BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,


Sometimes there really ought to be "an adult in charge" of book projects. This is, of course, not to say that the author, editor, publisher, etc. involved here are not chronological adults, but the direction the book takes just screams "no oversight"! Frankly, I'm disappointed that the usually reliable Arkana let this one see print in this form.

Margot Grey's Return from Death: An Exploration of the Near-death Experience has an interesting premise, looking at the "near-death experience" from what purports to be a clinical perspective, but it is really only about 1/3rd about that, and the rest is a mixture of "agendas".

There are some basic problems with the "research" here as well, such as "sample size". Obviously, those who have experienced a NDE and are willing to speak about it are a limited population, but most of the info in this book is based on a group of under fifty respondents, and when they talk about "cross-cultural" studies they mean U.K./U.S., which is hardly like looking at, say, South America and India, or China and sub-Saharan Africa! Grey seems to base most of her material on the reports of others, notably Kenneth Ring (who provided a Foreword). While she's listed as a "Humanistic Psychologist", most of this book comes across as the work of an enthusiastic amateur ... and I suppose that had this been done in 2005 instead of 1985 it would have been a website rather than a book!

Again, the first third of the book is the "most useful", with things like the typical "pattern of the NDE" defined ... this goes 1) "peace and sense of well-being", 2) "separation from the body", 3) "entering the darkness", 4) "seeing the light", and 5) "the inner world". These also (for a few dozen subjects) have an added set of markers, 1) "some kind of barrier", 2) "the presence", 3) "meeting with deceased spirits", 4) "life review", and 5) "decision to return". As noted, the sample size for the study is quite small, the "cross-cultural" aspects are really within one "culture", and the rigor (such as one might be able to expect for the subject) is "iffy". However, had the book had stopped with section one, it would have at least made made an interesting pamphlet.

Unfortunately, it appears that either Ms. Grey had some axes to grind, or was pushed towards "woo-woo" by her publishers, as the rest of the book goes deeper into "newagey" material, first generalizing from just a handfull of respondents a whole array of "developments" following subjects' NDEs ... psychic abilities, healing abilities, and "prophesy". It's in this latter element that the narrative really "falls off the table", with the author spewing page after page of Dire Predictions of "earth changes", political upheaval, nuclear war, global starvation, etc., etc. etc., all to happen by 1988. She lends great credence to all this (which I can only assume was carefully cajoled out of the respondents by herself and Dr. Ring, and, as is the case with all the doomsayers of every decade, is almost frantic that something Has To Be Done (!!!!) because of these "visions". I don't know about you, but I must have been busier than I thought I was at the time to have missed all this stuff 20 years ago!

Additionally, Grey attempts to link the various NDE manifestation to assorted spiritual traditions, but in a general way, and not just, say, in relation to psychopompic materials such as "books of the dead". Sure, modern Western society does not have a beneficial relationship with the dying process, but rather than developing a "suggested approach", the author randomly cherry-picks bits and pieces of unrelated spiritual/mystical traditions to imply a connection.

Needless to say, I can't really recommend Return from Death, it's a poorly supported muddle that's presented without any guiding framework, and quickly devolves into lurid fantasy pretending to be "edgy" science. Mercifully, this appears to be out-of-print at present, but used copies can be had from the usual suspects for as little as $1.00 if you really had a hankering for a bad look at what would otherwise be an interesting subject.

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Tags: book review
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