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4.1 out of 5 stars
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Mary Roach spent a year investigating the outer fringes of psychic phenomena and has written up her findings in Six Feet Over - a book full of healthy scepticism but also honest investigation. She seems to be a generous and open-minded investigator who does not belittle the enthusiasts she meets and writes entertainingly of what she finds.

Starting with "reincarnated children" Mary Roach travels to India to meet children who are allegedly reincarnations of (mostly)deceased relatives and neighbours - how unlike the western past lives people who always seem to claim to be reincarnations of more glamorous subjects of the Mahatma Gandhi, King Nefertiti ilk. Because the surrounding culture is accepting of the childrens' claims, the children are not usually subject to even the most gentle questioning of their claims, and Roach finds that a little gentle interrogation of witnesses and the children themselves, soon makes the stories fall apart.

Roach then goes on to look at the history of psychic claims, beginning with the search for the "soul" - where does it reside, what happens when it "leaves the body", where does it go? These were hot questions for early scientists of the 18th and 19th century and Roach describes their attempts to find the soul and track its progress from conception to death. The experiments seem highly amusing to us, but Roach reminds us to see them in the context of the days when electricity and radio waves were just being discovered and seemed quite miraculous. She then discovers researchers in the present day who are still on the quest for the soul (in the Univeristy of Arizona for example).

Subsequent chapters look at ectoplasm (hilariously funny accounts of early "mediums" attempts to secrete cheesecloth in their bodily cavities and extract if during seances), ghost-hunting, near-death experiences. A very interesting chapter looks at those who try to capture messages from the beyond on tape-recorders and other devices. We met some of the same people a few years ago in Justine Picardie's "If the Spirit Leads You", and it is good to hear that they are still going strong (if somewhat nuttily).

I think I need hardly say that Mary Roach fails to turn up any evidence at all for a single psychic phenomena. These things seem to depend on belief, and disappear like the morning mist when anything approaching serious investigation takes place. The book is a good read. Its probably well-trodden ground, but Roach's non-judgemental and humorous approach is a welcome relief from the more cynical psychic investigators who delight in implying that their subjects are escapees from the mad-house.
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on 11 February 2008
Nice book, but beware: it's the same as SPOOK, only with a different title!!! I bought both, and regret it.
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on 10 September 2014
I really wanted to like this book. And I enjoyed Mary's writing style and the book wasn't too bad. It just didn't hit the mark for me - the only chapter I found particularly interesting was the discussion of when the soul enters or leaves the body and how the discussion has been influenced by and influences religion and medical practice.

The rest was mainly descriptions of interviews with others about their experiences (eg: re-incarnated children and their families) along with some investigation into areas such as spiritualists.

It wasn't full of interesting anecdotes / historical facts or anything that was more in depth than you might get in the Mail on Sunday.

I finished the book though so it worth the effort but it promised so much more!
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Mary Roach's SIX FEET OVER is bracketed in time by two other published offerings, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers and Bonk: The Curious Coupling Of Sex and Science. Both were immensely readable and enjoyable - 5 stars.

SIX FEET OVER is not a collection of creepy ghost sightings. Rather, it's the author's first-person description of her one-year survey of the evidence for life after death. It encompasses attempts to discover the soul's seat in the body by dissection and the soul's weight by direct measurement, the soul's visibility as demonstrated by, e.g., x-rays and light diffraction, the nature of ectoplasm, the careers of spirit mediums, telecommunicating with the dead, electromagnetic fields as the possible cause of spirit sightings, ghosts and the law, and current research into near-death experiences.

Having read all of Mary's books, SIX FEET OVER is the first which left me briefly annoyed. Specifically, the chapter "Can You Hear Me Now" concerning claimed telecommunications with the dead using both pseudo and genuine technologies - the latter including TVs, alarm clocks, answering machines, sound recorders, computerized spell checkers - was an exercise in beating a subject to death. Halfway through its thirty-four uncharacteristically rambling pages, I wanted to scream "Enough already!" (I mean, I regularly hear voices in my head, but I don't ascribe anything supernatural to them.) The other chapters were commendably brief and to the point.

Mary's strength as a writer is that she takes her subjects seriously, but not too seriously. She presents to the reader with a cocked eyebrow and plenty of wry humor. More importantly, she doesn't take herself too seriously either. A paragraph about an experiment to draw passers-by attentions to a staged spirit apparition walking through a field, in one case the costumed "ghost" being followed by a small herd of cows, is footnoted thus:

"This comes as no surprise to yours truly, who has twice, on separate continents, carried out an experiment designed to prove the considerable curiosity of cows. This is an experiment I urge you to repeat, simply for the giddy thrill of it. Go into a pasture where cows are grazing in the distance. Shout to get their attention and then suddenly lie down. The moment you do, they will hurry over to investigate, encircling you and staring down at you with unmitigated bovine fascination."

Watch for cow pies, though.

Roach obviously enjoys researching for her various books. The fact that she has so much fun doing so ensures a volume that'll be no less than four stars, and will most likely deserve five. That's why I'll continue to purchase and read anything she writes.
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on 14 January 2014
I bought this book because I had previously bought and read Stiff by the same author. I very much enjoyed that book, and would give it five stars. Six feet over is slighter somehow, and less well researched. It is funny in parts, but not memorable for it's insights. By chance, I was reading Life after life by Kate Atkinson at the same time as I was reading six feet over. The themes intertwined quite nicely. I was a little disappointed by this book, but if you are interested In the subject matter of scientific explorations into possible forms of afterlife you will probably find this wort perusing.
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VINE VOICEon 13 August 2009
Did I learn if there is an afterlife? No. Did I become a believer in anything? No. Did I find out lots of people do weird research and not so weird research on this? Yes. This is a good buy. Really not informative in any substantive sense, but very funny.
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on 4 September 2014
I thoroughly enjoyed Mary Roach's book "Stiff", but found this book very dull. It was a collection of her own anecdotes, rather than interesting historical events.
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on 17 April 2012
A very interesting and funny look at research into the paranormal, approached with an open mind. It is well worth a read
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on 10 October 2014
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on 4 September 2011
This book is pretty good, having read one of Mary Roach's books previously I got use to her writing style. It is a very interesting read that is for sure.
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