Caitlin Doughty recommends 6 books that explain death in America
Caitlin Doughty is a Los Angeles mortician, the author of two best-sellers, and host of the YouTube series Ask a Mortician. Her new book is Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? Big Questions From Tiny Mortals About Death.
The American Way of Death by Jessica Mitford (1963).
Written almost 60 years ago, this book remains the bible on the secretive and excessive practices of the American funeral industry. As Mitford once said, "You may not be able to change the world, but at least you can embarrass the guilty."
Passed On: African American Mourning Stories by Karla FC Holloway (2002).
Death (and violent death, at that) is inextricably intertwined with the African-American experience. Holloway's book explores the funeral traditions that arose to meet the needs of the black community, which so often was turned away from white-owned funeral homes.
The Land of Open Graves by Jason De León (2015).
The disappearance of Central and South American migrants during their desert crossings into the United States has become an invisible epidemic, encouraged and aided by decades of deadly public policy. Anthropologist Jason De León's account, illustrated with photos by Michael Wells, explains how and why the cruel Sonoran Desert consumes and vanishes the dead.
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach (2003).
Donating your body to science feels like a noble, if somewhat abstract, concept. With her signature wit, Roach takes us through postmortem possibilities we never imagined, including human crash-test dummies, forensic research subjects, and plastic-surgery practice heads.
The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander (2015).
Alexander, who read her poem "Praise Song for the Day" at Barack Obama's 2009 inauguration, wrote this memoir on grief after the sudden death of her young husband three years later. You find yourself truly rooting for this intelligent, funny couple, and when he is taken, you feel the deep pain alongside her.
This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust (2008).
There can be no overstating what a profound impact the Civil War had on death in the United States. The rise of embalming, the distancing of the family from the dead body, and the corporatization of death care all began on that conflict's battlefields.