Old Souls: The Scientific Evidence for Past Lives by Tom Shroder

This book is a must read, a compelling first hand account of children who remember past lives. Whether you’re a believer or not, you will be fascinated by the questions and investigative techniques explored here. In 1997 and 1998 author Tom Shroder accompanied the renowned researcher, Dr. Ian Stevenson, on trips to India and Lebanon to observe Stevenson’s methods and to witness for himself how believable, or not, were the children and family members who claimed past life experiences. Released in 1999, Old Souls is a documentation of these field trips as well as some cases from the United States. Since Dr. Stevenson just died this month, this book stands alone as one of the few easily accessible accounts of his work, and merits a fresh review.

Tom Shroder, then and still, a reporter for The Washington Post, opens his account by explaining how he went from interviewing Brian Weiss about his first book ( Many Lives, Many Masters) and having doubts about the validity of ‘just one story’ to hearing about Ian Stevenson’s work and the more than 2,000 cases that Dr. Stevenson had documented. As he recounts it, Shroder couldn’t believe the discrepancy — that one man could write about one case, get on the bestseller list and make news all over the world, while the other man had been working in obscurity for over forty years, documenting thousands of cases, and nobody knew about his work.

That was partly Dr. Stevenson’s fault, as he wrote solely for the academic world and, in an effort to have his research taken seriously, kept his reports so dry, objective and unadorned that any sense of the human component, the emotions, the responses or the believability of his cases was stripped away. While this was no doubt scientifically sound, it held little public appeal. Shroder’s belief that he could add this human element back into the story is what persuaded the initially reluctant Stevenson to allow the reporter to accompany him on his research trips.

And Shroder delivers the human element back in the story. Shroder witnessed and participated in interviews and saw it all: the precocious behavior of small children who acted like adults, the little girl who called her still living past-life husband every day and was heartbroken and angry when he re-married, and the young man who remembered his death in a car crash and knew accurate names and details confirmed by his past life family. The stories and the emotions involved are compelling.

Tom ShroderWhat is equally persuasive is the author’s inquiry along the way, as he struggles to understand what could motivate these children and their families. To put it bluntly, if it’s all made up or a fantasy, what’s in it for them? One girl is slapped by her parents when she insists that she is not their child, and yet she persists — another family is reluctant to admit that the stranger at their door is their re-born child, and yet cannot dismiss his claim because he knows intimate details of the family that only their son would know. Other subjects are reluctant to step forward because their communities do not believe in reincarnation and they are afraid of repercussions. Even those families that do believe in past lives generally do not act on a child’s memories until they have heard something compelling and verifiable.

Old Souls reads almost like a detective story as Shroder addresses all the primary objections for belief in the continuity of a soul or consciousness beyond death. He asks all the doubting questions that the audience wants to ask and grapples with the answers, the unknowns and the inconsistencies in a straight forward manner. More importantly Old Souls has held up well over time, the questions are still the same, the case for reincarnation is still compelling and the spot-light on Dr. Ian Stevenson’s methods, reasoning and musings is still much appreciated.

View our Booklist

Ian Stevenson 1918 – 2007: A Retrospective on a Fine Man with a Fascinating Career

by Cheryl Shainmark
Tom Shroder has been a newspaper journalist since the 1970's, most of that time with the Washington Post. Currently he edits the Washington Post Magazine. He has three books, the most recent Old Souls: Compelling Evidence from Children Who Remember Previous Lives.