Book review: Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife

by Mary Roach


I loved this book for its entertainment value, but … Science Tackles the Afterlife? I mean, let’s get real, this is Mary Roach. Author of Stiff. You’re not getting convincing science for your money, you’re buying a colorful ride along the surface and around the edge. Mary touches on reincarnation, electromagnetic fields, where the soul resides physically in the body, mediums in lab studies, haunted houses, and near-death experiences.

Did you know the soul weighs three quarters of an ounce? In 1907 Duncan Macdougall measured how much a dead person’s body weight abruptly drops at the precise moment, it is assumed, that the soul leaves the body. But pursuing the study became difficult. Who would volunteer to die in Macdougall’s lab? Stymied by friction with officials, Macdougall resorted to weighing dogs on a scale he set up in his barn. Owing to the difficulty of finding dogs dying from a disease that rendered them exhausted and motionless, he immobilized and then killed them via injection. Unfortunately, not a single dog showed a drop in weight as it died. Macdougall’s conclusion: Dog’s don’t have souls.

The book’s finest quality is its ability to ride the fence, simultaneously teasing you with dubious but honest-to-God studies of the afterlife while bordering on tongue-in-cheek humor. Occasionally, Mary slips up, as in her explanation of the soul’s weight.  “Theory one: Macdougall was a nutter.”

Oh, and the ghostly pictures … I loved them, too.

Can any study or anybody in this book be taken seriously? Oops, gotta go, it’s time for Ghost Hunters on the telly.

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