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Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death Hardcover – Bargain Price, August 3, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In a compelling tale with resonance for today, Blum evokes a surprising sympathy for her band of tough-minded intellectuals—among them philosophers, psychologists, even two future Nobelists—who, around the turn of the 20th century, pursued the paranormal in an attempt to bridge the gap between faith and science at a time when religion was besieged by the theory of evolution and a new scientific outlook. Foremost in the Society for Psychical Research in America was the brilliant philosopher and psychologist William James, who like the others, risked his reputation in this unorthodox pursuit. Blum unearths the history of their research, their passionate friendships and debates, as well as their private doubts about the meaning of their work. Much of the society's efforts were devoted to exposing charlatans, but even the most dogged of the members, Richard Hodgson, was baffled by Boston's Leonora Piper, a reluctant medium of rare gifts. As Hodgson obsessively studies this medium, the story grows weirder and weirder, but Blum, who was nominated for an L.A. Times Book Award for Love at Goon Park, tells it straight, never overdramatizing the strange events. She achieves deep poignancy at moments that in less gifted hands could have seemed most laughable. The result is a moving portrait of a fascinating group of people and a first-rate slice of cultural history. (Aug. 7)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Deborah Blum, a Pulitzer Prize?winning science writer and professor of science journalism at the University of Wisconsin, tackles a chapter from our past that doubly intrigues—through the search for the afterlife and the number of famous thinkers associated with it. Critics point out that, despite her compelling narrative and her evenhanded history, Blum comes up short in her examination of the reasons behind spiritualism's rise in popularity. She never wavers, however, in her ability to draw in readers with stories of famous mediums and their ability to deceive. The result is an entertaining look at the ubiquitous séances and spirit-summonings that make a study of spiritualism a worthwhile curiosity to readers more than a century later.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The; 1 edition (August 3, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594200904
  • ASIN: B000VPP9RI
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,238,867 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Deborah Blum has always considered herself a southerner, although she has no real Southern accent and was born in Illinois (Urbana, 1954). Still, her parents moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana when she was two, and to Athens, Georgia, when she was twelve. And she has always believed that the Southern culture of story-telling had a real influence on the way she uses narrative in writing about science.
After high school, Blum received a journalism degree from the University of Georgia in 1976, with a double minor in anthropology and political science. She worked for two newspapers in Georgia and one in Florida (St. Petersburg Times) before deciding to become a science writer and going to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. A University of Wisconsin fellow, she received her degree in 1982 and moved to California to work for McClatchy newspapers, first in Fresno and then in Sacramento. During her 13 years, at The Sacramento Bee, she won numerous awards for her work, culminating in the 1992 Pulitzer Prize in beat reporting for a series investigating ethical issues in primate research.
The series became her first book, The Monkey Wars (Oxford, 1994), which was named a Library Journal Best Sci-Tech book of the year. Three years later, she published Sex on the Brain: The Biological Differences Between Men and Women (Viking, 1997), which was named a New York Times Notable Book. Her 2002 book, Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection, (Perseus Books) was a finalist for The Los Angeles Times Book Prize. She followed that with Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death (Penguin Press, 2006). Her latest book, The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York, will be published in February 2010.
Blum is also the co-editor of a widely used guide to science writing, A Field Guide for Science Writers (Oxford, 2006). She is currently the Helen Firstbrook Franklin Professor of Journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she teaches science journalism, creative-non-fiction, magazine writing and investigative reporting. A past-president of the National Association of Science Writers, she currently serves as the North American board member to the World Federation of Science Journalists. She also sits on the board of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing and on the board of trustees for the Society for Society and the Public.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

81 of 87 people found the following review helpful By Michael E. Tymn VINE VOICE on September 11, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If five stars were not the limit, I'd give this book a more perfect 10!

My first awareness of this fascinating book was an e-mail from a friend who knew of my interest in the paranormal, especially spirit communication. I replied that I had not heard of the book and was not particularly interested in "ghost hunting." By the title of the book and without knowing the subtitle, I had assumed that this book was about modern parapsychologists visiting haunted houses with gadgets designed to detect "ghostly" cold spots and energy fields. I assumed wrong.

When, a few weeks later, I saw the subtitle - "William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death" - I immediately knew the book was about the pioneering psychical research of yesteryear. It is a subject very dear to me. In fact, I have written often on the subject and had recently completed my own book, "The Articulate Dead: Bringing the Spirit World Alive" (due for release by Galde Press later this year or early next year).

Noting that Blum is a Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer and journalism professor, I had more or less anticipated a contemptuous treatment of the subject matter. Since journalists generally tend to ape mainstream scientists in superciliously smirking, snickering, sneering, and scoffing at the paranormal, I assumed Blum would find much caustic humor in the pursuits of educated and reputable men (and one woman) who dared stray outside the bounds of scientific fundamentalism. I assumed wrong again.
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60 of 64 people found the following review helpful By C L on August 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Ms Blum has written a wonderful story of a heroic group of people, scientests who believed that science should explore and, if possible, test the supernatural. They endured ridicule and scorn from other scientests who believed that science should deal only with what could be seen and heard and from religious leaders who believed that scientests should leave the supernatural to them. Year after year, this group of people worked brutally hard, exposing so many fraudulent claims of supernatural occurences that you could understand if they just gave up. But, they found a few examples of the unexplainable that could not be disproven by scientific methods, and these examples are fascinating. If you are unsure about life after death and the supernatural, you will still be unsure after you read this book, but you will have a lot to think about and, also, you will be aware of some brilliant, determined people who formed a scientific organization that survived its critics and still exists today.
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46 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Melanie White on June 19, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you want a historical overview of the life of the first group of men (and one woman) who attempted to apply scientific method to supernatural or paranormal phenomena, this is your book. If you are interested in the life and times of these folks, their family background, their wives, their illnesses, their spats and squabbles, this is your book. If you want a snapshot of Victorian life, especially the low-tech contraptions and Oscar-worthy performances from the shysters who made a good living in this business, this is your book.

But if you want succint factual description of their methods or the results they obtained, you'll be frustrated, cuz that info is distributed all over the book in bits and pieces. This book is more about the men themselves than about the phenomena they investigated.

But here's the bottom line: 95% of the reports they investigated were fraud, and the majority of that tantalizing other 5% were apt to cheat too, when they could get away with it. They really only came across one person whose "gifts" continued to stand up to their scrutiny year after year.

And so, the conclusion seems to be that true paranormal or supernatural phenomena are exceedingly rare, but do indeed exist.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Mark Newbold on September 25, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An excellent, insightful and poetic book that provides historical insights into the founding and early years of both the Psychical Research Society in the UK and its American counter-part. Moreover it's a biographical study focusing on William James as the personal lens by which to view the lives and dedication of the initial founders of these organizations and the pioneering work they began. The historical/biographical efforts along these lines has been sorely needed for sometime. Nothing in contemporary parapsychological literature quite compares to Ms. Blum's work.
This is a complex and admirable psychological study of these remarkably brilliant men and women that questioned those existential questions of the survival of death in a rigorous scientific manner for the first time. Driven, passionate and personally tragic for many of the original founders, this offers a glimpse into the social forces that sent these men on their search for that "otherness" beyond the mundane world.
This work also offers a brief but excellent overview of the "cross correspondences" one of the strongest, on-going and too little known experiments that offers what some including myself believe to be one of the best cases for personal survival of death we have available.
This is one volume that should be on the bookshelf of anyone intrested in Parapsychology and it's history.
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