- Hardcover: 336 pages
- Publisher: Viking (October 4, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1101980192
- ISBN-13: 978-1101980194
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 111 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #365,574 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places Hardcover – October 4, 2016
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A Shelf Awareness Best Book of the Year
“The spectral map Dickey creates is as broad and packed as his book’s title implies . . . Ghostland amounts to a lively assemblage and smart analysis of dozens of haunting stories, some better known than others. In each chapter, Dickey spins riveting tales and then carefully unwinds these narratives, exposing the materials and motivations of their construction . . . The most fascinating moments in Ghostland are Dickey’s etymological musings and his many turns down unusual paths of American history . . . All of these are absorbing . . . With Ghostland, Dickey achieves a capacious geographical synthesis that is both intellectually intriguing and politically instructive.”—The New York Times Book Review
“For a relatively young nation, America is overrun with spirits. Mr. Dickey visits with Salem’s witches, spectral lights at a Nevada brothel and the eccentric widow who designed the sprawling, never-finished Winchester Mystery House…[to] suggest that by analyzing them we can learn a great deal about ourselves."—The Wall Street Journal
"The good news: Nothing's really haunted except by the spirits we imagine for ourselves. The bad news: We'll make anything haunted. The great news: There's Ghostland. Colin Dickey gets to the heart of the matter over and over, skirting any tourist-trap sensationalism in favor of historical context that touches on the longing and tragedy underneath ghost stories. It's a tour of America's haunted places that takes an insightful look at how ghost stories are made, how ghosts and historical visibility are so tightly intertwined, and why we keep looking for the dead."—NPR, a best book of the year pick
“Dickey neatly dissects not just the historical, but the visual and atmospheric elements that evoke a haunting . . . As he wends his way through the landmarks and their histories, Dickey thoroughly and convincingly explores the many underpinnings of ghost stories and hauntings ― as manifestations of our collective guilt, anxieties, obsessions and historical losses; and as practical schemes for money-making, land acquisition, or controlling groups of people.”—Huffington Post
“Engrossing . . . Dickey’s book is not so much about spooks and goblins, but about tales of them that we tell, and why. Its purpose isn’t to scare, but to intrigue — and on that level, it may well keep you up late.” —Seattle Times
“Capacious . . . Dickey’s omnivorous curiosity lands on everything from the fraught legacy of slavery to the role of Spiritualism in women’s suffrage to 19th-century innovations in efficient horse stable design to the origins of the Ku Klux Klan to critiques of ruin porn in modern-day Detroit . . . Dickey is always good company, an ideal companion to take along on a ghost tour: skeptical but prone to goosebumps, with an affinity for odd, morbid historical details.”
—The Los Angeles Review of Books
"A stunning work of architectural theory and a spell-binding collection of true-crime tales and historical drama."—The Atlantic's CityLab
"Dickey is one of the sharpest and most erudite writers around, and his new book makes for a perfect Halloween read."—Men's Journal
“Colin Dickey’s essays explore facets of the world that we might overlook, take readers to uncharted spaces, and delve into bizarre corners of history.”—Vol 1. Brooklyn
“Dickey takes an erudite tour of haunted America and tells us repeatedly that the meaning of ghost stories lies not in what they claim about the occult but in what they inadvertently say about the anxieties and prejudices of the teller and the larger society . . . His analytical and reportorial talents are evident . . . Part of the special delight of GHOSTLAND is its many informed asides, revealing Dickey’s long hours of spading up obscure facts and quotes . . . a bravura performance of storytelling, in an elegant prose style throughout that does not sacrifice intelligence for readability.”—Los Angeles Times
“Colin Dickey is a mad genius, and reading one of his books is as close to a look at his brilliant brain as we will get without use of a bone saw.”—BookRiot
“You wouldn’t expect to read about brothels, human psychology, Victorian architecture, even a suburban Toys R’ Us, and come out the other side with an entirely different understanding and appreciation for ghosts. But Colin Dickey’s writing is just that good. Ghostland is strange and un-settling in the best possible way.”—Caitlin Doughty, New York Times bestselling author of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
“Always fascinating, sometimes horrifying. GHOSTLAND is a remarkable portrait of the ways that the walking dead—or our beliefs in them—wander through,
and shape, American history.”—Deborah Blum, author of The Poisoner’s Handbook
“Spine-tingling... A truly creepy travelogue that’s a must-have for Halloweeen.”—BookPage
“Come for the ghosts, stay for the history.”—Booklist
“Dickey pops sensationalist bubbles by observing the underlying racism, sexism, and classism associated with many hauntings’ long-told tales. By exposing historical inaccuracies and sociological calumny, the work treats readers to a better understanding of the socioeconomic and political milieu in which these myths gained acceptance, ultimately providing a richer, more nuanced narrative. Sophisticated readers with gothic sensibilities who enjoy literary histories, social commentary, and authoritative travelogs will find this a worthy title.”—Library Journal
About the Author
Colin Dickey grew up in San Jose, California, a few miles from the Winchester Mystery House, the most haunted house in America. As a writer, speaker, and academic, he has made a career out of collecting unusual objects and hidden histories all over the country. He's a regular contributor to the LA Review of Books and Lapham's Quarterly, and is the co-editor (with Joanna Ebenstein) of The Morbid Anatomy Anthology. He is also a member of the Order of the Good Death, a collective of artists, writers, and death industry professionals interested in improving the Western world's relationship with mortality. With a PhD in comparative literature from the University of Southern California, he is an associate professor of creative writing at National University.
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Given the book's dark cover and the timing of its release, it seems necessary to reiterate that there's nothing particularly creepy about this book. The author dug through family trees and historic records until he unearthed every inconsistency or blatant lie associated with famous ghost stories or well-known haunted locations. He actively debunks one ghost story after another.
The author posits that ghost stories are malleable, changing throughout the years to accommodate society's various needs:
"Paying attention to the way ghost stories change through the years -- and why those changes are made -- can tell us a great deal about how we face our fears and our anxieties. Even when these stories have a basis in fact and history, there's often significant embellishment and fabrication before they catch on in our imagination, and teasing out these alterations is key to understanding how ghosts shape our relationship to the past."
In addition to stories of ghosts, the author examines several haunted locations, revealing details spanning from the evolution of their (sometimes) bizarre construction to their rise in popularity as a notorious haunt. "The more unusual the house," the author states, "the more likely it'll cause unease among its neighbors and the more we seem to require some kind of story to explain its construction." Additional locations explored include haunted bars and brothels, hotels and restaurants, asylums, graveyards, and more.
Though it doesn't detract from the overall enjoyment of the book, it sometimes feels as though the author drifts off on a tangent. For example, a chapter that begins by introducing a notoriously haunted house eventually segues to a discussion of Spiritualism, which ultimately leads to an examination of a woman's right to vote. These shifts in narrative are never a point of contention for the reader, because all of the information is well-researched and tied together seamlessly.
"This is how ghost stories are born, after all: not from a complete story so much as from bits and pieces that don't quite add up, a kaleidoscope of menace and unease that coalesce in unpredictable ways."
Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places is a skilfully crafted and compelling book that will appeal to fans of American history, trivia, haunted locales and ghosts.