Tracing the ghost’s constantly shifting contours, Morton asks the most direct question—What exactly is a ghost?—and examines related entities such as poltergeists, wraiths, and revenants. She asks how a ghost is related to a soul, and she outlines all the different kinds of ghosts there are. To do so, she visits the spirits of the classical world, including the five-part Egyptian soul and the first haunted-house, conceived in the Roman playwright Plautus’s comedy, Mostellaria. She confronts us with the frightening phantoms of the Middle Ages—who could incinerate priests and devour children—and reminds us of the nineteenth-century rise of Spiritualism, a religion essentially devoted to ghosts. She visits with the Indian bhuta and goes to the Hungry Ghost Festival in China, and of course she spends time in Mexico, where ghosts have a particularly strong grip on belief and culture. Along the way she gathers the ectoplasmic residues seeping from books and film reels, from the Gothic novel The Castle of Otranto to the 2007 blockbuster Paranormal Activity, from the stories of Ann Radcliffe to those of Stephen King.
Wide-ranging, informative, and slicked with over fifty unearthly images, Ghosts is an entertaining read of a cultural phenomenon that will delight anyone, whether they believe in ghosts or not.