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Is it possible to make direct contact with the dead? Do the departed seek to make contact with us? The conviction that both things are true was the cornerstone of spiritualism, a kind of do-it-yourself religion that swept the Western world from the 1850s to the 1930s. Prominent artists and poets, prime ministers and scientists, all joined hands around the seance table. But the movement's most famous spokesman by far was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whose public quarrels with Houdini over the truth of spiritualism made headlines across the country.
Known to the world as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle had undergone what many considered an enigmatic transformation, turning his back on the hyper-rational Holmes and plunging into the supernatural. What was it that convinced a brilliant man, the creator of the great exemplar of cold, objective thought, that there was a reality beyond reality?
Though most modern sources make Conan Doyle out to be a kindly but credulous old fool, and though the spiritualist era was rife with fraud, Stefan Bechtel and Laurence Roy Stains take a closer look. They reexamine the old records of trance mediums and seances, and they discover that what Conan Doyle and his colleagues uncovered is as difficult to dismiss now as it was then.