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Customer reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars
3.3 out of 5 stars

on 13 August 2007
I found this book fascinating. A little dry and dated in certain moments, but overall, a weird and fascinating read, with plenty of well-timed, amusing asides by the author.

It was first published in 1972 I notice (this edition is a reprint), but it is still regarded as the best book on the subject. It is very much a history of the human desire to believe. The pages are littered with tricksters and charlatans, cranks and the unhinged, employing acrobatic techniques during seances to convince audiences of spirit presences. Only D.D Home was never unmasked (and is the subject of a recent biography), and it is his presence which intrigues most right up to the final pages.

The best parts of the book, I felt, were the parts dealing with the early days of seances, spirit photography, and the later sections on ghosts and materialisations. Towards the end of the book, it becomes something of a litany of unmaskings, great names brought spectacularly low (and I found I so wanted to believe!) Everyone was drawn in; the spiritualists almost had Faraday on their side. One of the most famous mediums, Mrs Mellon, was spectacularly exposed, along with many others. A spirit presence which emerged from her magical cabinet on October 1894, declared to be the spirit of a black child, was exposed as Mrs Mellon herself, on her knees, barefoot, draped with muslin, wearing a black mask. Her cabinet was opened and her false beards confiscated. Another trickster unmasked as the century drew to a close. Henry Slade died in a sanitorium in 1905 after being unmasked when he was found to be creating "spirit writing" on slate under the table with chalk between his toes. A roll call of the cranky and the messianic, but whilst reading this book, I so wanted to come across something that resisted the scientific experiments. Only hauntings perhaps withstand this...

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on 24 August 2012
This is a wonderful and strange history of Victorian mediums. If you're interested in the subject, it's something you must read. It's well-written and scholarly. Much recommended.
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on 18 July 2012
I really wanted to enjoy and love this book, but unfortunately, I found it rather dull. It did not capture my attention, and on three occassions, I found myself drifting off to sleep. Shame...
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