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A Natural History of Ghosts Hardcover – International Edition, December 25, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


This splendid book ... [is] a compelling read ... Clarke manages to give goose-flesh and a giggle while informing the reader - an enviable feat Scotsman Researched with seriousness, and written with evident delight. Roger Clarke is a journalist, and the youngest invited member of the Society for Psychical Research: he is a fan with critical distance. He tackles everything from the troubled roots of Methodism to haunted toys that command premiums on eBay. He also tells a few cracking ghost stories ... [The book is] beautifully written ... lithe, complicated and hugely rewarding -- James McConnachie Sunday Times A highly enjoyable (and disturbing work) ... I am in awe of [Clarke's] intrepidity Guardian Outstanding ... Those of us who have spent years fascinated by the fiction of the supernatural - devouring books and films on an endless loop - will be in love with Clarke's book from the very first page ... The book is by no means a simple chronology of hauntings. While important events are dealt with in detail, the reader is treated to a wonderful array of incidental tales and observations in the passing, often through Clark's occasionally very witty end Notes ... Clarke's dissection of the shocks, sadnesses and sexiness of the seance tables from the late Victorian era brilliantly done ... The book is deeply enjoyable, hugely informative and at times distinctly unsettling Shade Point A fascinating social history ... exceptionally well written and researched Starburst Magazine Britain has over 500-years' worth of ghost stories in the cupboard and in The Natural History of Ghosts, Roger Clarke makes them dance ... the most original and readable book exploring our ghost-rich culture to appear for years ... fascinating Fortean Times An intriguing, shivers-down-the-spine book The Lady Lively and absorbing ... Clarke, a seasoned ghost-hunter whose still unfulfilled ambition is to see a ghost, plainly loves his subject, and has read extensively in and around the social history of haunting ... [he] has proven himself an ideal guide to this troubled and disorderly realm Literary Review Simmering as it is with personal reflections, this handsome volume ... is bursting with a giddy passion, buoyed further by an expert's thirst for abstruse facts. The main pleasure of reading this book is Clarke's own enthusiasm, intelligence and seriousness ... a deeply interesting, revealing read Book Hugger Why do ghosts wear clothes? This is just one of a number of interesting questions raised by this jaunty book ... In a series of short, snappy chapters, Clarke examines the evidence for just about every ghost who ever drew, or withdrew, breath ... but A Natural History of Ghosts is also haunted by another story, lurking not very far beneath: the story of the author's childhood need to believe in ghosts, and the gradual erosion of that belief -- Craig Brown Daily Mail A gripping history that traces the scientific and social aspects of ghostly sightings Telegraph Compelling ... Research into the paranormal necessarily involves a fair degree of debunking, and Clarke is careful to be sceptical. The narrative of ghost-hunting is simultaneously a history and exposure of fraud and popular delusion ... [yet] Clarke retains a boyish and ... well-informed enthusiasm for his subject Independent [A] voyage through the half-lit world of lost souls ... tales told with ghoulish relish Telegraph A timely and comprehensive survey of 500 years of English huntings, up to the present day -- Peter Lewis Daily Mail A racy survey of five hundred years of spirit lore ... Clarke has handy information on the origins of well-known ghost stories. He tells you where Henry James probably got the germ of the idea for The Turn of the Screw ... he gives a deft sketch of the original Woman in Black ... [An] entertaining story of human folly and suggestibility London Review of Books

About the Author

Raised in a haunted house, Roger Clarke is best known as a film-writer for the Independent newspaper and more recently Sight & Sound. He was the youngest person ever to join the Society for Psychical Research in the 1980s and was getting his ghost stories published by the The Pan & Fontana series of horror books aged only 15, when Roald Dahl asked his agent to take him on as a client. A published poet, his libretto for The Man with the Footsoles of Wind was performed at the Almeida Theatre in London in 1993. This is the book he always wanted to write.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Particular Books (December 25, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846143330
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846143335
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1.3 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,685,345 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By DAVID BRYSON VINE VOICE on December 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This book can be recommended in many ways. The author obviously knows his way around the records of `supernatural' manifestations, he writes well, he is unfailingly rational without being any committed sceptic, and his coverage of the subject is more comprehensive than I have encountered before. If you want to know what the underlying theme of the book is, that turns out to be a more elusive issue than you might expect. Roger Clarke plunges directly in medias res - an account of his own experiences - without any foreword or introduction, so I tried the dust-jacket to see whether that might help. After some standard sales-puffery about `the first comprehensive, authoritative and readable history of the evolution of the ghost in the west' it asks `What explains the sightings of Ghosts?'

Well, what indeed? We have to get to the very last chapter before we find any real attempt at generalisation, and the generalisation concerns the kinds of people who have purportedly experienced `supernatural' events. We end the book without any proper summing-up or categorisation of the events themselves, as distinct from the sources of reports. In the second chapter Clarke offers what I hoped might form the basis for such a summary with eight `varieties', derived from one Peter Underwood. These are Elementals, Poltergeists, Traditional or Historical Ghosts, Mental Imprint Manifestations, Crisis or Death-survival Apparitions, Time Slips, Ghosts of the Living, Haunted Inanimate Objects. I am not going to quibble with that, but after clinging to these categories like Hope clinging to her anchor all the way through the following 16 chapters I was left with whatever I myself had managed to put together from passing observations of the author's.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Linda Cody on January 27, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Roger Clarke has been steeping himself in ghost lore since he was a child. This knowledge, combined with excellent scholarship, gives the reader accounts of ghosts reaching back into the 1600s, and depicts how they were witnessed, and how they were investigated at the time. I was fascinated reading the history of ghost exploration, and how it changed with the years. Clarke also mentions the attentions paid to mediums during the Victorian period, and offers reasons why they were so popular, and how they fell out of favor. Of especial interest is Clarke's account of the Hinton Ampner haunting, which was carefully documented in a diary by the woman living in the house, and was probably the inspiration for Henry James' "The Turn of the Screw."

A riveting account - fine bedside reading!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Laura Munoz on October 19, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
I'm sure Roger Clarke is very accurate in his details, but that being said, this book drags. He covers every last bit of information that may or may not be pertinent to the story. Sometimes you are left wondering, "Why did he mention that? Who cares." Mind you, I'm only on page 152, but it's a tedious read. I bought the book to take with me to the park, but picking up where you left off isn't easy. Does it get better? I hope so. I looked at a few pages toward the end of the book and see the date of 1937. I think this is probably as close as he gets to modern ghost stories. I wouldn't buy this book again.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ghosts have haunted us, it seems, for as long as we have been able to worry about the afterlife. The ghost of Achilles wails to Ulysses, “I would rather be a paid servant in a poor man’s house and be above ground, than king of kings among the dead.” Nowadays even our computers’ spellcheckers may be haunted, at least according to a footnote within _A Natural History of Ghosts: 500 Years of Hunting for Proof_ (Particular Books) by columnist Roger Clarke, who grew up in a haunted house and was the youngest person ever to be invited to join the British Society for Psychical Research. In 1998, the SPR investigated the case of a report being typed about a particular ghost named Prudentia, and the spellchecker highlighted the name and suggested that “dead,” “buried,” and “cellar” be considered for alternatives. Ghosts, you see, go through their fashions as much as do we living. This ought to tell us more about people than about ghosts, and Clarke’s book is a wonderful entertainment, with plenty of spooky stories, frauds, pranks, impossibilities, and seemingly inexplicable events. Clarke is obviously fascinated with his subject, and is able to convey the fascination. He has a good reporter’s distance on the stories he covers here, with an appropriate skepticism that makes the tales more, not less, fun.

Before investigating what ghosts do, it might be best to consider the big question: Do ghosts exist? You won’t get an answer here because Clarke is dismissive of the question, one that he says belongs in a London of the nineteenth century. “In a basic sense,” he writes, “ghosts exist because people constantly report that they see them. This is not a book about whether ghosts exist or not.
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