If you are looking to read a ghost story, this is not the book to reach for. Owen Davies writes about the social history of ghosts, as the book's subtitle clearly states. What is not be clear from the book's title is that the focus is on the history of ghosts in Great Britain. I was aware of that when I bought it, so I am not disappointed that there is no discussion of American spirits or those found on the Continent or elsewhere in the world. Still, as Owen writes in the first sentence of his Introduction, "England has long had a reputation for being haunted." My English mother had a few ghost stories to tell me, and I grew up reading about ghosts and the various pixies and elves and other folk that inhabited fen and forest.
There are eight chapters broken into three sections: Experience, Explanation, and Representation. Davies writes with a sureness that seems to indicate a long time spent researching the topic, and I have no reason to doubt his comfort level with the material. As this is the first social history that I've read about hauntings or the history of psychic phenomena, I don't feel qualified to submit Davies's material to deep scrutiny, but the book is well cited and there are ample notes for anyone who wants to read more deeply in the subject.
Despite being an academic volume, there are places where Davies indulges in a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor, but he stops short of mocking his subjects. Clearly, for many people ghosts and spirits and demons were real, not just figments of the imagination. But for others, ghosts provided an avenue for earning a bit of extra cash by duping the gullible. What did surprise me was how popular the ghost chases were in Victorian times: I had thought that all of the ghost hunting was of a more recent vintage (as in, the TV generation). In some instances, crowds filled the streets, vying for a chance to spot a ghost, and made nuisances of themselves to local residents.
The book also includes some history of the role of ghosts in theater and literature, especially the gothic novel. In one story Davies relates, a rather portly actor who was portraying a ghost got stuck in the stage trapdoor when he was trying to "disappear." The actor, to the audience's delight, made light of the incident and turned the accident into a humorous event. Gems like this dot the book and will probably left me wanting more -- definitely a good thing.
The pace was even and Davies writes clearly. In just 250 pages of text, there is an incredible amount of information in here about the history of English ghosts' interaction with the living. Most of the information ranges from the 18th century to present day, but there are a few bits about earlier ghost stories and sightings. A good read and an excellent reference, The Haunted will be a keeper in my library.