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A Natural History of Ghosts: 500 Years of Hunting for Proof Hardcover – 1 Nov 2012

3.9 out of 5 stars 73 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Particular Books (1 Nov. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846143330
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846143335
  • Product Dimensions: 13.8 x 3.4 x 20.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 364,093 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


This splendid book ... [is] a compelling read ... Clarke manages to give goose-flesh and a giggle while informing the reader - an enviable feat (Scotsman)

Researched with seriousness, and written with evident delight. Roger Clarke is a journalist, and the youngest invited member of the Society for Psychical Research: he is a fan with critical distance. He tackles everything from the troubled roots of Methodism to haunted toys that command premiums on eBay. He also tells a few cracking ghost stories ... [The book is] beautifully written ... lithe, complicated and hugely rewarding (James McConnachie Sunday Times)

A highly enjoyable (and disturbing work) ... I am in awe of [Clarke's] intrepidity (Guardian)

Outstanding ... Those of us who have spent years fascinated by the fiction of the supernatural - devouring books and films on an endless loop - will be in love with Clarke's book from the very first page ... The book is by no means a simple chronology of hauntings. While important events are dealt with in detail, the reader is treated to a wonderful array of incidental tales and observations in the passing, often through Clark's occasionally very witty end Notes ... Clarke's dissection of the shocks, sadnesses and sexiness of the seance tables from the late Victorian era brilliantly done ... The book is deeply enjoyable, hugely informative and at times distinctly unsettling (Shade Point)

A fascinating social history ... exceptionally well written and researched (Starburst Magazine)

Britain has over 500-years' worth of ghost stories in the cupboard and in The Natural History of Ghosts, Roger Clarke makes them dance ... the most original and readable book exploring our ghost-rich culture to appear for years ... fascinating (Fortean Times)

An intriguing, shivers-down-the-spine book (The Lady)

Lively and absorbing ... Clarke, a seasoned ghost-hunter whose still unfulfilled ambition is to see a ghost, plainly loves his subject, and has read extensively in and around the social history of haunting ... [he] has proven himself an ideal guide to this troubled and disorderly realm (Literary Review)

Simmering as it is with personal reflections, this handsome volume ... is bursting with a giddy passion, buoyed further by an expert's thirst for abstruse facts. The main pleasure of reading this book is Clarke's own enthusiasm, intelligence and seriousness ... a deeply interesting, revealing read (Book Hugger)

Why do ghosts wear clothes? This is just one of a number of interesting questions raised by this jaunty book ... In a series of short, snappy chapters, Clarke examines the evidence for just about every ghost who ever drew, or withdrew, breath ... but A Natural History of Ghosts is also haunted by another story, lurking not very far beneath: the story of the author's childhood need to believe in ghosts, and the gradual erosion of that belief (Craig Brown Daily Mail)

A gripping history that traces the scientific and social aspects of ghostly sightings (Telegraph)

Compelling ... Research into the paranormal necessarily involves a fair degree of debunking, and Clarke is careful to be sceptical. The narrative of ghost-hunting is simultaneously a history and exposure of fraud and popular delusion ... [yet] Clarke retains a boyish and ... well-informed enthusiasm for his subject (Independent)

[A] voyage through the half-lit world of lost souls ... tales told with ghoulish relish (Telegraph)

A timely and comprehensive survey of 500 years of English huntings, up to the present day (Peter Lewis Daily Mail)

A racy survey of five hundred years of spirit lore ... Clarke has handy information on the origins of well-known ghost stories. He tells you where Henry James probably got the germ of the idea for The Turn of the Screw ... he gives a deft sketch of the original Woman in Black ... [An] entertaining story of human folly and suggestibility (London Review of Books)

About the Author

Raised in a haunted house, Roger Clarke is best known as a film-writer for the Independent newspaper and more recently Sight & Sound. He was the youngest person ever to join the Society for Psychical Research in the 1980s and was getting his ghost stories published by the The Pan & Fontana series of horror books aged only 15, when Roald Dahl asked his agent to take him on as a client. A published poet, his libretto for The Man with the Footsoles of Wind was performed at the Almeida Theatre in London in 1993. This is the book he always wanted to write.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Not one of the better books I've read.The book reads more like a dissertation than an account of ghosts spanning 500, with superfluous and pretentious language that leaves the reader continuously wondering what on earth the previous sentence actually about (this coming from a reader with a degree in English language.). It jumps in leaps and bounds without any sort of logical flow. Definitely not reader-friendly for the general populous.

My advice, save your money. I would have given it one star, but felt the author deserved an extra star for his attempt at writing what could have, should have, been a fascinating concept of a book.
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By Book Critic TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 15 Jan. 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Roger Clarke has to be the most well-placed person to write a `natural history' of ghosts. Haunted as a child, he became the youngest ever member of the Society for Psychical Research. The subject has been a matter of fascination for him ever since, and he has remained a keen investigator to this day. A Natural History of Ghosts gives detailed accounts of famous hauntings. They range from ancient ghost stories, through the Victorian passion for séances, to the modern ghost investigation - which is not new at all, but began with famous faker Harry Price, who pioneered the live ghost hunt on radio in the 1920s - coming bang up to date with TAPS, Most Haunted and Ghost Adventures. An attempted taxonomy details different kinds of ghosts: the `stone-tape' type, doomed to go through the motions over and over and over again, who seem to be mere recordings in time. And the far more chilling kind, who speak and interact, intelligently, with the living and their fellow dead, like the - still unexplained - Enfield poltergeist.

Clarke tries his hardest to maintain a dry and sceptical look at hauntings, ancient and modern, but cannot help observing that ghosts are certainly real; ghosts have been and continue to be experienced and documented across time and space, and the only debate is, what are they, really? Are they all figments of the imagination or out and out fakes? The actual spirits of the dead? Or a phenomenon that is, as yet, unexplained? Sadly, Roger Clarke has no answers, and provides no conclusions, either, he simply delivers pure information with which we must make up our own minds. As the sceptical George Bernard Shaw told Henry James that, "No man who doesn't believe in a ghost ever sees one." Maybe the truth is the other way around?
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I couldn't read all of this because it was too bloody scary.
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By Damaskcat HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 23 Nov. 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The author has been interested in ghosts since he was a child and his fascination with the subject really comes over in this book which I found totally engrossing reading. He looks at some of the famous hauntings such as Borley Rectory as well as less well known ones both ancient and modern.

Ghosts go in fashions as well as changing their dress according to the era in which they are seen. Shrouds were fashionable at one time but then in the nineteenth century everyone wore black, whether that was in the form of a nun's habit or glamorous women in satin and long gloves. Seeing ghosts and believing in them has always been dependent on class with the middle class being notable sceptics.

Ghosts also come in all shapes and sizes including Roman centurions and headless knights not to speak of wronged maid servants wringing their hands and uttering blood curdling cries. Then there are the moving objects which may or may not be attributable to poltergeist activity which is frequently associated with the presence of teenage girls in the property.

I was interested to learn that John Wesley incorporated a belief in ghosts into Methodism because of ghostly activity in his childhood home at Epworth in Lincolnshire. It is a belief which is no longer part and parcel of Methodism. Belief in ghosts and sightings of them ten d to increase and decrease according to whether or not there's a war on or an economic depression. There are always people who are ready willing and able to make money out of ghosts - whether by selling refreshments at the scenes of hauntings or by charging admission to haunted property and writing books about it.

Whether you believe in ghosts or not this is interesting reading from a social history point of view and the insights into human nature which the various stories provide. There are plenty of notes on each chapter, some black and white illustrations, a further reading list and an index
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
After reading the first lines of the book which drew me in nicely this turned out to be a bit of a mish - mash of a book. Not an awful book by any means and parts of it are very enjoyable, but it really didn't seem consistent enough throughout.
Areas of it are quite thought provoking especially the "angel switch" theory, whereas other subjects which at first seem of interest can get bogged down in the accompanying text which at times can go through a myriad of histories/theories and investigations. It may well be of more interest to a person with a strong interest in the phenomenon of ghosts and of the ghost hunt as opposed to someone like myself with a passing (though certain) interest. If anything the book suggested to me that if there is such a thing as a ghost then you'll have to wade through a mass of fakery and deception before you get to anything of relevance that might suggest any other wordly goings on outside of anything the human mind can conjure up.
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