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Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife

Mary Roach, Author
Mary Roach, Author . Norton $24.95 (311p) ISBN 978-0-393-05962-5
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Roach made an exceptional debut two years ago with Stiff— it might seem a hard act to follow. Yet she has done it again: after her study of what becomes of our mortal coil after death, she now presents an equally smart, quirky, hilarious look at whether there is a soul that survives our physical demise. Roach perfectly balances her skepticism and her boundless curiosity with a sincere desire to know. She ranges into the oddest nooks and crannies of both science and belief (and scientists who believe), regaling the reader with tales of Duncan Macdougall, a respected surgeon who weighed consumptives at their moment of death to see if the escaping soul could be measured in ounces, and of female mediums who, during séances, extruded a substance called ectoplasm from their private parts (she even examines a piece of alleged ectoplasm archived at Cambridge University). She goes to school to learn to be a medium, subjects her brain to electromagnetic waves to see if they induce the experience of seeing ghosts and joins a group trying to record sounds made by the spirits of the Donner party. The text is littered with footnotes: tangential but delicious tidbits that Roach clearly couldn't bear to leave out. She is an original who can enliven any subject with wit, keen reporting and a sly intelligence. Agent, Jay Mandel . 12-city author tour; 40-city radio satellite tour .(Oct.)

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