Ghostland

An American History in Haunted Places
Narrated by: Jon Lindstrom
Length: 10 hrs and 48 mins
Categories: History, Americas
4 out of 5 stars (533 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

One of NPR’s Great Reads of 2016

“A lively assemblage and smart analysis of dozens of haunting stories...absorbing...[and] intellectually intriguing.” (The New York Times Book Review)

From the author of The Unidentified, an intellectual feast for fans of offbeat history, Ghostland takes listeners on a road trip through some of the country's most infamously haunted places - and deep into the dark side of our history. 

Colin Dickey is on the trail of America's ghosts. Crammed into old houses and hotels, abandoned prisons and empty hospitals, the spirits that linger continue to capture our collective imagination, but why? His own fascination piqued by a house hunt in Los Angeles that revealed derelict foreclosures and "zombie homes", Dickey embarks on a journey across the continental United States to decode and unpack the American history repressed in our most famous haunted places. Some have established reputations as "the most haunted mansion in America" or "the most haunted prison"; others, like the haunted Indian burial grounds in West Virginia, evoke memories from the past our collective nation tries to forget. 

With boundless curiosity, Dickey conjures the dead by focusing on questions of the living - how do we, the living, deal with stories about ghosts, and how do we inhabit and move through spaces that have been deemed, for whatever reason, haunted? Paying attention not only to the true facts behind a ghost story, but also to the ways in which changes to those facts are made - and why those changes are made - Dickey paints a version of American history left out of the textbooks, one of things left undone, crimes left unsolved. Spellbinding, scary, and wickedly insightful, Ghostland discovers the past we're most afraid to speak of aloud in the bright light of day is the same past that tends to linger in the ghost stories we whisper in the dark. 

©2016 Colin Dickey (P)2016 Penguin Audio

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

A fluffed-up college essay writ large.

The basic premise of telling a scripted ghost story or haunting, then analyzing the cultural forces behind said story and the actual facts to give a more realistic interpretation of the situation is enough to drive a book. An "Adam Ruins Everything" exclusively for ghosts.

Unfortunately the writer is incredibly fond of re-stating ideas with increasingly flowery paragraphs, as if one is reading a book that had a minimum word requirement and the author only had 2/3rds of said requirement the night before sending it out.

There are some delightfully fascinating segments, especially if the psychology of haunted houses and ghost stories fascinate you. Unfortunately there are vast swaths of Ghostland so boring I caught myself tuning out the narration as unimportant noise for half an hour or more, only to discover I'd missed nothing important.

32 people found this helpful

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Not what you might think...

If you are looking for ghost stories collected across America to get a few scares from-
this is not that book.
I love collections of ghost stories from different regions of the country. This book- well written and researched- is not that book.
The author debunks ghost stories and breaks them down into sociological facts. At first, I was put off by the negativity and superior attitude the author projects in explaining away those collected tales.
As I continued, I found that the explanations, while often sad and very often exposing the worst nature in those living to tell the tales- it was very interesting and informative.

6 people found this helpful

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Not really history

What disappointed you about Ghostland?

The lack of history and yet the lack of proof the author gives for his theories. This follows a set course: each chapter tells a famous ghost story and the author then goes on to debunk it. In that light, every analysis end up with one of three refrains: people using someone's tragedy for their entertainment, people smearing an innocent person's name/rep, and it never happened.

Every single story breaks down into these three and it often get rather boring. It's quite obvious the author doesn't believe in ghosts (which would've been fine in itself if he kept a more open attitude about it all) and the tone of the book goes between scolding/accusatory and lecturing for much of it. I got to the point where I wanted to chuck my Ipod the next time the narrator said 'Again, people capitalizing on other person's tragedy for their entertainment.'

Despite saying he has an open mind, he leaves nothing to chance. Every single little 'oh, it might be ghosts' is explained away. What little history is actually in this book (that doesn't pertain to the actual stories themselves) is vague and unsupported. The author gives us one reason why people like ghost stories: because we don't keep our dead loved ones in our homes for 3 or so days after their deaths, thus we must've removed the horror of it from us. There's no supporting evidence to this and he never brings up the fact that we've been fascinated by death for as long as we've had written record -- and it's not a stretch to say before then too.

In short, listened to this is sort of like being lectured at for being a terrible person for liking ghost stories. Bleh. It's strange for the author to take such a tack because he states in the beginning that no one can make believers stop believing in ghosts -- and then he spends the rest of the book try. LOL

22 people found this helpful

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Disappointed

I cant say how disappointed I am in this book. I was hoping for a book that really went into the legends and history behind haunted places. and what this book really was, was a very skeptical guy trying to disprove everything. It was such a pessimistic book written by a skeptic. WHY THE HECK IS A SKEPTIC WRITING THE HISTORY OF HAUNTED PLACES! this book was such a let down and down right pissed me off.

I Definitely Do NOT recommend this book...to anyone.... save your time and your money if you are looking for a good book of famous ghosts and famous places.

The only thing good about this book wasnt even the book. The narrator was very good and seems to try hard to make the book sound somewhat interesting.

15 people found this helpful

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An effective, yet highly skeptical approach..

Ghostland is exactly what it claims to be; an exploration of America’s haunted history and places. Colin Dickey treks across the US examining some more infamous haunts and a few lesser known. As someone who spent their childhood in search of the next big ghost story, this promised to be my cup of tea.

“Surely ghosts will follow wherever there is bad record keeping”

This is the sort of book that understandably piques the curiosity. Sporting a collection of haunted locations, I will admit I found myself slightly disappointed in the lack of actual fear factor I anticipated. Dickey’s approach is admirable though and warrants consideration. Addressing each haunt and history with a skeptical eye, he delves deep into the stories unearthing the often less than stellar realities.

As someone with a deep appreciation and interest in the supernatural I am aware that skepticism is an important part of the search for answers and the truth. The author undertakes the task of exposing the truth behind the provided stories, debunking them one by one.

Perhaps, that is where the connection failed for myself initially. I craved a dark, unexplained tale of horror. What I received was a brief lesson in history. A look at how times alters even the most legendary of stories and the role that human psych and even spirituality play in such. We are often guilty of subconsciously bending the truth to fit our own needs as a society. Sometimes we are haunted by tragedy, family disputes and lies.

“But this, too, you could say, is part of the American story, as we have always been people who move on, leaving behind wreckage and fragments in our wake.”

Dickey’s direct methods and examination offer substantial insight. Jon Lindstrom (who I first encountered in Dark Matter) accompanies this with a fluid and effective narration that offers a seamless encounter. Information is delivered in digestible portions that feel well researched.

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places may not have delivered the supernatural stories I sought, but it delivered none the less. Well timed execution assure an experience that offers entertainment and solicits thought. But I struggled with what felt like an air of disbelief and biased opinions on the author’s behalf. I personally believe the most effective investigators will keep an open mind and felt that was not exactly the case here. The author felt that of a pure skeptic, but I still enjoyed my time with the book. I recommend exploring this on your own accord and formulating an opinion. It could be a worthy discussion read.

3 people found this helpful

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Don't Listen to The Whiners

"This isn't about ghosts!" "All he does is debunk!" "He's repetitive". This is a marvelous book absolutely about ghosts, it covers a number of well known American ghost stories and ties them to local and national history. I'm a believer in ghosts, personally, and frankly, this in no ways discounts this work. Ghosts can be as real as the nose on my face and still what ghost stories get repeated and the way in which they are told (and what inaccuracies are transmitted) is absolutely and undoubtedly representative of the culture in which they exist. He writes lyrically of the unrighted wrongs of our past and how this leaves us haunted by our past as well as by ghosts (real or imaginary). He's not smug or self righteous, at least if you're not willfully ignorant of American history and its difficult moral implications. He also genuinely forces us to engage with the moral implications of our engagement with the supernatural, and as a ghost believer I actually find this very important and useful. If ghosts are real, and for example we're interacting with the still tormented spirits of enslaved people, shouldn't we have... at least some engagement with them and the unconscionable history that lead to their presence? Shouldn't we be... doing something to deal with that history in the present as well as dealing with it in terms of any spirits it has left in torment rather than gawking and getting a pleasurable little chill from the unimaginable horror of what happened to these very real people? ESPECIALLY if they are actually present.

People also suggest he doesn't post "Proof" of his claims, when these are famous stories (unsubstantiated in many cases themselves) and very easily checked. This is a popular work and not an academic text.

It's beautifully written, similar in tone and style to the lush Southern Gothic qualities of Faulkner. So, while it may not be a simple easily digestible pleasurable thrill-ride for the prurient and ghoulish, it's a lush well researched work about the American spirit and the moral history that still haunts this country.

2 people found this helpful

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Some good intentions, but sidelined . . .

**Disclaimer: I want to keep this brief. In doing so, I may fail to be very articulate and risk making more of a negative impression about myself rather than an objective review of the audiobook. That's my disclaimer and I hope you'll accept that as I mean it to be.**
There are two main things I want to say about this book:
1) It is more about the legends and stories *behind* any accounts moreso than about accounts themselves. I actually like that about the book. If you like to watch those reality-TV shows where teams go into places and do a lot of infrared video, and show you EVP graphs and such, this book will probably disappoint you.
2) The author repeatedly discusses racial injustice and discrimination in this book. I understand. I get it. Honestly, I genuinely do. But they come back to it, chapter after chapter after chapter in such a way as to leave me thinking they should have either titled the book differently, or should simply write a book geared toward and discussing racial injustice in the arena of folklore. (And that would probably make a great book. I very well might buy it, with a transparent approach from the author intact.) It just got to the point of where you felt they had a second agenda they were trying to sell, the way the author would touch on it, move on to another location and another set of legends, only to come back to it again, move on and come back to it again. If it was a solid thread that weaved through the entire book, it would have been more enjoyable (but would, as I said, be better suited with a relevant title). Overall, I enjoyed the book enough to stick with it, though.

2 people found this helpful

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Great book!

This book is excellent and the research fascinating. The narrator's sarcastic tone is horrible. Why bother to report information you so clearly detest?

2 people found this helpful

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Easy to lose interest

I wanted to like this book. I found that as a new topic would start it would grab my interest, but a few minutes in, my mind would start to wander. I wish there had been more information on the hauntings themselves.

9 people found this helpful

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I still love this book!

I have listened to Ghostland 3 times now. I tend to listen to it near or in October because it presents a philosophical and beautiful approach to thinking about ghost stories that I find enriches my love for ghost tales. The author does not set out to prove the existence of ghosts one way or another but for many people his approach could be considered too skeptical and disbelieving. I appreciate that approach personally and find his approach to WHY we tell ghost stories refreshing and interesting. I will likely continue to revisit this book yearly and recommend it to anyone who is interested it the social, historical and philosophical reasons why we tell ghost stories.

1 person found this helpful