Thursday, August 12, 2010

who you gonna call

Mary Roach is rapidly becoming one of my favourite writers. She has a gift for not only explaining complex scientific concepts with clarity, but also for tackling her subjects with real humour and in a manner that allows her delightful personality to shine through. She is nearing the top of my list of Famous People I Would Like to Sit Beside at a Dinner Party.

If you recall how, a few months ago,
I gushed over my initial exposure to Roach’s writing, the intriguing
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, you will appreciate how thrilled I was when the RO located a copy of Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife in our local library.

It was well worth the overdue fines.

Stiff, Roach touched briefly upon the search for the human soul, primarily upon historical attempts to pinpoint the anatomical home of the immortal spirit. In Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, she expands vastly upon the initial inquiry. She hearkens back to her mother’s attempt to instill religious faith in her as a child, and how those catechism classes were eventually bested by her need to understand how those bible stories were scientifically possible.

Mary Roach approaches her investigations into gathering evidence for the presence of a spirit that continues its existence after the body has shaken off its earthy presence, with an open mind and scientific detachment.
She is not a debunker, nor is she one of the faithful; rather, she is an impartial scientist with a sense of wonder, who admits that she would like to believe in the afterlife, but that for her, belief requires evidence.

Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, Roach travels to India to observe investigations into reincarnation claims, recounts historical medical attempts to pinpoint the loci of the soul and the start of life, chronicles the lengthy and often bizarre glory days of the spiritual medium and the whole ectoplasm thing, with all its absurdity. She travels to Britain for a crash course in a medium school, allows herself to be subjected to electromagnetic and infrasonic haunting, reopens a legal dispute won by a ghost, and recounts current investigations into near death experiences.

I admit that I found the subject matter in
Stiff more compelling than that in Spook, but that is a reflection of my fascination with all things physiological, as opposed to the strengths of Roach’s respective books. The first chance I get I will grab copies of Mary Roach’s other books, the charmingly entitled Bonk: the Curious Coupling of Science and Sex and her new book Packing for Mars: the Curious Science of Life in the Void.

You may enjoy this video on Mary Roach's website, chronicling the issue of minimal personal hygiene examined in
Packing for Mars.


Captain Karen said...

Mary Roach was recently on the Daily Show talking about Packing for Mars. I knew her name sounded familiar but couldn't think of where I had heard it. I did know though that I wanted to read Packing for Mars. All of her books sound fantastic.

John Mutford said...

How accurate is Flatliners?

Anonymous said...

Geez, I must live under a rock or something. I haven't heard about these books. Sounds very interesting.

Jas B said...

Need to get hold of those books!

I would be in a full time program called Transition into Alberta Classrooms in preparation for a teaching career in K-12 schools! And I'd be working in the lab, same lab part time for a few hours a week after school. See u soon!

Emma said...

I totally want to read that book! I loved Stiff and this one sounds really cool too. Yay science!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I wish I had seen that, Karen. I wonder if she is as interesting in person as she is as an author?
I actually learn a great deal from her books, in addition to being enormously entertained.

110%, John.

The Resident Offspring introduced me to her books, Mr Anchovy. They are worth checking into.

You'd love them, Jas! Physiology in action!
It sounds like you are going to be really busy once you move back. I hope it all goes well.
We'll have to get together!

Wasn't Stiff absolutely fascinating, Emma? Mind-bogglingly good.

Dr. Monkey Hussein Monkerstein said...

She's a great writer and she's totally hot too.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

She is a bit of a cutey, isn't she, Dr M?

S.M. Elliott said...

Looks far better than the discount-bin book on poltergeists I just read.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Discount bins can sometimes yield treasures, SME, but more often than not, just discounted junk.