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3.3 out of 5 stars
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3.3 out of 5 stars
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on 28 February 2012
I am surprised at the number of negative reviews this book has garnered so far.

I bought it expecting exactly what I got - a wide-ranging overview of encounters with the paranormal from throughout the centuries.

Anyone expecting the earlier stories to be longer then they are is expecting too much. It is hard enough to get people in our generation to put anything into writing about a ghostly encounter without adding on the religious and societal restraints the earlier people would have been living under.

And unless you have access to a library as extensive as that maintained by the SPR you would be hard-pressed to have encountered many of these stories. In fact I have a collection some 700 books strong solely on the subject of ghosts, with books/pamphlets dating back to the 1600s and the thing I liked the most about this book was the amount of material I'd never encountered before. How anyone can accuse Peter Ackroyd of lazy research is beyond me.

Yes, it is a choppy read but don't let that put you off the chance to immerse yourself in the forgotten cultural gems that leap out of the pages of this book.
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on 15 May 2017
I am still reading this at the moment. Some of the stories are very good, but others are less so. The book itself is in excellent condition.
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on 27 March 2012
A fine collection of "real life" supernatural encounters. The book is interesting as a companion piece to a fictional collection of ghost stories as it sets the cultural background to the english ghost story and the nation's interest in the subject. Do not expect the suspense or dread of MR James but enjoy instead a look at the roots of the genre within folk tales and eyewitness accounts. That's not to say that aren't moments that will chill.
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on 13 September 2011
I enjoyed this book but found it inconclusive. Peter Ackroyd is known for his focus on the nature of the English (as in, for instance, another book of his on the English imagination). His contention here is that "seeing ghosts" is something the English seem to do more than any other nationality - a thesis he sets out in the first section of the book. The deduction from this would appear to be that seeing ghosts is essentially a phenomenon of the psyche, with no objective reality, and may be understood in such terms. Many of the English ghost stories in the book, however, feature different people independently having the same experience in the same place over a number of years, e.g. the A38 story in which motorists encounter the man in the grey mackintosh flashing his torch into the road, and the repeated appearances of the girl on Bluebell Hill whom many motorists swerve to avoid, and then find her to have no substance. The twentieth century stories had greater interest for me than those which were related in the sixteenth century - partly because of the verbose language in which the narrators express themselves. Ultimately I was left wishing for some kind of analysis and summing up by Peter Ackroyd but this was lacking. Later on I had a conversation about this book with the assistant in my local bookshop, and she said she believes that supernatural experiences are not monopolised by the English at all, but it may simply be that other races take it so much more for granted that they don't make an issue of reporting "sightings". An intriguing book for ghost story fans, and for those who have themselves had supernatural experiences.
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on 24 September 2011
Thought the book well written and fun. A piece of popular history on the culture of the ghost story. Some of the reviews on here seems to have missed the point or have another agenda... that there are NO ghosts and you shouldn't/are not allowed to believe in them anyway! Well enough of all that, keep this book at hand (bathroom a great place) and dip in for the pure eccentric curiosity of each strange tale. Not a horror book just a series of reported natural anomalies. Englishness at its best.
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on 20 November 2011
Because of Peter Ackroyd's reputation for fiction as well as non fiction preceding him before I had even read a word I had very high expectations from this book. I wanted a really interesting and eye opening dialogue with Peter about the ghost stories that he had collected all over the UK and why indeed the British Isles seems to be a place where hosts are seen far more than in any other country in the world. I did get this... in the introduction, which I loved.

The problem was that from then on we simply had a collection/anthology of all the ghost stories that Ackroyd had found, and while I happily admit I enjoyed them I did want something more. The more I read the opening words in each tale like `the following letter by...' or `the following report appeared in the `X' newspaper' the more I was thinking `hang on, is this a bit of a cut and paste job. Is this all research and no real revelation or conversation?' It was a conversation with Ackroyd about the ghost stories and the facts and people involved with them that I wanted not really an encyclopaedia.

This makes me sound really ungrateful I know, and I did actually read it in just a few days because it is great to dip in and out of. I should have just thought `wow, what a collection of tales from the infamous Borley Rectory, to smaller unknown stories' (I was excited that the Blue Bell Hill story was included as my Great Aunty Pat told me that tale as a kid as she knew the people involved) and some of the stories are genuinely unnerving (weirdly the more modern ones) as from the witness accounts you know several people saw these events happen and it does make you ponder on what on earth is really out there. I did also really like Ackroyd's retelling of the stories when there were no `official' accounts too, I just wanted more dialogue with him, more banter. There isn't even an afterword or really any note on why he wanted to do this particular paranormal project.

I am aware this is rather a short set of book thoughts, and one I feel I have come away doing Ackroyd a slight disservice in writing. If you want a collection of true life, well it depends on what you believe - but I do, ghost stories then this would be an ideal read for you. If you are looking for a book that tells the tales and discusses why these might have happened or any other subjective thoughts and reasoning's you might want to try elsewhere. I liked `The English Ghost' a lot, I just expected more, so maybe the fault lies with me?
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on 8 November 2010
This is about a hundred accounts of hauntings together in one volume, which the overly-cynical might say took Peter a fortnight and about six trips to the British Library to compile. Nonetheless, one of Ackroyd's strengths has always been as a researcher, so some of the stories herein are recently-unearthed and fascinating, whilst others are incredibly over-familiar or just plain dull. The tone veers wildly throughout, in fact, so it can be something of a choppy read if taken at one sitting, something it was almost certainly not designed for. It's a decent gift book for giving mild chills to elderly relatives, but there's very little here to distract anyone with more than a passing interest in the subject.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 20 January 2015
This is a very quick read and somewhat less thought provoking than many of Peter Ackroyd's works. It is a quick read because it is very tightly written and quite interesting. I like the way the book is divided into sections detailing accounts of particular types of spectre - the poltergeist, clerical ghosts and so on - as opposed to dividing up ghosts from specific time periods.. I would imagine Ackroyd garners a considerable amount of 'spare' research material in putting together his more expansive tomes and a book like this is more or less the leftovers. I cannot hold this against the author as it seems an entirely logical way to write without waste! What's more, as a reader you can crack on with it at a real pace which is pretty satisfying.

Though it makes me think less than other Ackroyd books I've read, you do think 'Why the English ghost?' And conclude perhaps that each nation's tales of spirits - whether such exist or not - are as much a product of that nation's psyche as of any subjective version of reality. These ghosts take their form from the English imagination. In recent years very diverse minds from very diverse disciplines have attempted to explore what it is to be English. Strangely, The English Ghost threw light on that for me despite it coming at the subject from a very uncommon angle.

Does this book stick out like a sore thumb in the Ackroyd body of work? Is it too slight and inconsequential? Not in the least. If called upon to list the subjects to which this author appears perpetually drawn, this whole area of the phantasm would certainly be on that list.

The stories in the book are generally very brief and are related in a very spare and unadorned fashion. It reminded me of books I read in my youth - a kind of 'Bumper Book of Ghosts' as the cover somewhat suggests - and I found myself going back to bed when it arrived to read it with a kind of torch almost under the covers and turning the pages with great relish.

Lots of fun! Who says everything a really good writer puts out must be weighty and multi-layered? I enjoyed sharing Ackroyd's time out.
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VINE VOICEon 16 October 2012
I found this book to be a riveting and fascinating read

I am not sure that I understand all the reviews which are simply saying that ghosts do not exist. Looking at the depth of research here it is clear that Peter Ackroyd has done his research and garnered a myriad of great accounts. I am fairly sure that he has done a lot more research that the average sceptic.

I have been researching ghosts for 15 years now and can say with absolutely certainly that people have experiences. I think that is really the only "fact" that we have regarding this strange subject. The question remains however as to what is the cause of these strange experiences and I think that there is a range of possibilities ranging from "bugs" in the human brain through to the more conventional theories such as spirits of the dead or timeslips. Some possibilities could even be mistaken identity or even fraud, that is true, however the sheer number of accounts throughout history shows that there is a mystery here. I don't think that anyone can really say for sure what the explanation is however it could well be something else we have not thought about yet or even possibly a combination of several factors.

In this book, Peter has collected and categorised a range of different types of spectral encounter and retold them clearly and succinctly as only he can.

Recommended for your spooky reading.
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on 17 November 2010
This book disappointed me somewhat as there was very little in it which was particularly scary or spooky! I think this is largely because, unlike with a ghost story, there was little context or build up and so the ghostly encounters were presented as unlinked snippets which just didnt work for me. I think many of the accounts were certainly credible - however some were so short as to be pointless - but this did not really bring them to 'life'. Many of the accounts were from the Victorian period but there are far better fictional ghost stories from this period which have more impact and chill the reader - MR James for example.
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