The Natural History of Ghosts

The Natural History of Ghosts: 500 Years of Hunting for Proof (Roger Clarke)

The Sunday Times review grab on the cover tells us that this book is “beautifully written, lithe, complicated and hugely rewarding”.  “Beautifully written”.  Two words that send a shiver down the spine.  “Lithe, complicated and hugely rewarding”. Promises, promises. Unfortunately, the book is  lithe and complicated in that there is no readily discernible structure to the context.  “A Natural History” will only be hugely rewarding to those who  wish to read or reread a telling of famous ghost stories – The Angel Warriors of Mons*,  the Bell Witch case (although this one is disappointingly glossed over), the Cock Lane ghost and so on.  I had hoped to learn more of the scientific theories of  what ghosts are, or why we see them.  The book starts well with a taxonomy of ghosts and is at its best when touching on ghost-explaining theories including ESP, quantum entanglement (utterly incomprehensible), cytoskeletal shadows and  electrical  forces. (interestingly enough, no “I see dead people” stuff here).  Intriguing questions are asked – why do ghosts wear clothing? (This is answered by the ghost who told Lord Auerbach that she was “‘ a ball of energy’ without form projecting her appearance onto the minds of those looking at her”.). I was surprised to learn that ghosts used to be. seen at least as often in the day as at night, and once upon a time the ghost you saw was unlikely to be someone known to you .  It is also of use to know that ghosts could be trying to communicate with you via your computer spellchecker (must be intolerant American ghosts then).  Overall, a book which enthusiasts and adolescents will marvel at, but not the rest of us.

*On this disturbing tale of social media memes before social media, TVC recommends the excellent, “The Angel of Mons” by David Clarke.

“Ghosts on a Tree” by Franz Sedlacek (1933)

1 Comment

  1. Reply

    Smug of Glebe

    January 15, 2016

    Didn't Alan Partridge declare that God is a gas? And doesn't 'beautifully written' need to be put into context with other chilling words, such as in the sentence: "Beautifully written, Joyce Carol Oates!"

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