Ghosts: A Haunted History was published by Reaktion Books in 2015.
In the history of the numinous there are few things more common than the belief in ghosts. From the earliest writings such as the Epic of Gilgamesh to today’s ghost-hunting reality TV shows, ghosts have chilled the air of nearly every era and every culture in human history. In this book, Lisa Morton wrangles together history’s most enduring ghosts into an entertaining and comprehensive look at what otherwise seems to always evade our eyes.
Tracing the ghost’s constantly shifting contours, Morton asks ‘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 describes the different varieties of ghosts that seem to be. 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, goes to the Hungry Ghost Festival in China, and 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, and from the stories of Ann Radcliffe to those of Stephen King.
Wide-ranging, informative, and slicked with sixty unearthly images, Ghosts is an entertaining account of a cultural phenomenon that will delight anyone, whether they believe in ghosts or not.
“In Ghosts: A Haunted History, Lisa Morton offers a compact account of the human propensity to believe in otherworldly apparitions. She discusses, among other matters, haunted houses, spiritualism, ghost-hunting, “Day of the Dead” and spectral terrors in literature, film and popular culture. To give body and shape to these phantoms and airy nothings, Morton packs her book with images — of paintings, creepy spirit photographs, movie stills and even a full-page illustration of Casper the Friendly Ghost…Ghosts abounds with phantasmic lore of every kind…the book reminds us that it’s when the days are shortest and the nights darkest that we most need warmth and light and family. Paradoxically, it’s at this same time of the year, and under just those cozy conditions, that we most enjoy spooky stories.” Michael Dirda, The Washington Post, December 16, 2015
“Lisa Morton’s brisk, handsomely illustrated Ghosts: A Haunted History canters through millennia of supposed uncanny interruptions with a kind of puckish scepticism . . . Morton excels at presenting us with instances of the persistence of belief, across all times and cultures…” – Jonathan Barnes, The Times Literary Supplement
“Ghosts: A Haunted History is intelligent and well structured, It’s also well informed, which is apparent in the sheer volume of spectral examples that Morton has collected, yet her writing style remains accessible, and she doesn’t allow the book to read like a jargon-heavy thesis…a perfect companion for those who err towards skepticism over embellishment, yet still find themselves riddled in goose-pimples when they hear a creak in the floorboards in the dead of night.” – Richelle Charkot, Rue Morgue Magazine, December 2015
“Morton’s admirably cool and dispassionate summary incorporates an astonishing range of reference, covering phantoms, spirits, and wraiths worldwide, including the Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival, the Japanese holiday known as Obon (during which families leave food for wandering souls), the Dia de los Muertos in Mexico, and the various ghosts and legends of Brazil, Africa, Australia and India. The book’s geographical scope is matched by its historical sweep, which begins with a discussion of the edimmu of ancient Mesopotamia and the various spirits of the classical world, and continues all the way through the Middle Ages, to nineteenth-century spiritualism and beyond.” – Ian Sansom The Spectator 28 October 2017
“While Lisa Morton makes reference to some critical scholars and actors in the history of the ghostly, her avoidance of the oft-quoted and sometimes laborious critical theory that tends to inform approaches to the spectral makes her latest monograph, Ghosts: A Haunted History, refreshing in many ways. The pseudo-encyclopedic approach has its advantages for those looking for a fairly comprehensive overview and introduction, and allows readers to make their own connections without labouring the point, while providing space to prompt further thinking. Her sources are wide reaching and inclusive, and the book is demonstrative of the author’s extensive knowledge of the subject.” – Jen Baker, Folklore Volume 128, 2017 – Issue 3
“Ghosts is brilliant, insightful and scary as hell. Lisa Morton proves that truth is definitely stranger than fiction.” –Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of The Nightsiders and Ghostwalkers
“In Ghosts, Lisa Morton brings her encyclopedic knowledge of folklore and the supernatural to bear on this vast, vital subject. For students of ‘things that go bump in the night,’ the book is simply indispensable.” – Leslie S. Klinger, author of The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft
Ghosts was mentioned in the Time Magazine article “A Brief History of Real Ghostbusters”
To the right is original hardback cover of Ghosts: