If author Mary Roach was a college professor, she'd have a zero drop-out rate. That's because when Roach tackles a subject--like the posthumous human body in her previous bestseller, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
, or the soul in the winning Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife
--she charges forth with such zeal, humour, and ingenuity that her students (er, readers) feel like they're witnessing the most interesting thing on Earth. Who the heck would skip that? As Roach informs us in her introduction, "This is a book for people who would like very much to believe in a soul and in an afterlife for it to hang around in, but who have trouble accepting these things on faith. It's a giggly, random, utterly earthbound assault on our most ponderous unanswered question." Talk about truth in advertising. With that, Roach grabs us by the wrist and hauls butt to India, England, and various points in between in search of human spiritual ephemera, consulting an earnest bunch of scientists, mystics, psychics, and kooks along the way. It's a heck of a journey and Roach, with one eyebrow mischievously cocked, is a fantastically entertaining tour guide, at once respectful and hilarious, dubious yet probing. And brother, does she bring the facts. Indeed, Spook
's myriad footnotes are nearly as riveting as the principal text. To wit: "In reality, an X-ray of the head could not show the brain, because the skull blocks the rays. What appeared to be an X-ray of the folds and convolutions of a human brain inside a skull--an image circulated widely in 1896--was in fact an X-ray of artfully arranged cat intestines." Or this: "Medical treatises were eminently more readable in Sanctorius's day. Medicina statica
delved fearlessly into subjects of unprecedented medical eccentricity: 'Cucumbers, how prejudicial,' and the tantalizing 'Leaping, its consequences.' There's even a full-page, near-infomercial-quality plug for something called the Flesh-Brush." While rigid students of theology might take exception to Roach's conclusions (namely, we're just a bag of bones killing time before donning a soil blanket) it's hard to imagine anyone not enjoying this impressively researched and immensely readable book. And since, as Roach suggests, each of us has only one go-round, we might as well waste downtime with something thoroughly fun. --Kim Hughes
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From Publishers Weekly
The deadpan humor and subtle wit that journalist Roach (Stiff
) is known for is overshadowed by Quigley's exaggerated delivery in this disappointing audio adaptation. Like Roach's previous book, this exploration of the afterlife is loaded with unusual historical facts, oddball encounters and humorous observations. Unfortunately, Quigley performs rather than reads the material, and her snarky, knowing tone is as out of sync with Roach's earnest investigation as are her atrocious character voices. For reincarnation researcher Dr. Rawat, she adopts a heavily accented voice as subtle as The Simpsons
' Hindu grocer, Apu. Professor Gerry Naham is lent a nasally, squeaky voice, apparently to convey his nerdiness (he aims to build a system that can detect the departure of a dying person's soul using electromagnetic energy). Then there's sheep rancher Lewis Hollander, whom Quigley gives the mellow voice of a stoned hippie despite Roach's description of him as "a kindly, soft-spoken guy"; one almost expects Hollander to preface his description of his homegrown soul-weighing experiment with "dude." Quigley transforms these intriguing, eccentric people into caricatures and makes this a grating listen.
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