The Modern Book of the Dead: A Revolutionary Perspective on Death, the Soul, and What Really Happens in the Life to Come

Ptolemy Tompkins. Atria, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4516-1652-1

From Egyptian and Tibetan books of the dead to contemporary near-death experience reports, Tompkins (The Divine Life of Animals) rigorously reviews literature about the edge of life in seeking answers to what the afterlife may hold. “Our beliefs about the world beyond are hopelessly vague,” writes the author, who argues that scientific reason has undermined our faith in the possibility of consciousness surviving the body. Tompkins, whose research was prompted in part by the death of his father, New Age author Peter Tompkins, synthesizes Eastern and Western beliefs to arrive at a theory of the afterlife that accepts reincarnation and a forward-moving process of spiritual evolution. By incorporating timeless traditions alongside more esoteric ideas, this volume is a winning history of humanity’s numerous imaginings of the hereafter. But Tompkins also interprets his sources, arriving at a possible geography of the afterlife that reconciles a variety of cultural understandings. Though readers may not agree with all the specific features on Tompkins’s otherworldly map, this is a smoothly written and well-argued odyssey into the unknown. Agency: Ross Yoon. (Feb.)