John Harwood

Favourite Haunts

A Natural History of Ghosts: 500 Years of Hunting for Proof


Particular Books 361pp £20 order from our bookshop

A few years before his death in 1900, Henry Sidgwick, the founding president of the Society for Psychical Research, despairingly conceded that ‘we have not, and are never likely to have, empirical evidence of the existence of the individual after death’. For Sidgwick, as for his principal associates Edmund Gurney, Frederic Myers and Frank Podmore, the quest for proof of survival was in every sense a matter of life and death. All four suffered from bouts of crippling depression; both Gurney and Podmore almost certainly committed suicide. If there was no afterlife, Sidgwick declared, no prospect of reward or punishment beyond the grave, then this life would be meaningless; morality would have no foundation, and moral ‘Chaos’ would be at hand. A single, indisputable instance of communication from the dead would suffice, but after countless hours of observation in the séance rooms of England, no such proof had been found.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'One of the best aspects of Kaufmann’s book is its optimism' Here's @BurlM11's review of @epkaufm's Whiteshift. ,
    • Whom did Picasso label a 'bristly pig'? Read Rosalind P Blakesley's review of The Collector by Natalya Semenova to… ,
    • Alexandra Gajda on Anna Beer's new biography, Patriot or Traitor: The Life and Death of Sir Walter Ralegh ,
    • Mark Lawson reviews @jonathancoe's Middle England - The Rotters' Club for our Brexit age. ,
    • 'Behind every book that is published lies ... a haunted landscape, populated by the ghosts of things written and ex… ,
    • 'We once more live in a great age of dragon invention' Here's Tom Shippey on Martin Arnold's The Dragon ,
    • RT : Man at the q&a part of the book panel: Don't say it Don't say it Don't say it Don't say it Don't say it Don't s… ,