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“Spook” by Mary Roach

Years ago, maybe 20 (though I hate to admit that), there was a wonderful medicine magazine written for laypeople--Hippocrates. It later became Health magazine and just another woman’s magazine with a purported focus on health (like Self was at the beginning and Woman’s Health is today). Hippocrates, though, was different. It explained health and medical issues (affecting men and women) in a way that was easy to understand but not at all dumbed down. I can remember reading every issue from cover to cover.

One reason Hippocrates was so good was due to the reporting, writing, and wry humor of Mary Roach. Ms. Roach has written lots of magazine articles since then and four books: Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers; Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife; Bonk: The Coupling of Science and Sex; and Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void.

Stiff was quite good and I bought a copy for my cousin, who is working on his master’s and PhD in oncology research (he liked it too). It described how human remains are used for research and what materials are sometimes substituted for some real dead people (as anyone who watches “Mythbusters” knows... ballistics gel). I hope to read Bonk and Packing for Mars soon. But I was slightly disappointed with Spook.

I guess I read it hoping to find that Ms. Roach made contact with spirits or found that there is an afterlife. Instead she found nothing. Still, Ms. Roach writes so well, it was fun to read and thoroughly researched. Read it to find out why some scientists thought they had found out how much a soul weighed or why some ghost hunters try to record the sounds of the long-departed. But resist it if you want to believe in an afterlife.

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