100 Places to See after You Die

100 Places to See after You Die

Ken Jennings
New York: Scribner, 2023. 291 pp., hardcover, $27.99.

Ken Jennings, the charismatic Jeopardy! champion whose banter with Alex Trebek made him a celebrity (and who succeeded Trebek as one of the popular game show’s hosts), has parlayed his fame into publishing several successful books on subjects such as the history of humor and the subculture of cartophiles—those obsessed with maps. In his latest book, Jennings lends his jaunty tone and penchant for unique inquiries into an exploration of Shakespeare’s “undiscovered country”: the afterlife.

Jennings’s 100 Places to See after You Die is a Lonely Planet guide to destinations that can only be visited after the end of one’s earthly incarnation. He offers tips on “When to Go” (aim for the Chinese realm of Diyu during the seventh month of the year for the Ghost Festival), “Where to Stay” (Dante’s Inferno offers a range of circles to fit each traveler’s tastes), and even “What to Pack” in the entry on ancient Egypt’s Duat.

While Jennings offers light but respectful descriptions of afterlives from religion and mythology, like the bardo as described in The Tibetan Book of the Dead or the Paradise Earth of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the real joy of this book is in his examinations of afterlives as described in books, film, television, and music. Since these strange worlds were often created as thought experiments or for entertainment, Jennings does not feel the need to hold his ironic tongue in check here.

It soon becomes clear that many of these postlife alternatives, even those from popular culture, often provoke some intriguing theological questions. Fans of the television sitcom series The Good Place will recall its examination of subjects like free will and the Trolley Problem, but what about the bureaucratic Judgment City of Albert Brooks’ brilliant 1991 comedy Defending Your Life, where it is revealed that the goal of each incarnation is to overcome fear?

References to Theosophy are few and oblique. Devachan and C.W. Leadbeater are mentioned, but only in an entry on the Summerland described in a series of books by the nineteenth-century spiritualist Andrew Jackson Davis. The entry on the Black Lodge from David Lynch’s Twin Peaks delves into the concept of the Dweller on the Threshold and the creation of tulpas, but does not link these to the works of Edward Bulwer-Lytton or H.P. Blavatsky.

Certainly the sections on popular media are the most fun. There’s an entry on Forever, a smart but little-viewed streaming series that was canceled after just eight episodes, as well as an entry on the strange Inferno Room at the end of the original Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disneyland. To make room for these, Jennings leaves out many varieties of the Christian heaven, perhaps out of fear of offending readers. (He does explore afterlives from Eastern Orthodoxy and Mormonism, the faith in which he was raised.)

Jennings’ comic asides and information boxes add an irreverent yet respectful touch to the subject matter, and he navigates the sometimes sensitive territories of religious beliefs with a light-hearted approach. If you’ve ever wondered why Clarence Odbody of It’s a Wonderful Life has been an Angel, Second Class for so long, or what lies beyond that Iowa cornfield in Field of Dreams—or even if all dogs really do go to heaven—you will enjoy this clever book.

Peter Orvetti


Peter Orvetti, a writer and former divinity student residing in Washington, D.C., is marketing communications coordinator for the TSA.