• Ghostland

  • An American History in Haunted Places
  • By: Colin Dickey
  • Narrated by: Jon Lindstrom
  • Length: 10 hrs and 48 mins
  • 4.3 out of 5 stars (859 ratings)

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Ghostland

By: Colin Dickey
Narrated by: Jon Lindstrom
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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
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic Reviews

 “The spectral map Dickey creates is as broad and packed as his book’s title implies ... Ghostland amounts to a lively assemblage and smart analysis of dozens of haunting stories, some better known than others. In each chapter, Dickey spins riveting tales and then carefully unwinds these narratives, exposing the materials and motivations of their construction ... The most fascinating moments in Ghostland are Dickey’s etymological musings and his many turns down unusual paths of American history ... All of these are absorbing ... With Ghostland, Dickey achieves a capacious geographical synthesis that is both intellectually intriguing and politically instructive.” (The New York Times Book Review)

“For a relatively young nation, America is overrun with spirits. Mr. Dickey visits with Salem’s witches, spectral lights at a Nevada brothel and the eccentric widow who designed the sprawling, never-finished Winchester Mystery House...[to] suggest that by analyzing them we can learn a great deal about ourselves." (The Wall Street Journal)

"The good news: Nothing's really haunted except by the spirits we imagine for ourselves. The bad news: We'll make anything haunted. The great news: There's Ghostland. Colin Dickey gets to the heart of the matter over and over, skirting any tourist-trap sensationalism in favor of historical context that touches on the longing and tragedy underneath ghost stories. It's a tour of America's haunted places that takes an insightful look at how ghost stories are made, how ghosts and historical visibility are so tightly intertwined, and why we keep looking for the dead." (NPR)   

What listeners say about Ghostland

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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.

42 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.

32 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

28 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.

23 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.

16 people found this helpful

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Couldn't Turn It Off

Any additional comments?

Initial summaries of this book had made me leery as to whether or not I wanted to purchase it. I didn't want to listen to someone who was exploring haunted sites à la Ghost Hunters. But, despite the introductory insistence that the author was not out to prove or disprove ghosts, I fail to see how anyone could come away with anything less than a debunked, and thorough understanding of what ghosts actually are through the lens of culture and socio-economics.

Uncomfortable, unsettling, and sometimes heart-wrenching, well-researched and well-written. It's a delightful foray into the reasons why we need ghosts, the functions they serve, and how they reflect our racism, classism, and sexism.

9 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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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?

8 people found this 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.

7 people found this helpful

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Not about ghost stories

Any additional comments?

I thought this book was going to be about ghost stories. I was wrong. Returning it.

7 people found this helpful