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Dewey Decimal Challenge: Book 6: Unbelievable: Investigations into Ghosts, Poltergeists, Telepathy, and Other Unseen Phenomena, from the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory by Stacy Horn (the 100s)

22 Feb

Well, I’m a week late, but we’ve finally made it to the 100s–a favorite nonfiction section of mine. The main classification is Philosophy & Psychology, which can be broken down into the following ten divisions:

  • 100 Philosophy & psychology
  • 110 Metaphysics
  • 120 Epistemology, causation, humankind
  • 130 Paranormal phenomena
  • 140 Specific philosophical schools
  • 150 Psychology
  • 160 Logic
  • 170 Ethics (moral philosophy)
  • 180 Ancient, medieval, oriental philosophy
  • 190 Modern western philosophy

Metaphysics! Humankind! Paranormal phenomena! Ethics! Yeehaw!  The 100s are for the thinkers, the dreamers, the skeptics, and the believers.

Unbelievable: Investigations into Ghosts, Poltergeists, Telepathy, and Other Unseen Phenomena, from the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory by Stacy Horn (130 HOR)


The book that I have chosen this week deals in the paranormal and is written by Stacy Horn who is a frequent contributor to NPR, which I listen to regularly. I was very much looking forward to reading this book, and I was not disappointed. It has everything from data-driven extrasensory perception research to first-person accounts of poltergeists to the investigation of reincarnation through hypnosis. There is a lot to mull over here.

The story of the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory is really the story of J.B. Rhine, a man who devoted his life to the scientific study of ESP (extrasensory perception) and related phenomena. Rhine’s single-minded approach to studying the paranormal was often different from his colleagues. While other scientists were eager to take on cases of hauntings and chaos-creating poltergeists, Rhine would only study phenomenon that he felt could be most easily replicated and tested in his laboratory. Hence, the lab’s four main areas of study: telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, and psychokinesis. You might balk at the idea of this phenomena being easily replicated, but you’d be surprised to learn that Rhine did have indisputable successes in his study of ESP particularly statistics that confirmed telepathy, however weak.

One of the more heartbreaking chapters in this book highlights the letters from everyday people that were received by the scientists at the Duke laboratory throughout the decades. These letters were often from people desperate to communicate with lost loved ones as well as from the mentally ill who were desperate for respite from unknown forces.

I would recommend this book though I believe that Mary Roach does this subject matter better in her book Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. Fortunately, you can read both without any detriment!

Happy reading!

-Written by Sharlene Edwards, Senior Children’s Librarian

Click here to read past posts about Sharlene’s Dewey Decimal Challenge!

Dewey Decimal Challenge: Book 5: Irons in the Fire by John McPhee (The 000s)

8 Feb

For our fifth and last book in the 000s, I selected another title from the 080 general collections classification–specifically 081 general collections American. Irons in the Fire is a collection of essays, previously published in The New Yorker, by American writer John McPhee, the man who is referred to as the pioneer of creative nonfiction. The seven essays in this collection span a wide-range of topics from cattle rustling to assistive technology for the blind to tire recycling to forensic geology to Plymouth Rock.

Irons in the Fire by John McPhee (081 MCP)


This has been my favorite pick of the Dewey Decimal Challenge thus far. McPhee’s writing style has been referred to as gentler, more literary journalism. There were several moments when I had to remind myself that I was even reading nonfiction! McPhee brings the characters in his writing alive with detail. While passages in the title essay on cattle rustling made me cringe, especially when McPhee explains the violent process of branding the cattle, I was completely absorbed while learning about this modern-day problem in Nevada leftover from the American Old West’s cowboy culture. I laughed out loud at the end of “Release”, a short essay about Robert Russell, a blind professor, and his unintentionally humorous talking computer. In “The Gravel Page”, McPhee takes us into the fascinating world of forensic geology, which was in its infancy during World War II. A team from the U.S. Geological Survey military geology unit became the key to unlocking the origin of a mysterious balloon offensive led by the Japanese. The Japanese used balloons propelled across the Pacific Ocean on a jet stream to bomb the United States. Out of the approximately 9,000 that are said to have been launched from the beaches of Japan, about 1,000 of these paper balloons carrying explosive devices reached North America. Only one balloon can be said to have fulfilled its mission, killing a local pastor’s pregnant wife and five children in Bly, Oregon in 1945. Incredibly enough, the U.S. Geological Survey military geology unit was able to trace the sand from one of the balloon’s ballast bags to a beach east of Tokyo! Also in “The Gravel Page”, we learn that forensic geology was used to track down the murderer of Adolph Coors III, grandson of Adolph Coors and heir to the Coors beer empire, as well as to determine the original burial location of D.E.A. agent Enrique Camarena, who was murdered while on assignment in Mexico by corrupt police officers working for an infamous drug lord. Since McPhee is a New Jerseyan, many of his essays do reference our state including his essay “In Virgin Forest”, which focuses on Hutcheson Memorial Forest in Franklin Township, New Jersey, a 500-acre nature preserve known for its untouched old growth forest. Rutgers University is permitted to study the woods and is tasked with protecting the periphery. But RU is not allowed to intervene if the woods come under attack by, say, a disease that kills native trees. Its research is purely observational.

While I admit that I may have grown a bit tired of reading about rocks by the time I came to the last essay, “Travels of the Rock”, I would highly recommend this collection of essays not only for their content but also for McPhee’s unique writing style. It is important to note that these essays were published in the 1990s, which means that technological advances may have rendered them irrelevant regarding current trends. Still worth the read though!

-Written by Sharlene Edwards, Senior Children’s Librarian

Click here to read past posts about Sharlene’s Dewey Decimal Challenge!

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