am 17. April 2000
Overall, this was a bit of a disappointment. The subtitle, "The Scientific Evidence for Past Lives," is typical of the "grabber" subtitles which publishers use to sell books but which often bear little relationship to the contents. Shroder accompanies Dr. Ian Stevenson (who is now 80 years old and has been meticulously documenting past-life memories for 40 years) on follow-up visits to Lebanon and India. A really huge portion of the book comprises Shroder's whining about the conditions he is forced to endure, which is interesting in small doses but eventually gets tedious. (Rethink your vacation to India, folks.) We do get snippets of Stevenson's interviews with subjects who remember past lives, but these are disjointed and hardly rise to the level of "the scientific evidence." In fact, all Stevenson seems to encounter on these visits are fairly weak cases and dead-ends. The real evidence -- reams of it -- is found in Stevenson's own works, such as "Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation" and "Where Reincarnation and Biology Intersect." Shroder's book gives the reader some insight into Stevenson's personality and methodology, but no real understanding of the scope and depth of his work. Shroder's knowledge of this field is distinctly thin -- this book is at precisely the level of what you see in the newspaper every day, where a reporter spends a few days immersed in a highly complex subject to which others have devoted their entire lives, then purports to sum it all up in a few pages of generalities. Shroder's attitude was also somewhat off-putting to me. Although he frequently expresses admiration for Stevenson, his tone occasionally struck me as arrogant and condescending -- as though the reader were supposed to give him (Shroder) credit for even undertaking this project instead of laughing at a subject so widely regarded as silly by his journalistic peers. His doubts regarding Stevenson's research are standard fare which Stevenson and his colleagues have been wrestling with for decades, yet the responses are not fleshed out and the reader is left with the impression that Stevenson was no match for a hard-boiled journalist. I suspect that those who will derive the greatest enjoyment from this book will be those who have assumed that reincarnation is complete nonsense with no basis in fact, and who thus will be intrigued that "one of their own" came away puzzled if not convinced. For those who are already familiar with the work of Stevenson, this book may be worthwhile as an insight (albeit not a very deep one) into the man and his methods. For those looking for "the scientific evidence for past lives" -- well, it's really not here.
am 29. Oktober 1999
I have been familiar with Stevenson's reincarnation research since the late 60's and early 70's but was frustrated that his works were so far removed from the non-academic public. It was the only "scientific evidence" that I knew of. Even large public libraries didn't carry his books. One of his best books is expensive and I was elated that the library I interlibrary loaned it from was willing to send it. So I was SO EXCITED to see the review of "Old Souls: The Scientific Evidence for Past Lives", and ordered the book for our library (I'm a public librarian). So with the attitude "Finally! Stevenson's scientific evidence for public palate!", I read the book.
I was D-I-S-A-P-P-O-I-N-T-E-D ! I was not at all interested in the very detailed descriptions of the hotel dining room and how often the table cloths were changed: "It was a long, narrow room with windows stretching across one side and a blank wall on the other. The tables were covered with freshly ironed white table cloths, which the staff changed after every meal and sometimes in between courses. Waiters in white jackets lurked inconspicuously behind the pillars in the center of the room, always appearing, as if by telepathy, when they were needed."
I wish this detail were applied to the cases. The cases got lost and dispersed in the travelogue and other irrelevant detail. The title of the book should have been more accurately, "Travels with a Reincarnation Researcher". But since that was not the title, I am rating this book only two stars, because I felt the title was misleading. Also, in metaphysical circles, the word "old souls" describes spiritually advanced souls who have had many, many lifetimes (hence the term old souls), not just "any soul", as the cases seem to discuss. An example of an "old soul" might have had the character Gandhi had.
The other reviewers were right, not much meat in here in so far as the "scientific evidence". Though I understand that Shroder could only write first-hand about the cases that they investigated in those few weeks, like I said, the title was misleading. However the book was not without value. The value is in an appreciation of what Dr. Stevenson has to go through to collect the "scientific evidence" and other data for me to sit in an armchair and read. He has to find remote villages, find the people, and suppose he has to make a long grueling trip out there and they aren't there anymore, or at least not for the day, as not everyone has a phone. I suppose many of his efforts are without fruit. The book also gives glimpses of Dr. Stevenson's personality and it answered what I always wondered: "Where does the money come from to finance his research and pay for his worldwide travels?" I used to think that is why the books (earlier editions or previous publishers) cost so much. But now that I know, I feel "God" provided the way that his research was financed.
If one wants true scientific evidence of reincarnation, I recommend "Where Reincarnation and Biology Intersect", by Dr. Stevenson, which is the condensed version of the much longer (and more expensive) title "Reincarnation and Biology: A Contribution to the Etiology of Birthmarks and Birth Defects". I read the latter, which is a medical monograph with extensive documentation, references, numerous tables, and many footnotes. The "Where Reincarnation and Biology Intersect" has none of this. I especially found fascinating, the chapter "Birthmarks Corresponding to Wounds Verified by Medical Records".
"Old Souls: Scientific Evidence for Past Lives" would be a better title for "Where Reincarnation and Biology Intersect", than Shroder's book . I like reading case after case after case after case, which books written by Dr. Stevenson provide. He gets to the NITTY -GRITTY! Stevenson also covers his methodology and interview methods. It's just that it's very academic, as a physician would write about a patient in their chart.
Some of Stevenson's other titles, which you can interlibrary loan, if not purchase, are:
Cases of the Reincarnation Type: Twelve Cases in Thailand & Burma
Children Who Remember Previous Lives: a Question of Reincarnation
A Handbook on Reincarnation
Reincarnation and Biology: a Contribution to the Etiology of Birthmarks and Birth Defects
Telepathic Impressions: a Review and Report of Thirty-Five New Cases
Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation
Unlearned Language: New Studies on Xenoglossy
Xenoglossy: a Review and Report of a Case
am 25. August 1999
I have read a fair sampling of books about reincarnation, so I suppose I had high expectations when I purchased this book. I have no argument with the author's interpretations/opinions re: past research, and what it all may mean, etc. My disappointment stems from the fact that the cases he discusses are simply rather boring examples of the phenomena. Although he was limited to those cases which he could not hand pick that were under investigation during the trips to Lebanon and India, he could have at least included some reference, anecdotal or not, to some more compelling cases that would make the book more worthwhile reading. It was a letdown.
am 29. November 1999
The author learned of the research of Ian Stevenson, M.D. and decided to accompany him to evaluate the subjects first hand. The book spends more time describing the details of the trips and the surroundings the author found himself in than on describing the subjects themselves. In support of the evidence of reincarnation the author concludes that the subjects are truthful and the evidence cannot be explained by any other explanation than reincarnation, but it is much more interesting to read the evidence in the several books that Ian Stevenson has written about his case studies.
am 20. Februar 2000
Shroder, a Washington Post journalist, starts off skeptical, but intrigued by the possibility of reincarnation. He persuades Dr. Ian Stevenson of the University of Virginia, who has written extensively on the topic, to take him along on field trips to Lebanon and India so he can evaluate the quality of research for himself.
His journalistic descriptions of the persons involved and scenes are a real delight. There were times when he might have been in danger of life and limb and he describes all this lightheartedly, but with a keen eye for color.
More to the point, he carefully examines the rationale for Dr. Stevenson's belief that reincarnation is not only possible, but actually common. He summarizes the case made by the doctor's critics and weighs in with his views on the biases inherent in both. What impressses him most is the ambiguity inherent in the strongest of Dr. Stevenson's cases. There are scores of minor mistakes - misrecalling the number of siblings in a previous life, errors in recollection of dress etc. - in the subjects recollections of previous existence along with powerfully accurate memories of startling detail. Do such errors "prove" that the subject is lying or mistaken, or do they "prove" the opposite since human memory is faulty in this birth as well so how can we expect perfect recall of previous births? Where you plonk down on this has more to do with your own biases than anything else.
What Shroder is convinced about is that Dr. Stevenson has done more than enough to establish that there is more here than meets the eye and that the entire subject matter is deserving of sincere investigation. The scientific community is still too far from undertaking such an investigation and this is Dr. Stevenson's greatest regret. Shroder does a fine job of depicting the 80 year old investigator's sincerity, diligence and frustration at his inability to get others to take up the baton he is ready to pass on. Excellent sources in bibliography for anyone who wants to do his/her own follow-on research.
am 19. Dezember 1999
If someone told me that a fairly mainstream journalist was going to travel with Dr. Ian Stevenson, the world's leading scientific researcher on reincarnation, to investigate the scientific proof for reincarnation, and what would I expect, "Old Souls" would fit quite well. I would suspect tnat the book would show more humanity than Dr. Stevenson's rather dry accounts of his cases, but most importantly, if a conventional, rational thinking person needs to travel to various countries to find "proof" of reincarnation to convince them, it is unlikely that they would ever be convinced that reincarnation is a fact.
"Old Souls" is easy and pleasureable to read, and I agree with tne reviewers who compliment Mr. Shroder on the travelogues of his and Dr. Stevenson's tales in Lebanon and India. He very effectively describes the conditions in the two countries, clearly and honestly, and conveys both the terrible effect that many wars have had on Lebanon, as well as the rather gruesome and awful poverty in India. The author also depicts the drama of meeting people in the flesh who can clearly remember what I believe is a fact, their lives in other bodies. There are several cases in "Old Souls" that I feel would convince anyone with an open mind that reincarnation is true.
"Old Souls" in a way is an attempt to vindicate Dr. Stevenson, who comes across as a very noble, persistent, but frustrated scientist, largely ignored by the mainstream scientific community despite thousands of solid cases in many countries which point to reincarnation. And in a way the books succeeds in vindicating Dr. Stevenson.
But unfortunately Mr. Shroder himself, typical of people indoctrinated in cultures which reject reincarnation, can never seem to accept it, and his objections are also the same reasons we hear over and over, e.g., since he can't remember past lives, he can't accept it; since science, which he obviously accepts as the arbiter of truth, cannot "prove" reincarnation, it can't be true; and so on. I found this aspect of the book quite tiresome. I must wonder if there can ever be "scientific proof" of reincarnation, the soul, Karma and so on. And I must ask, "Who cares?" I certainly do not, I do not consider scientific materialism the arbiter of ANY truths when it comes to metaphysical questions.
So as I understand it, "old souls" like the author's do indeed keep reincarnating until they learn that evolving as souls through multiple human experiences is indeed our true mission. I can't "prove" that either. There are simply some truths that we must come to by non-rational methods and experiences, and it's really sad that rational proof is the only way so many people can decide on the veracity of crucial matters.
God is an experience, not an experiment.
am 4. November 1999
I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in adventure stories. A man sets out against incredible odds, traveling through perilous lands and braving endless tests of faith to deliver Truth to the masses. Is reincarnation a reality? No one can prove it, not definitively. But no one seems to be looking for concrete proof either way. With the exception of Dr. Ian Stevenson and a small handful of other researchers he has inspired to believe in his work. "Old Souls" is a fascinating portrait of one of the last true heroes: the scientist. Dr. Stevenson has dedicated his life to investigating children's claims of past-life memories, claims the majority of modern science has turned it's back on. The book, filled with descriptions so vivid you feel as if you can smell, taste and touch the surroundings, takes the reader on a colorful journey to Beirut, India and Middle America. We are following the 79 year-old scientist on what may be his last interviews with the families, past and present, of the children who have memories of another life. These spontaneous memories are not the grand, theatrical "I was Cleopatra"-type claims that have become old hat in New Age philosophy. They are not a product of regression-hypnosis. The past life memories in Stevenson's research are simple, plain and out of the mouths of babes--often with enough details and names to identify the adress and family of the person they claim to have been. In almost all of the cases covered in the book, the families of the past personality support the cliams of the child, believing, despite any descrepancies, that they have regained their departed relative. Stevenson has fought to keep his records accurate, copious and, most of all, sane. His research is unquestionably thorough, which you'll find is quite an accomplishment when you read about the daunting odds he is up against--travels all across the globe to conduct interviews with subjects who are sometimes unwilling, often surly and occasionally downright dangerous. "Old Souls" seves as testimony to the doctor's relentless dedication to accuracy. In places that have been too busy trying to survive multiple wars to keep exact records of anything beyond the past month, Stevenson has spent days searching for 20 year-old documents helpful only to verify a small portion of a child's claim. I found the studies conducted to be fascinating and the book to be extraordinary in it's ability to make feild research seem thrilling. Although I was not fully convinced, by the end of the book, that reincarnation was the only explanation for these children's stories, author Tom Shroder did convince me that this research can no longer be ignored. If any part of these cases of past-life awareness, numbering over 3,000 documented cases to date, can be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, the implications could be revolutionary. These investigations cannot end with Stevenson's retirement. As I've said, Stevenson, by virtue of his dedicated search for truth outside what our society has deemed possible, seems to be one of the last true heroes. And this book is the story of one of the last true adventures.
am 11. August 1999
The book describes a journalist's travels with Dr. Ian Stevenson, a University of Virginia professor of psychiatry, who collects information about people who have past-life memories. He describes Stevenson's working style and focuses on his efforts to verify information from multiple sources. The information is quite striking, and the book describes clearly the field research problems that arise as the researcher tries to verify old and rehashed information.
Probably because Stevenson has been hooted by skeptics for years, the author goes to a great length to show how the 'past-life' information would be attributed to hearsay or other motives (like children wanting a richer house or a better caste). When these explanations seem improbable, the author implies that the answer is reincarnation, a soul transference.
The data strikingly indicate that batches of information along with emotions and physical changes of dead people under some circumstances appear in the bodies of others who were generally born at a proximal time and space. This phenomenon is rare but quite unlike anything else. Surprisingly, the author belittles the scientifically minded, laboratory-based parapsychologists who believe Stevenson's data but who don't rush to the reincarnation conclusion. And though he often mentions ideas about scientific methodology, he neither presents it nor abides by it. Reincarnation is a concept with much baggage from many religions and certainly dates from a time when humanity did not know how the human brain works. Using the data to declare a religious concept a fact does injustice to the data. Humanity should really find out why these phenomena exist, but their classification as reincarnation decreases the probability that serious psychophysiologists will study them.
In a way, the book was a write-down. The author includes many digressions, such as details about the trips, so the narration is something like a reincarnation travelogue. Maybe this was designed to make the book more accessible to less educated people, but it turned me off. I skipped as much as I could and tried to focus on the cases. For people looking into this phenomenon seriously, some bibliographical references would be very appropriate at times, but the author skipped them, leaving the reader with the vagueness feeling that some metaphysical books give.
Finally, the author does not summarize, does not pull out general principles. He has every right to believe in reincarnation. But if this is the reason for these data, which religious brand fits it best? Are people better humans the next time around (apparently no). Are they better off? Are they paying for sins? We get no data-based theory of reincarnation, which is what one would expect from someone espousing the scientific method.
Overall, this is light-weight reading. For readers who really want to understand the issues, I recommend instead Ian Stevenson's books and articles, such as 'Where reincarnation and biology intersect'.
am 21. März 2000
Shroder honestly recognizes his limitations in scientific literacy in the time of writing this book as opposed to his other journalist friend in the book who easily jump to the skeptic wagon due to his formation under the umbrella of scientific orthodoxy. And this is the virtue of the author for appraching the most important scientific subject of the millenium. Any personal compromise with mainstream scientific professional institutions would have worked against the simple and shocking objetivity of the book in depicting events that require a complete overhaul of our more cherished scientific assumptions about the physical substratum of consciousness. As the author describes through his dialogues with Stevenson and others we are in a loss of explaining at last two aspects of the cases showed in the book: a)What are the biological:spacetime, termodynamic, electromagnetic and complexity measures of the hypothetical entities that are necessary to postulate for understanding the "transitions" between personalities? b)Why the curious differences (even in the better cases) between the memories of some facts about previous personalities and the facts verified during the stage of research?. All this in middle of amazing quantity of true correspondences.
am 31. August 1999
Tom Shroder's OLD SOULS is a well-written and compelling book dealing with a still mysterious and controversial subject: children who believe they have lived before. Far from being a dry academic research project documenting cases textbook fashion, this book draws the reader along with the author on a fascinating adventure.
Shroder's descriptions of the cultural flavor of both Lebanon and India, his vivid impressions and sometimes alarming experiences, keep the reader well-involved and continually questioning the evidence. At no point is the reader led to believe Shroder has any agenda except to report on his experiences as he accompanies Ian Stevenson, a professor from the University of Virginia, for what is perhaps Stevenson's last visit to Lebanon and India to reinvestigate claimants of reincarnation.
There are varying degrees of how convincing each case is, but even for one who does not subscribe to the belief of reincarnation, there are other cases that are exceptionally compelling. Photographs lend added credibility to some individual cases.
No matter where one stands on the subject, OLD SOULS is a thought-provoking and thoroughly digestible inquiry into an unsettling phenomenon. Tom Shroder did a very masterful job on this book.