April 2013 Book Reviews

 

Why People Believe in Spirits, Gods and Magic | Jack Hunter
ASIN: B00B03HSDI | 127 pages | £9.99 | Available from Amazon

Jack Hunter’s Why People Believe in Spirits, Gods and Magic takes an anthropological approach to examining potential answers to its title, examining ghosts, witchcraft, shamanism and other convictions within the context of human societies and cultures.

While slightly heavier than the typical book on the paranormal, this is no bad thing – sometimes it pays to question our opinions and examine the world from a different perspective. It is also refreshing to read references to other cultural beliefs, and be made aware that while the paranormal exists all over the world, the form it takes can be radically different from that to which we are normally exposed.

As expected from a work coming from an academic approach, the references are many and highlight a plethora of paths for any interested party to follow. The writing style reflects its approach, although a remark about anthropologists who start to believe that ghosts are the spirits of the dead have gone ‘native’ made me smile.

It is important to remember the work is an introduction - the majority of chapters could easily become major works in themselves, which one hopes will one day happen.

Hunter concludes by recommending a multi-disciplinary approach to examining the paranormal, one which combines parapsychology and anthropology, and having made some compelling points, one leaves the book thinking ‘why not?’ – after all, there are some massive holes in our paranormal knowledge, even after a hundred years of scientific research.

Overall, a well argued, refreshingly different and eye opening look at the world of beliefs and the paranormal.

 

Shadows on the Sea | Neil Arnold
ISBN: 978-0752487724 | 192 pages | £12.99 | Available from The History Press

One of the benefits of being an island nation is that it is rare to find anyone who has no fond memories of being by the seaside. Perhaps this is part of the appeal of Neil Arnold’s Shadows on the Sea – we can avoid ‘haunted’ dark buildings, but there is no escaping the mysteries of the oceans when they are so close to us.

The problem Arnold faces is the sheer scale of coastline associated with Britain – over eleven thousand miles. Combined with the multitude of different types of unusual activity Arnold is looking at (including ghosts, UFOs and cryptids), this one work could have easily been several volumes in length.  Despite this challenge, Arnold flits effortlessly from county to county, digging out a range of colourful strangeness from Tennyson’s ghost on the Isle of Wight to mermaids in Benbecula.

As expected from The History Press, Shadows is well illustrated with photographs throughout. Arnold’s prose is cheerful, sometimes cynical, and never boring, with the author’s interest in his subject matter apparent on each page.

With summer on the horizon, this is one to pack and digest while holidaying on the beach (or sheltering from the rain).

 

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