Supernatural America

A Cultural History

by Lawrence R. Samuel


Gallup polls have consistently shown that a majority of Americans believe in the paranormal or supernatural. Recent research suggests humans are hardwired to believe in the supernatural—that acceptance of things that science cannot prove could be biological, and simply part of who we are as a species.

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Cover image for Supernatural America

August 2011


Pages 217
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Popular Culture/General

This book is much more than an authoritative and compelling look at the cultural history of the supernatural over the last century in America—it also explains why we want to believe.

The supernatural—psychic phenomena (telepathy, clairvoyance, or ESP), communicating with the dead, and the sighting and tracking of ghosts—has played an integral role in American culture across the last century. In fact, attention and interest in the supernatural has increased, despite our society's reliance upon and enthusiasm for science and technology. Even some top scholars, officials from the military and police, and public figures in places as high as the Oval Office have believed in at least some aspects of the supernatural.

Supernatural America: A Cultural History is the first book to examine the cultural history of the supernatural in the United States, documenting how the expansion of science and technology coincided with a rise in supernatural/paranormal beliefs. From the flourishing of "spiritism" in the 1920s to the early 21st century, when the paranormal is bigger than ever, this entertaining and educational book explains the irresistible allure of the supernatural in America.


  • Shares hundreds of real-life stories, and uses hundreds of sources, many of them forgotten
  • Provides a bibliography of authoritative books and articles, both in support of and arguing against beliefs in the supernatural


  • Examines how the opposing forces of science and the supernatural appear symbiotically connected
  • Traces the contentious relationship between "sheep" (believers in the supernatural) and "goats" (nonbelievers)
  • Investigates the relationship between the supernatural and another leap of faith—religion
  • Presents a cultural history of the supernatural as a whole, rather than just a contemporary explanation of one dimension of it
  • Provides a balanced examination of the subject instead of a one-sided approach
Author Info

Lawrence R. Samuel, MA, MBA, PhD, is founder of Culture Planning, a consultancy to Fortune 500 companies. He has been a guest lecturer at Northwestern University, University of Minnesota, and University of Texas. His published works include Freud on Madison Avenue: Motivation Research and Subliminal Advertising in America; Rich: The Rise and Fall of American Wealth Culture; Future: A Recent History; and The End of the Innocence: The 1964–1965 New York World's Fair. Samuel also held a fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History.



"Supernatural America is a rich cultural history of supernatural belief from the 1920s to the modern era delivered in an engaging and accessible style. Based largely on the popular media of the day, Larry Samuel’s thorough account is populated with colorful characters from both sides of the belief divide from Houdini to Oprah, and punctuated with bizarre and strange stories that reflect this most peculiar human obsession. A must-read for those who want to know why supernaturalism refuses to die."
—Bruce Hood, Director, Bristol Cognitive Development Centre; Author of SuperSense: From Superstition to Religion - the Brain Science of Belief

"Despite America’s famed pragmatism, there has always been a hidden, yet profound belief and trust in the supernatural. Larry Samuel carefully documents this unique American metaphysical thread that has possessed everyone from presidents and movie stars to corporations and the neighbor next door. A fascinating book for anyone interested in how America’s higher consciousness evolved from séances and magic shows to the present New Age."
—Philip Smith, Author of Walking Through Walls

"The paranormal is an important part of American culture, but has remained very poorly documented. In this much-needed work, Samuel traces public interest in paranormal subjects from the escapades of the Fox sisters in the 1840s to the renewed interest in zombies and vampires in recent years. Readers will learn how spiritualism, ESP, flying saucers, astrology, ghosts, and a host of other subjects have impacted, and been impacted by the wider culture in the United States. This wide-ranging book moves easily between discussions of the paranormal in popular culture and scientific attempts to prove the reality of psychic phenomena. Supernatural America is highly recommended for those who want to understand how the paranormal shapes the American mindset."
—Christopher Bader, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Baylor University

"Why do Americans believe weird things, most notably about the paranormal and the supernatural? To answer the question we must look to the past, at the history of the supernatural in America, which Lawrence Samuel has done with great verve in this highly readable work treating his subjects (believers) with fairness while allowing the voices of us skeptics to be heard, because in the end we also want to know the truth, to the extent that science can adjudicate this debate so well-illustrated in this splendid volume."
—Michael Shermer, Publisher of Skeptic magazine; Executive Director of the Skeptics Society; Author of Why People Believe Weird Things and The Believing Brain

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