2007: 143. Ghost Hunters

“No one saw the girl die.  It was just a little too early, a morning still too dark, first light barely warming the edge of the sky.”

Ghost Hunters, Deborah Blum

This book was a disappointment.  I read about it somewhere (maybe the New York Review of Books?), and thought it would be fab - the true life story of how, at the end of the nineteenth century, scientists turned their attention to trying to determine whether or not spiritualism was real.  Famous scientists, who had made great discoveries (the most famous was William James) dedicated years of their lives to examining mediums, and psychic phenomena.  They were often mocked for it, but they remained determined to discover whether there was some kind of life after death.

Interesting, no? The whole 19th century spiritualism craze never fails to capture my attention, but this book, which started off on a creepy note with the tale of a dead girl’s body found through a psychic dream, quickly devolved into a boring history of the inter-group sniping at the psychic society.  Too much who did what when, and not enough discoveries made.  This may just be the nature of the topic (there has, after all been no scientific discovery of an afterlife, leaving the author with nothing else to talk about), but the book dragged, and I was left feeling as one often can with non-fiction books, that this would have been a killer article in The New Yorker, but that there really wasn’t enough of general interest for a whole book.  

The one thing that was somewhat interesting was that Blum describes at least one medium that she never really debunks.  The scientist believed that Leonora Piper was the real deal - and by the end of the book we are left thinking that just maybe Blum does too (or, to be fair, that she can’t come up with some other rational explanation).

Recommended for:  People interested in the James family, Harvard grads who took classes at William James Hall; people who want to know about how 19th century scientific societies were run.


Date/Place Completed: 9/12/07; D.C.

Categories: Non-Fiction; Library Boo

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017