As our understanding and awareness of who and what we are advances through the grueling gauntlet of scientific process, we continually face a debilitating dilemma: we must simultaneously question everything and at the same time proceed as if we know something. As a result we continually battle ourselves, questioning the ground on which we stand while using that same ground to prove our questions irrelevant. It's a gift, then, when a writer emerges who will grapple with any of these battles at the event horizon between science and conjecture and take himself wholly into the fray, reporting back to us the subtle forces at work within the storm and how those forces play upon him and the subject he explores.
In Old Souls, journalist Tom Shroder manages this feat and hands us a volume that is considerable and engaging. Not only do we explore the work of a brave and committed researcher on the slippery slope of reincarnation, we are also treated to a remarkable tour of worlds foreign to us: human existence in post-war Beirut and in the depths of poverty in India. Through the entire journey, Mr. Shroder keeps the primary question lively, carrying the reader through to a closing bit of personal memoir that brilliantly ties the book together into a provocative whole.
Whether you believe in reincarnation or not, you can't help but appreciate Mr. Shroder's disciplined, scrupulously fair, and soul-searching explication. Along the way, we learn immensely about the process as it is revealed and a great deal about exploration itself. The book works on many levels, and readers will benefit from them all. --Donald A. Freas
From Publishers Weekly
While it is easy for Western science to dismiss as fantasy or wish fulfillment the recollections of individuals who "remember" being Cleopatra or Napoleon, how is one to explain a young boy's insistence that he is really a nondescript auto mechanic who died in a car crash a few years before? American psychiatrist Ian Stevenson has spent more than 30 years studying the cases of some 2000 children who spontaneously remember concrete details about dead strangers whose experiences can be documented. On his two final field trips, to Lebanon and India, he was accompanied by journalist Shroder, Sunday Style editor of the Washington Post. Shroder's account of these expeditions emphasizes physical detail over in-depth analysis but nevertheless makes for engrossing reading. In many cases, the subjects exhibit birthmarks or extreme phobias corresponding to injuries or traumatic events in their "past lives." They recognize the deceased's relatives and friends; in one case, a Lebanese boy asked the deceased's mother if she had finished knitting the sweater she was making for him when he died. That the compelling questions raised by such cases are ignored by the scientific establishment causes Stevenson great disappointment. "For me," he claims, "everything now believed by scientists is open to question, and I am always dismayed to find that many scientists accept current knowledge as forever fixed." The journalistic objectivity Shroder brings to his material makes this an exceptionally valuable treatment of an often disparaged subject. Agent, Al Hart, Fox Chase Agency. (Aug.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.