Ghosts, Spirits, and Psychics: The Paranormal from Alchemy to Zombies. Edited by Matt Cardin. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2015. 409 p. Acid-free $89 (ISBN 978-1-61069-683-8). Ebook available (978-1-61069-684-5) call for pricing.

Producing a reference book about the paranormal presents a unique challenge. Various aspects of the phenomenon—under the rubric of “the supernatural”—have been and remain common to virtually all religions. Furthermore, as this work’s “Introduction” notes, “the idea of the paranormal is ubiquitous and inescapable in American culture” and “is entrenched” (xix) throughout most of the rest of the world. Yet the actual existence of the paranormal is in very serious doubt, and authorities in most mainstream disciplines reject it as pseudoscience. As the “Introduction” suggests, however, a new paradigm that sidesteps this “skeptic/believer dichotomy” (xxiii) seems to be emerging.

To tackle this slippery topic, editor and college English instructor Matt Cardin has assembled 121 alphabetically arranged entries by 57 contributors, most of whom work in academia. Subjects range from individuals (Edgar Cayce, Carl Jung, and so on) to important institutions such as the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and the Rhine Research Center and from paranormal “powers” such as telepathy to treatments of the paranormal in the arts and the media. Most entries run from two to four pages, are objective in approach, and are clearly written without being simplistic. Each concludes with “See also” references and a short bibliography, and some include short timelines and excerpts from key documents as well. Additional features include a “Guide to Related Topics,” a twenty-one-page chronology, a general bibliography, and an index.

Only two generally comparable works have been published in the last decade. Patricia D. Netzley’s The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of Paranormal Phenomena (Greenhaven Press/Gale, 2006) contains nearly 300 entries, some of them quite short, and is written in a popular style appropriate for young adults as well as adults. Netzley presents the views of both skeptics and believers, but her book is now somewhat dated. Brian Regal’s Pseudoscience: A Critical Encyclopedia (Greenwood 2009) has 116 entries of varying lengths but devotes relatively little coverage to the paranormal, as it includes such subjects as Atlantis, cryptozoology, and gay repair therapy.

Given its currency and its thoughtful, even-handed approach to the field, Ghosts, Spirits, and Psychics is highly recommended for undergraduate and larger public library reference collections.—Grove Koger, Retired Reference Librarian, Independent Scholar, Boise, Idaho


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