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Lisa Morton is the queen of Halloween, but she also knows her spooks and specters. This is a beautifully-written examination of then world of ghost beliefs, traditions, folklore, science and pop culture.
Reviewed in the United States on September 11, 2015
This is a fairly short, nicely-illustrated and well written book. It is agnostic as to whether there are or are not such things. The chapters are fairly wide-ranging and consider a good range of culture, mostly in the sense of the kinds of conceptions of ghosts that people have come up with in folk tales, stories and religions. One detail I can't get over--apparently Thomas Edison thought there were ghosts and tried to devise a machine to communicate with them. Not much detail is provided on this, but there's an idea for a film.
It starts with a discussion of ghosts in the classical era of Greece and Rome and their worlds, and while it's a bit rambly, the intro chapters are full of information, and particularly rich on the movement called Spiritualism. One illustration shows a real estate disclosure form, which asks the usual questions about are you aware of a death or violent crime on the property, but includes "or allegations that it is haunted." I suppose that might affect home value (there's another film idea, someone who plays the market by fabricating hauntings, to get caught by a real one).
My favorite chapters are these. Chapter 4 "The Hungry Ghosts: the Eastern World" discusses ghosts in Asia, mostly China and Japan, and includes legends but also contemporary film. I like the idea of ghost money, fake high-denomination bills burned so that family ghosts in the netherworld can buy some comforts. Chapter 5, "La Llorena and Dreamtime" discuss ghosts in Latin America and Australia. Chapter 6, "The Quest for Evidence" doesn't provide much in proof or disproof, but does describe what seems to be a thriving phenomenon of people who consider themselves some form of ghost busters, with lots of equipment available online, including lasers, thermal cameras, appropriate aps for smart phones and so on.
Other chapters are still interesting. Morton discusses short stories, novels, and film, including both the obvious ones and some less well known.
I found this book to be a serious and level-headed history of humanity’s belief in ghosts. As the author recounts, this history goes back thousands of years and can be found in all corners of the world and in most if not all cultures. To the author’s credit, she takes no sides on this matter. She reports the facts as documented. She also includes discussions on various state-of-the-art techniques used in ghost hunting today. Finally, ghosts in fictional literature throughout the ages are covered, as well as ghosts in the movies and on TV.
I found this book to be hard to put down. It is written in a prose that is clear, friendly, lively and quite captivating. I believe that it should be of interest to all readers with a curiosity about this topic - both believers and non-believers alike.
Reviewed in the United States on September 16, 2019
Lisa Morton has a way of presenting comprehensive information about a subject, while inspiring the reader with interesting references and sources which one can't help but become curious about. "Ghosts: A Haunted History" is an informative read about a nearly universal belief in ghosts which transcends borders and 'haunts' the arts -- most noteably literature, painting, and film. The last chapter, "The Ubiquitous Ghost" sums up an important point for me: "We are afraid of ghosts because we are afraid of death." Yet the analysis the author provides is much more in depth and very fun to read.
Some excellent writing let down by Amazon service; ordered on 30/12/21, posted on 04/01/22 and thrown in box with other items so hardback cover and edges dented and scratched. amazon saved some postage so at at least they're happy little money grubbers!