure out how the tricks were being done.)
All in all, though, “Spook” is a slightly less-than-brilliant book from an undeniably brilliant writer.
My not loving, merely liking, this book won’t stop me from picking up Roach’s next book with hope and delight.