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Unbelievable: Investigations into Ghosts, Poltergeists, Telepathy, and Other Unseen Phenomena, from the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory

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Unbelievable: Investigations into Ghosts, Poltergeists, Telepathy, and Other Unseen Phenomena, from the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory [Hardcover]

Stacy Horn
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 10, 2009

From The Sixth Sense to Medium, Ghost Whisperer to Ghost Hunters, the paranormal stirs heated debate, spawning millions of believers and skeptics alike. Nearly half of us say we believe in ghosts, and two-thirds of us believe in life after death.

What would you make of rain barrels that refill themselves? Psychic horses? Mind-reading Cold War spies? For a group of scientists at the Duke Parapsychology Lab under the leadership of Dr. J. B. Rhine—considered the Einstein of the paranormal—such mysteries demanded further investigation. From 1930 to 1980, these dedicated men and women attempted to test the bizarre, the frightening, and the unexplainable against the rigors of science, ultimately finding proof that the human mind possesses telepathic powers.

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

This is a fond look at J. B. Rhine and his colleagues and protégés in the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory, which, no longer affiliated with Duke University, lives on as the Rhine Research Center Institute for Parapsychology. Rhine and the lab were dedicated to scientific study and quantification of ESP and related phenomena. They got results such that, in the 1930s, the head of Duke’s psychology department declared Rhine’s work to be “the first hard evidence that the elusive proof of life after death might be out there.” Rhine’s results weren’t universally accepted, though, and the academic warfare over the lab and Rhine constitutes a major plotline here. Writing crisply and fairly objectively, Horn sympathizes enough with Rhine and his work to give her account a perhaps unjustified sunniness. But then, as many incidents she reports indicate, hardly anyone approaches the paranormal without bias. A dandy sources list and frequent references to Rhine’s colleagues and rivals point the way to more information. --Mike Tribby


“Some of the explanations here, backed by scientific fact, will send shivers up readers’ spines.” (Bust Magazine)

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; First Edition edition (March 10, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061116858
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061116858
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #607,527 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Captivating History November 3, 2010
I stumbled upon this book in the science section of my favourite bookstore. When I saw the words "ghosts", "poltergeists" and "telepathy" in its subtitle, I thought that it had simply been misplaced from another section. But upon browsing it, it became clear to me that this was really a history of serious scientific research into the paranormal. So, out of curiosity, I bought it and read it - and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The book's main focus is the professional life of Dr. J.B. Rhine, a botanist by training, who, along with his associates, performed decades of serious scientific research into the psychical abilities of humans. In particular, he and his team concentrated on ESP/telepathy, but they also delved into psychokinesis and, to a much lesser extent, various ghostly phenomena (although these are also extensively discussed). The book follows Dr. Rhine from the mid 1920s to his death in 1980, and concentrates on his work before, especially during, and after the creation (and his directorship) of the Duke University Parapsychology Laboratory (which existed from 1935 to 1962).

Thanks especially to the author's clear, friendly and engaging prose, but also due to the interesting social climate of the period covered and the subject matter itself, I found this book to be absolutely fascinating and very difficult to put down. This book should be of great interest to anyone fascinated by the history of serious, scientific research into the paranormal. Since the author does not "take sides" in this controversial subject but reports the events in a seemingly very objective manner, the book should prove to be quite enjoyable to both "sceptics" and "believers" alike.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent! April 16, 2009
By D. Dodd
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed this book. I've read quite a few books on the paranormal, and this is one of the best. Ms. Horn manages to present a smart and fair overview of decades worth of research in an entertaining and readable way. She reports - but leaves it to the reader to draw their own conclusion about Rhine's work. She's also included a number of stories from the Duke case files from people who reported some pretty weird experiences (a number of which appear to have a reasonable amount of corroboration). While I consider myself to be an open-minded skeptic regarding claims of ghosts, I have to confess that at a couple of points in the book the hair stood up on the back of my neck. Bottom line, whether you are interested in the science or just looking for fun and creepy, this book has it covered. Highly recommended!
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good introduction to the field, lacking detail March 21, 2010
When I graduated from college with a psychology degree I seriously considered parapsychology as a profession, but ultimately many of the downsides Horn mentions in this book put me off it. But in my research I came across the Duke lab, of course, as well as most of the others mentioned in this book. Already having an interest in the field, I've done some research on the subject myself, so was already basically familiar with a lot of what is talked about in this book. I was disappointed that it didn't seem to go much further than what I'd read already about the lab, so I'd say this is a good book for someone with no previous knowledge on this topic, but doomed to be a bit of a disappointment to someone wishing for some more intimate tidbits of information or scientific details. Like another reviewer mentioned, I felt like not enough detail was given into the actual experiments taking place in the lab itself over all those years, just a watered-down summary and side stories.

It's well written in a fairly dispassionate journalist's style, and speckled with enough ghost stories to keep it entertaining, even if (as another reviewer points out) a lot of them had only a very tangential relationship to Duke. So I can't say I didn't enjoy reading this book. I don't know if there just wasn't in fact enough variety of research going on at the Rhine lab to fill a whole book without resorting to anecdotes that were pretty much dismissed by Rhine, and without much actual research on his part, but it felt superficial to me, like it glossed over the work going on at the actual lab and then padded out the rest of the book with more 'entertaining' ghost stories of the day.
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Believe it... March 11, 2009
I don't believe in ghosts, but I wouldn't want to offend one. If you suffer from a similar ambivalence, you should check out Unbelievable by Stacy Horn. An indefatigable reporter, Horn, takes a hard-nosed look at the research done over five decades by scientists at Duke University into the paranormal. The team, headed by Dr. J. B. Rhine, seemed to conclude that telepathy, at least, is quantifiable, leaving it it open to strafing from colleagues in more conservative disciplines. Along the way, Horn produces a trove of fascinating anecdotes, the jewel in the crown being the case of Eliza Jumel, prostitute turned heiress, who was accused, unjustly Horn feels, of having killed her wealthy French husband in order to marry Aaron Burr. Her unquiet soul purportedly haunts their former New York domicile, the Morris-Jumel mansion. Well, I won't give away the story and spoil a jucy read. Beyond entertaining, Unbelievable, poses thoughtful questions about the soul and the form it might take in an afterlife, one of the most trenchant observations on the subject being rasied the British Anthropologist Ashley Montague. In an editorial published by Time Magazine he castigated the hubris of humans clinging to the idea of reincarnation."Not knowing what to do with themselves on a rainy afternoon...[they] nevertheless, want to live forever." (Good point. I for one, will settle for oblivion.) If you enjoy Unbelievable, you should also check out Horn's Restless Sleep: Inside New York City's Cold Case Squad and her darkly hilarious memoir, Waiting for My Cats to Die.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The cases studied are interesting and should satisfy the number of...
Not as sensational as the title might at first imply, this is a relatively no-nonsense report on the scientific research undertaken by Dr. J. B. Read more
Published 3 months ago by John Findley
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Published 3 months ago by Godot
5.0 out of 5 stars I especially enjoyed learning how many names that I recognized from...
As someone who has followed for decades the work of J.B Rhine and the Rhine Research Center I have been aware of bits and pieces of their story, but never had a complete picture of... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Mystical Minds Bookstore
1.0 out of 5 stars One Star
Badly written, sketchy, incomplete
Published 5 months ago by Paulguad
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Published 5 months ago by becki
4.0 out of 5 stars All that's lacking is a cameo by Peter Venkman
Unbelievable is the book that everyone who read Alexandra Sokoloff's terrible The Unseen was actually hoping for, an insider's guide to the goings-on of the Rhine Lab, Duke's famed... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Jennifer Grey
2.0 out of 5 stars Much like the lab itself, ultimately unconvincing.
Was it worth investigating? You bet! Did it lead anywhere? Not really...
The author seems a bit credulous and ably acts as an apologist for J.B. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Second Stories
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
Interesting, but it gets a bit tedious. Not was I thought it was going to be, but I am glad I read it.
Published 8 months ago by Lynda K. Leopold
2.0 out of 5 stars Two Stars
Dull and repetitive. I did not finish it.
Published 9 months ago by ADG
1.0 out of 5 stars Boring
Nothing even fun in the read- it just reports all the things they did not look into and all the things they found to be false.
Published 13 months ago by Jean Lyons
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More About the Author

"I believe in singing. I believe in singing together." - Brian Eno. I just finished my fifth non-fiction book, Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing With Others (Algonquin Books, 2013). When I was in my twenties nothing was going well in my life; not my career, my romantic life was abysmal. I was desperate to find some stable shred of happiness, something I could count on, and so I joined a choir. Since then, as I say in my preface, it's the one thing in my life that never fails to take me to where disenchantment is almost nonexistent and feeling good is pretty much guaranteed.

I researched the history of singing together and found some great stories. I also read every article I could get my hands on about the science of singing. In the end I was left with this: singing is one the most reliable and affordable routes to happiness we have in this life. Given this, and all the evidence for the beneficial things music does to our brains, bodies and immune systems, it's a shame that everyone isn't singing and it is my hope that my book convinces everyone to give it a try.

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