Published on November 20th, 2005 | by Greg0
Non-fiction: Dimensions, Death, Hobos
Science tackles the afterlife in Spook, by Mary Roach. John Hodgman discusses The Areas of My Expertise (not really non-fiction, strictly speaking, as most of this modern almanac is made up). Lawrence Krauss reveals what is Hiding in the Mirror: The Mysterious Allure of Extra Dimensions, from Plato to String Theory and Beyond.
All three are kind of far-out, each in their own way. We’ll start with Spook, an almost-sequel to the author’s excellent book Stiff. This time, she takes on near-death experiences, the history of mediums, and visits India to look at some reincarnation research. It’s a fascinating read the whole way through, well-documented, funny, and thoughtful. She manages to carefully tread what would seem an obviously religious area with a skeptical, inquiring mind, and though the conclusions are always… well, inconclusive, there is plenty of stuff to keep you reading and wondering. The story of 21 grams, some discussion of ghosts and EVP, and a complete avoidance of anything touching on pop culture (no real movie or music references, nothing that will make the book dated in 5 years) add up to a book that is highly recommended for pretty much anyone who won’t be offended by having science tread where it may seem most unwelcome.
Hiding in the Mirror is a pop-science book with a very different goal- the author follows up his Physics of Star Trek with a sort of history of multi-dimensionalism. It’s not as engaging as Spook, and those who aren’t familiar with Flatland or Michio Kaku probably won’t get it, but Hiding in the Mirror does a capable job of jostling through some very heady material- philosophy, math, physics, and the like. It rushes through parts, the conclusions end up less-than-satisfying, and yet you can’t help but admire the concept and staggering amount of information condensed. Think “Godel, Escher, Bach” and you’ll understand what the author is trying for even if it never quite gets there.
John Hodgson’s Areas of My Expertise has no conclusions, no plot, and no characters (except, perhaps, for the author himself). Aside from the rare picture or illustration, the entire book is random essays and lists covering a wide range of topics. It’s a pretty unique book, and you’ll either love it or hate it, depending mainly on your sense of humor and whether you mind literary self-reference. This is Dave Eggers and Dave Barry collaborating on an almanac- simply turn to a page and you’re likely to read something like: “Nine Presidents Who Had Hooks For Hands” or “Some American Telephone Numbers Beginning With 666”. It’s hit-and-miss, but frequently funny, and doubtlessly inventive.