Book Review: “The History of Spiritualism: Volumes I and II, Complete and Unabridged” by Arthur Conan Doyle

People who read and enjoy the Sherlock Holmes stories may not know that the author was a devout Spiritualist. Arthur Conan Doyle began his investigations into the possibility of psychic phenomena in 1887. In 1889, he became a founding member of the Hampshire Society for Psychical Research; in 1893, he joined the London-based Society for Psychical Research; and in 1894, he collaborated with Sir Sidney Scott and Frank Podmore in a search for poltergeists in Devon. In 1925, he became the president of the London Spiritualist Alliance. Volume I of this particular book was completed in 1926. In this book, Doyle follows Spiritualism from the 1700’s through the 1920’s. He provides a lot of information behind the beliefs and the different mediums that flourished during this time. He also goes into the controversy and is not shy about telling the reader exactly what he thinks of skeptics.

Would I recommend this book? If you are interested in the very start of paranormal investigation, yes, I recommend this book. I think that everyone should understand where investigation into anomalous phenomena began, and Spiritualism is a key component in our history.

Pros: There is a lot of information here for anyone interested in why people followed the Spiritualist path and in particular the different mediums. There is a really nice long review of the Fox sister’s incident and the actual spirit “communications” held in the home. I found myself wishing my investigations were this productive. Being who I am, I also enjoyed reading how Doyle reacted to other researchers and his very English insults regarding their intelligence was entertaining. He talks about specific researchers and this book is a good jumping off point for researching others involved in early paranormal investigation.

Cons: If you love Sherlock Holmes, you may be disappointed when you read this book. There were so many times that Doyle overlooks fraudulent mediums because his belief would not allow him to accept the con. I often found myself thinking about how belief systems can take over and influence basic critical thinking skills. Doyle had many public letter disputes with researchers, and he was very vocal about his beliefs in the face of conflicting evidence.  While reading his combative responses I thought to myself “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

Overall thoughts: This book gave me insight into the Spiritualist movement that helps me put some of today’s investigators into perspective. I found myself thinking a lot about how current investigators fall on a range between Spiritualists and Parapsychologists. This book may help you find where you fall on the spectrum.

You can find your own copy of this book here.

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