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Publisher's Summary

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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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Gavin
  • Henderson, Ky, US
  • 10-13-16

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.

11 of 11 people found this review 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.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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American Ghosts - a sociological perspective

What made the experience of listening to Ghostland the most enjoyable?

I don't like horror but I loved this book. It looks at American ghost stories from a sociological perspective - how and why they arise, what purpose they serve, how they change - with curiosity and intelligence. It was engaging, well-researched, and I really enjoyed listening to it.

3 of 3 people found this review 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

15 of 18 people found this review helpful

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  • Aaron
  • Whitehall, OH, United States
  • 11-15-16

Great blending of history and the paranormal

As other reviewers have pointed out, if you want straight ghost stories you'll want to go elsewhere. But if you (like me) enjoy some American history and social context behind haunted legends, this is perfect for you. Mr. Dickey thoroughly researches the legends of these haunted landmarks and attractions, including interviews whenever available. History, sociology, anthropology, mythology, and the supernatural- this has it all!

2 of 2 people found this review 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.

8 of 10 people found this review helpful

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Author Thinks You're Stupid

Couldn't even stand to get past a few chapters. Between the speaker and the author, I couldn't decide who was more pompous and judgementle. If you enjoy being talked down to and irritated, this is the book for you.

1 of 1 people found this review 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.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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underwhelming, misleading, clunky

What disappointed you about Ghostland?

I couldn't finish it. I wanted to like this but all around it's just not good.

What was most disappointing about Colin Dickey’s story?

I think the premise is really interesting, but its not really about ghosts--and the title helps to mislead potential readers. Its more about debunking ghost stories by way of psychology, history, and architecture. Attacking it that way kind of makes the whole book a downer, like we're a nation of chumps who make up ghosts to deal with the way we remember things culturally.

How did the narrator detract from the book?

The narrator took the whole thing too seriously--he sounded like he was narrating a crime novel. He also couldn't fully commit to using other voices or accents. At some point he quotes Charles Dickens and kind of uses a British accent, but only slightly. Doing it half way distracts from the content.

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from Ghostland?

I would have been more interested to read about lesser known stories--the author makes too many pop-culture references, like the film "12 years a slave" and "the shining." Yes, they were a propos, but they don't signal any deep research.I would have also refined the scope of the book to make it more cohesive. Architecture as it relates to ghost folklore probably would have been a broad enough topic, and the legacy of slavery in America would definitely have been enough.I would have also committed more fully to a specific tone--the expository parts made the anecdotal/personal parts very jarring. Keep it serious and scientific or go for conversational--this book tried to do both, to its detriment.

Any additional comments?

Why couldnt Bill Bryson have written this book?

5 of 7 people found this review helpful

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As much about race in America as it is about ghosts

The title doesn't really capture the topic of this book.I was completely engrossed and enjoyed it tremendously

4 of 6 people found this review helpful