Asked by the editor of the magazine Vital Signs to write a book review of Bruce Greyson’s After, I decided to share it here also, as a piece of glad tidings. On the personal level, my Reckoning: Discoveries after a Traumatic Near-Death Experience is now generally available in both paperback and ebook format. (If you hear that a bookstore does not have the ebook, there’s been a lag, but it is coming!) The next post here will be within two weeks.
And now, heeere’s After!
After: A Doctor Explores What Near-Death Experiences Reveal about Life and Beyond
Bruce Greyson’s long-awaited book is out. Ken Ring calls it a “humdinger.” He’s right. I call it unparalleled, a book as foundational for the next generations of near-death studies as Raymond Moody’s Life After Life was to the first. It is certainly unparalleled as a basic read for anyone wanting reliable information about near-death experiences.
Greyson is personally an engaging man, and this book is a thoroughly engaging read. Conversational and full of personal experience, it moves right along, offering, for the first time, glimpses into his family life and growing up. The voice is thoroughly his own, warm and approachable yet always following his carefully restrained objectivity in the cause of balance. In a field occupied on one hand by strictly skeptical materialists and on the other by spiritual enthusiasts, others may speculate and theorize; he is occupied by a search for evidence.
Among the personal glimpses illuminating his distinctive contribution is a wonderful anecdote about Bruce and his father, whom he describes as a skeptic, “a chemist whose perception of reality was defined by the periodic table of the elements.” The anecdote describes a conversation during a visit home as a third-year med student.
I surprised my father with the news that I was thinking of becoming a psychiatrist. I told my father that I was fascinated by the effects our unconscious thoughts and feelings had on our behavior. Sitting in his easy chair with his legs crossed, my father slowly pulled a corncob pipe and tobacco pouch out of his jacket pocket. He meticulously filled the bowl of the pipe and tamped down the tobacco, then added some more and tamped it down again. Then he struck a wooden match and carefully waved it over the bowl as he drew gently on the pipestem. Finally, he looked up and, to my surprise, he asked, “What makes you think we have unconscious thoughts and feelings?”
I was shocked by this blunt challenge. But my father wasn’t saying that the unconscious didn’t exist. He was just asking for the evidence—as any skeptical scientist should…As surprised as I was…I realized that he had a point. I should look into the evidence of the unconscious before accepting it.
We see here the makings of a lifetime achievement. In fact, it is to a great extent Greyson’s unflappable quest for evidence which enabled IANDS–with which he has been so faithfully associated–to realistically describe itself as “the most reliable source of information” about NDEs.
A prime source of that reliability has been the evidence-based research of Bruce Greyson and his co-investigators, asking not only big questions but the myriad of small ones which matter, and which are the substance of After. There has been no shortage of writers contributing to the notion that near-death experiences are anything from weird to divine intrusion. Greyson is unquestionably a star among those who have made near-death experience credible.
One quality making this book stand out so satisfyingly is its breadth. Greyson is not, of course, the only significant NDE researcher and author, though he was among the first in this era. Other respected authors have routinely acknowledged research findings across the field and perhaps presented their own. The difference is that in reading After, a realization dawns, as question after question is answered across twenty chapter topics, that the findings are all emerging not from others but from the author’s own work; he is himself, sometimes in partnership but often singly, the source of so much of what we know. And this is key—that he does not flaunt that fact; it simply is.
Quantitatively, his output has been stunning: his cv tells the tale: Peer-reviewed professional journals have published more than one hundred of his near-death related articles and book reviews. (The public rarely hears of them because they are behind high pay walls of academic exclusivity). Another seventy are published letters and book chapters. He has presented at sixty-seven conferences around the world, including at the United Nations and the compound of the Dalai Lama.
Through it all, there is his sense of humor and his humanity. In Reckoning, I have recently told the story of the very early meeting of the IANDS Board of Directors, back when most academics were still at the very beginning of discovering how normal and paranormal co-exist. There was a good deal of “Can we believe this?” The high point of the three-day meeting was a demonstration of spoon-bending. The demonstration, using a large, heavy stainless steel serving spoon, was a resounding success, leaving Board members stupefied by what they had just seen with their own eyes. One outcome of the meeting could have been witnessed on a United Airline flight from Connecticut to D.C. There sat a man whom Ken Ring would forty years later describe as “the most distinguished and important authority of near-death experiences in the field,” patiently practicing spoon-bending with the airline’s plastic flatware. Bruce Greyson, pursuing evidence!
I predict you will be glad to read After. It’s a wonderful book.