Brigid's Charge, a psychiatrist and professor at the University of Virginia, has devoted his long career (37 years) to amassing and analyzing empirical evidence for reincarnation. In this book the journalist Tom Shroder describes Dr. Stevenson's work and gives a fascinating account of Stevenson's most recent field investigations in Lebanon and India.

The primary data supporting reincarnation are accounts of previous lives spontaneously reported by young children. This phenomenon is relatively common in cultures that accept reincarnation; for example, the Hindu and Druze peoples. In some cases the accuracy of details from reported past lives can be verified, even though there is also good evidence that the child (or anyone in his family or network of contacts) had no "external" way of learning the information.

Stevenson began studying such cases in the early 1960s and gradually developed a rigorous methodology for assessing and classifying the data. In Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation and his other writings, Stevenson has presented hundreds of narratives, many of which seem prima facie convincing, except for the small problem that they fall completely outside the bounds of scientific orthodoxy.

As a participant observer, Shroder tells a sympathetic, yet questioning, story of Stevenson's investigation (or follow up) of a few recent cases. In the process, he presents a compelling portrait of the maverick 80-year-old psychiatrist.


This book provides a good introduction to the work of Ian Stevenson, a man who qualifies for this database because he has devoted his professional life to the study of narrative. Stevenson's methodology involves listening to stories, comparing and contrasting variants of stories, and constructing long, detailed narratives that attempt to "capture" the complex experience of his informants, who claim to remember incidents from past lives. In this sense Stevenson's work is similar to that of ethnographers, cultural anthropologists, and folklorists.

The data is very impressive. Stevenson's work has nothing to do with (and long antedates) the deluge of remembered lives that constitutes one of the least endearing aspects of New Age culture. In fact, Stevenson's informants are children spontaneously remembering recent quite ordinary lives, as opposed to adults remembering under hypnosis romantic or heroic lives in the distant past. In addition, birthmarks that occur at the sites of injury in the previous life constitute an important part of Stevenson's evidence.

Shroder presents Stevenson as such an engaging storyteller that he tends to sweep away one's disbelief. Shroder presents the alternate explanations for these stories of "remembered lives." On the available evidence, alternate explanations do not seem likely, except for the inescapable fact that reincarnation is even less likely. For a good introduction to Ian Stevenson's own writings, see Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation (University of Virginia Press, 1980) and Where Reincarnation and Biology Intersect (Praeger Press, 1997).


Simon & Schuster

Place Published

New York



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