Six Feet Over, By Mary Roach

Those who subscribe to the lazy cliché that Americans have no sense of irony should read Six Feet Over and think again.

Roach, a Californian, sets out to discover whether there is any proof for any form of life after death. In a Bryson-esque tour that takes her to India, England and around the US, she interviews oddballs, enthusiasts, eccentrics and experts on such phenomena as reincarnation, ghosts, soul-weighing, the production of ectoplasm, messages from beyond the grave, and near-death experiences.

The book is full of fascinating nuggets – it might theoretically be possible to weigh a thought, for instance – and each claim is subjected to rational analysis and deflating irony. Occasionally, the tone is over-flippant – one wishes she wouldn't dig the reader in the ribs quite so much – but overall this a funny and informative read. By the end, Roach has decided she believes in ghosts. But I think she's being ironic.