Surviving Death: A Journalist Investigates Evidence for an Afterlife, by Leslie Kean
Leslie Kean is a journalist who has published widely. Her previous work includes the book UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record which was published in 2010. Kean’s latest book Surviving Death was published last year. As its title suggest the book focuses on evidence of survival after bodily death. Kean writes about children’s memories of past lives, near-death experiences (NDEs), mediumship (both mental and physical), and more besides. In addition to her own commentary the book includes brief chapters written by others. To long-time readers of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (JSPR) much in the book is familiar. In general, it is however a quite good introduction written with laymen in mind.
The first section of the book is an overview of the evidence for reincarnation and includes a chapter by Jim Tucker, an expert on children’s memories of past lives. The focus is on two cases in America that Tucker has previously described (Tucker, 2013, 2016). Thanks to the parents’ cooperation with Kean the reader not only gets to appreciate the evidence. In addition, the reader gets some understanding of the parents’ bemusement and also their feeling of helplessness due to their initial inability to understand.
The second section concerns NDEs and includes chapters by two experts, Pim van Lommel and Peter Fenwick. In addition, Kimberly Clark Sharp has contributed a chapter about one of the best-known cases of veridical perception during an NDE. Sharp is the social worker who, in 1977, interviewed Maria who during her NDE had observed, among other things, a shoe on a ledge outside a window. Kean also writes about Pam Reynolds’ equally well-known NDE which has been subject of much debate. There is however more to the story about Reynolds - her life after her NDE does not appear to have been enviable (see Bachrach, 2014). In his chapter van Lommel mentions some of the aftereffects an NDE can have:
Experiencers of NDEs had no fear of death anymore, and were convinced of the reality of an afterlife. They had greater intuitive sensitivity and meaning in their lives, coupled with long periods of homesickness, loneliness, and depression caused by the inability to share their impressive and life-changing experience with others. This new insight into life and death took them years to accept and consolidate.
The third section is partly a historical review about mental mediums, but it also includes commentary about contemporary mediumship research. A chapter has been culled from Alan Gauld’s Mediumship and Survival: A Century of Investigations. Julie Beischel, Director of Research at Windbridge Research Center, has also contributed a chapter. Kean herself describes sittings she has had with mental mediums. Hauntings and apparitions receive relatively little attention in the book, but an experienced investigator, Loyd Auerbach, has contributed a chapter about them.
The fourth section concerns physical mediumship. Erlendur Haraldsson has contributed a chapter about Indridi Indridason. Just like the psychical researchers originally did Kean recognises that many described events will come across as unbelievable. Nevertheless, she shares her personal experiences and also writes about her own sittings with physical mediums, namely Kai Mügge and Stewart Alexander. The latter has contributed a chapter.
In the minds of many physical mediumship is associated with fraud, yet this is barely discussed at all by Kean nor does she mention that Mügge is known to have engaged in fraud. Mügge’s mediumship has been subject to much attention, including in the Paranormal Review (issue 74 and 75). Interested readers should also consult the Journal of Scientific Exploration (Braude, 2016; Nahm, 2016). In addition, it should be mentioned that the famous Naples sittings with Eusapia Palladino and Franek Kluski’s mediumship which Kean writes about were subject to extensive debate in the pages of the JSPR in the 1990s.
Surviving Death is well-written and interesting, though a few sections are arguably a bit too brief. For example, the Scole experiments and Kenneth Batcheldor’s table-tipping séances are just mentioned in passing. Some discussion of the impact of Noah’s Ark Society for physical mediumship which really revitalized spiritualists’ interest in developing physical mediumship, would also have been welcome. These final comments should not detract from the fact that Surviving Death is a quite good introduction to the evidence for survival.
Bachrach, J. (2014). Glimpsing Heaven. Washington: National Geographic Society.
Braude, S. E. (2016). Follow-up investigation of the Felix circle. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 30, 27-55.
Nahm, M. (2016). Further comments about Kai Mügge’s alleged mediumship and recent developments. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 30, 56-62.
Tucker, J. B. (2013). Return to Life. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Tucker, J. B. (2016). The case of James Leininger: An American case of the reincarnation type. Explore, 12, 200-207.