Updated: Jul 15, 2019
" Explore extreme powers of the mind from invisibility, bilocation, and teleportation to levitation, suspended animation, and fire-breathing. Discover the dark worlds of government experiments into paranormal activity, case studies of those claiming to possess particular powers- - - including Brazilian 'Psychic Surgeon' and healer Jose' Arigo'- - - and examinations of the scientific theories that have attempted to explain paranormal abilities. "
I have always believed in the paranormal, but I am careful not to take everything at face value. When I picked up this book, I unfortunately took it at its face value, thinking that it was about how people developed these paranormal abilities and the things that they achieved with them.
But this book seems to have been written by a skeptic that disguised it as a book from a believer in the paranormal, which to say is a pretty clever way to sell a book when the belief in the paranormal is at an all time high. The author spends much of the book detailing people who have exhibited paranormal abilities just to quickly tear them down. I will say that Brian Haughton did a wonderful job on researching for this book, bringing up not only the history of paranormal abilities, but also self proclaimed psychics that readers may not have even heard of, such as Florence Cook, who had her abilities tested by none other than William Crookes( the discoverer of the element thallium).
Haughton's 'Handbook of Paranormal Powers' should have been titled something else, mostly because it's a history lesson in ESP and also, obviously, from the point-of-view of a skeptic. Yet, it doesn't lack for reading by believers; one such part I found interesting was a part on dowsing- the supernatural ability to find hidden objects, substances, geographic features, or sometimes even people- which you may have seen someone doing by holding two rods to find underground water. This part was about when dowsing became popular in the seventeenth-century France, and was being considered 'evil': ". . .with the dowser Baroness de Beausoleil and her husband, a mining expert, journeying across Europe and allegedly locating ore deposits of iron, gold, and silver. The couple established a thriving mineral company, but when their methods of locating metal ores became known they were accused of practicing the 'black arts' and imprisoned for the rest of their lives. " Readers learn that it wasn't until the nineteenth century, with the rise of spiritualism, that dowsing was no longer considered 'evil.'
Another one that interested me concerned the comedian Andy Kaufman, and his pursuit to rid himself of a rare lung cancer with psychic healing: "In March 1984, US comedian Andy Kaufman traveled to the Philippines for a six- week course of psychic surgery after being diagnosed with a rare lung cancer. The surgeon, Jun Labo, performed the operation, and claimed that he had removed large cancerous tumors from Kaufman's body. On May 16, 1984, Kaufman died from renal failure as a consequence of a metastatic lung cancer. "
I hate, but also love this book, not because Haughton backs up all of the skeptic claims with scientific research and tests, but because he claimed this to be a handbook of paranormal powers. If you glance at the cover, just below the title is: 'discover the secrets of mind readers, mediums, and more' - this can be taken that it's written by someone who believes in the paranormal, as well as someone who may have had personal experiences with the unknown, but with that said, I did learn a lot about the history of paranormal powers as well as people I had never heard of.
To prove the skepticism in Haughton's writing, we can turn to page 173, where he writes about how to test whether or not a self-proclaimed psychic surgeon is real. But even before this page and throughout this book, Haughton explains someone doing an extraordinary thing only to quickly explain away why it was fake to begin with. The 'Handbook of Paranormal Powers' reads a lot like a college thesis, that I found myself getting bored with the matter-of-fact tone. Some readers may enjoy reading essay-type books, but for me, it becomes repetitive enough that I don't remember much of the information I had just read.
Also, readers may come away with the feeling that Haughton doesn't care about the slight chance that some paranormal powers may be real, but instead he'd rather read about the scientific facts. I would only recommend this book to people who want to do a light reading on paranormal history, meaning mostly what made headlines in the news. For believers, I would suggest you go elsewhere.
Winner of the 2012 Books-A-Million Collector's Edition of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein...
Teresa Murphy Kerr
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