IS THERE LIFE AFTER DEATH?

THE BEST BOOKS

Copyright © 2010 by James Park

Selected and reviewed by James Park, existential philosopher.
Listed in order of quality, beginning with the best.
The comments in red are the evaluations of this reviewer.


1. Corliss Lamont
The Illusion of Immortality

(New York: Philosophical Library, 1959)       303 pages

    A philosopher examines the history of belief in life after death,
the religious traditions that include various forms of after-life,
the arguments for and against all such beliefs,
and ultimately concludes that there is no life beyond the grave.
A well-reasoned and well-written book, easy to read and understand.
Lamont draws on science and reason to refute the beliefs in immortality.
This book affirms life, despite the fact that our lives must end.


2. Hans Kung
Eternal Life?

Life After Death as a Medical, Philosophical, and Theological Problem

(Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1984)       271 pages

    One of the most intelligent theologians of the 20th century
takes on an age-old problem: death.
Kung does not agree that near-death experiences have any bearing on life after death.
He is well aware of what philosophers have said about death,
what medicine has to contribute to the puzzle,
and even what physics and astro-physics helps us to see.
He is strongest when he criticizes what soft-minded people say about life after death.
But he becomes vague in what he affirms.
Nevertheless well worth reading.


3. Susan Blackmore
Dying to Live:
Near-Death Experiences

(London, UK: Grafton/HarperCollins, 1993)
(Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1993)       291 pages

    Of the hundreds of books on near-death experiences,
this is the one every serious student of the subject must read.
The author has read all the previous books on near-death experiences.
She concludes that all the phenomena
---separation from the body; seeing a bright light or moving down a tunnel;
meeting religious figures or relatives; a timeless sense of peace;
a sudden review of one's life; a transformed life after recovery---
can all be explained as products of the dying brain.
The near-death experience takes place entirely within one's skull.

    Blackmore examines (and rejects) such other 'explanations' as:
alternative realities; paranormal connections;
out-of-the-body visits to another dimension;
mystical vision; and tapping the Cosmic Memory Bank.
The research will continue, but this book will remain
the definitive scientific book on near-death experiences well into the 21st century.


4. John Hick
Death and Eternal Life

(New York: Harper & Row, 1976)       495 pages

    A British professor of philosophy reviews the Western Christian
and Eastern Hindu and Buddhist ideas about self, death, and life after death.
He specifically examines immortality (survival of a disembodied mind),
resurrection (a new life in another form),
and reincarnation (a new life in a different body).
Heaven and reincarnation may not be as far apart as they seem at first.
Hick finally invents his own hypothesis of several lives after death,
thru which we might reach moral and spiritual fulfillment.
An interesting and well-informed book.


5. Ian Wilson
The After Death Experience

(New York: Morrow, 1987)

    A review of the literature about life after death.
Altho the author would like to believe in some form of life after death,
he comes to basically negative conclusions.
Believing in life after death is only possible on the basis of faith.
Wilson raises a number of important issues in refreshing ways.
But basically he offers no fundamentally new insights.
Nevertheless the book is still worth reading.


6. David Darling
Soul Search:
A Scientist Explores the Afterlife

(New York: Villard/Random House, 1995)       193 pages

    Altho this book by a science writer begins with a scientific basis,
by the end it has veered off into Eastern mysticism
as the answer to the problem of death.
Some themes discussed: beliefs in life after death,
ancient to modern---religious, philosophical, & scientific;
near-death experiences; consciousness and self-consciousness;
memory and illusion; perceptions of time and space;
accepting absorption of individual (illusory) consciousness
into the cosmic consciousness.


7. Gary Doore, PhD, Editor
What Survives?

Contemporary Explorations of Life After Death

(Los Angeles, CA: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc. 1990)      287 pages

    Essays on life after death by: Steven Levine, Ram Dass, Colin Wilson,
Kenneth Ring, Charles Tart, Sogyal Rinpoche, Stanislav Grof,
Stanley Krippner, D. Scott Rogo, & several others.
Most of these thinkers come at the problem with 'new age' perspectives
and various forms of old and new 'spirituality' and shamanism.
Colin Wilson believes in life after death because of paranormal experiences
such as communication with the dead.
Tibetan Buddhism is well represented.
The book presents no unified conclusions, but it is a good place to begin.


8. Raymond Moody, Jr.
Life After Life

(Atlanta, GA: Mocking Bird Books, 1975)

    One of the first books on near-death experiences,
it offers various interpretations of the phenomena associated with nearly dying.
People who already believe in life after death will take comfort from this book,
altho the author is more careful and does consider some alternative explanations.
Writing almost 20 years later, Blackmore (#3 above) does a much better job.


Updated September 2010.
Additional suggestions are always welcome.
Send them to James Park by e-mail:
PARKx032@TC.UMN.EDU


If you would like to see other book reviews by James Park,
go to the Book Review Index.
Here you will find about 600 books reviewed
in about 60 bibliographies.


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