From Publishers Weekly
This latest offering from Brennan, an Irish writer of nonfiction (The Martian Genesis) and children's books (Frankenstella and the Video Store Monster), is a study of death from a variety of angles. A historical chapter on the devastation caused by the bubonic plague is informative and interesting, as is the author's coverage of the Ebola virus and of modern dangers associated with the overuse of antibiotics. Brennan also includes a thoughtful overview of the ways various religions regard death and immortality. But when he turns his attention to ghosts, mediums, out-of-body experiences (OOBE) and other psychic phenomena which are clearly his chief interest more skeptical readers may raise an eyebrow. Brennan has done a number of experiments using hypnosis to trigger OOBE in subjects and the results of these, along with examples done by others in the field, are used to support his arguable conclusion that "there is a substantial body of evidence to suggest the second body everyone experiences during an OOBE is something more than a subjective reality." In addition, Brennan details a theoretical account of the death experience that is based on a murky merge of Tibetan religious beliefs and testimonials from those who have survived near-death encounters. The author's claim that actual death is characterized by "calm, freedom from pain, the possibility of continuity..." will reassure believers and irritate rationalists.
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Brennan explores death in every way possible, it seems, rewarding readers who persevere through the opening discussion of probable contemporary causes of death --"you might be killed by a soft-drink machine as happened to fifteen Americans . . . during the 1980s"--with a thumbnail history of the plague, two chapters on the history of the afterlife, a discussion of cloning ("Heirs and Spares") rife with portent in the post-Ted Williams world, and more. His disquisition on ghosts notes notable ghost sightings and the possibility that "time slips" are in fact what observers experienced, concluding that "there is considerable evidence that something of this sort exists." In the chapter "Phantoms of the Living," he considers whether out-of-body experiences, of which evidence abounds, indicate the existence of a "second body" that "separates from the first" at death and supports consciousness thereafter. If they do, is this "an additional basis for confidence in postmortem survival?" Heady, engrossing stuff that may make readers strangely eager to die and find out whether Brennan's conclusions hold up. Mike TribbyCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved