Cover image for Death : the great mystery of life
Death : the great mystery of life
Brennan, Herbie.
Personal Author:
First Carroll and Graf edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2002.
Physical Description:
xv, 308 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HQ1073 .B74 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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From the burial rites of the earliest humans to the current price of freezing one's dead body, this engaging study confronts the mystery of death, leaving no question unanswered. In Death, Herbie Brennan dissects the biological processes by which people die, delving into the history of plagues, wars, and natural disasters. This fearless exploration also goes beyond the moment of physical death to unravel the mysteries of the afterlife, with chapters on ghosts and near-death experiences. Clear and informative, this book presents a wide array of research, inviting readers to learn the likely causes of death and telling them what to expect in the process. Brennan turns the most frightening concepts into comforting revelations and devotes a good portion of the book to "the good news"--the history of the afterlife, the tranquillity of near-death experiences, and how scientific advances are increasing our chances of cheating death. Traveling the world, Brennan reveals the surprising similarities and differences in cultural manifestations of this universal concept. Brennan also explores out-of-body experiences, documented radio communication with the deceased, and telepathy. The result is a comprehensive account from multiple perspectives that is captivating, mysterious, and wonderfully reassuring about this most feared of human experiences.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Brennan explores death in every way possible, it seems, rewarding readers who persevere through the opening discussion of probable contemporary causes of death --"you might be killed by a soft-drink machine as happened to fifteen Americans . . . during the 1980s" --with a thumbnail history of the plague, two chapters on the history of the afterlife, a discussion of cloning ("Heirs and Spares") rife with portent in the post-Ted Williams world, and more. His disquisition on ghosts notes notable ghost sightings and the possibility that "time slips" are in fact what observers experienced, concluding that "there is considerable evidence that something of this sort exists." In the chapter "Phantoms of the Living," he considers whether out-of-body experiences, of which evidence abounds, indicate the existence of a "second body" that "separates from the first" at death and supports consciousness thereafter. If they do, is this "an additional basis for confidence in postmortem survival?" Heady, engrossing stuff that may make readers strangely eager to die and find out whether Brennan's conclusions hold up. --Mike Tribby

Publisher's Weekly Review

This latest offering from Brennan, an Irish writer of nonfiction (The Martian Genesis) and children's books (Frankenstella and the Video Store Monster), is a study of death from a variety of angles. A historical chapter on the devastation caused by the bubonic plague is informative and interesting, as is the author's coverage of the Ebola virus and of modern dangers associated with the overuse of antibiotics. Brennan also includes a thoughtful overview of the ways various religions regard death and immortality. But when he turns his attention to ghosts, mediums, out-of-body experiences (OOBE) and other psychic phenomena which are clearly his chief interest more skeptical readers may raise an eyebrow. Brennan has done a number of experiments using hypnosis to trigger OOBE in subjects and the results of these, along with examples done by others in the field, are used to support his arguable conclusion that "there is a substantial body of evidence to suggest the second body everyone experiences during an OOBE is something more than a subjective reality." In addition, Brennan details a theoretical account of the death experience that is based on a murky merge of Tibetan religious beliefs and testimonials from those who have survived near-death encounters. The author's claim that actual death is characterized by "calm, freedom from pain, the possibility of continuity..." will reassure believers and irritate rationalists. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Table of Contents

Three Amazing Thingsp. ix
Introductionp. xiii
Prefacep. xv
1. Your Likely Way to Diep. 1
2. Black Deathp. 11
3. The Next Plaguep. 23
4. The Great Inventionp. 40
5. Death from Heavenp. 53
6. The Mystery of Deathp. 65
7. Under the Microscopep. 75
8. Freezing to Lifep. 88
9. Heirs and Sparesp. 98
10. Body Buildingp. 112
11. History of the Afterlifep. 125
12. History of the Afterlife (2)p. 140
13. The Nature of Mindp. 157
14. Ghostsp. 176
15. Recordings and Time Slipsp. 195
16. Phantoms of the Livingp. 210
17. Mediumsp. 226
18. Recording the Deadp. 246
19. Coming Backp. 261
20. The Death Experiencep. 279
Epilogue: Living with Deathp. 292
Appendix Recording Spirit Voicesp. 295
End Notesp. 299
Bibliographyp. 305
Acknowledgmentsp. 308
Indexp. 310
About the Authorp. 320