William James, Ghost Hunter

Paul collins reviews Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death by Deborah Blum, in the San Francisco Chronicle:

James_william3_med_1Believe me, some people want to be haunted.

That longing — to live in a world where the past never really dies — sits at the heart of Deborah Blum’s “Ghost Hunters.” It opens in a Victorian era writhing with spirits and spooks: There are the Fox sisters of New York, a Barnum-promoted trio who summoned table-rapping responses from the dead — two knocks for yes, silence for no. Or their rivals the Davenport brothers, who brought bells and mandolins to crazed life from across a room. Meanwhile in London, D.D. Home uncannily conjured up the dearly departed, guaranteeing that money would pour into otherworldliness.

Enter William James. Famed Harvard philosopher and brother of novelist Henry James, William hesitantly joined maverick Nobel Prize-winners and amateur sleuths to form the American Society for Psychical Research. Blum shows James as restlessly curious and prudently cautious in equal measure. Along with the society, scientists from Darwin to Faraday and authors from Twain to Arthur Conan Doyle would weigh in on just what was happening during seances.

More here.