THE AMERICAN WAY OF DEATH REVISITED by Jessica Mitford

THE AMERICAN WAY OF DEATH REVISITED

KIRKUS REVIEW

A voice from the beyond reaches out to update her bestselling investigation of America’s funeral practices. Mitford died in 1996, but according to an editor’s note, she had completed most of the work on this new version of her 1963 book (revised in 1978). Updating of prices and other details were completed by her research assistant, and a chapter on pay-in-advance funerals was written by funeral reform activist Lisa Carlson. Mitford’s report is as funny and distressing now as it was originally. Although Americans have tried to reduce the cost and complexity of burying their dead (e.g., cremations have increased sevenfold), the funeral industry seems always to be one profit center ahead (consider “perpetual care” for the urn of funerary ashes). As evidenced in a new opening chapter, funeral directors do not need Mitford’s sharp wit to mortify them. They continue to be hoist on their own euphemisms and greed, including embalming those bodies destined for cremation (a wickedly funny section on embalming practices remains). Other new chapters include a review of the Federal Trade Commission’s ineffectual efforts to regulate the funeral industry (costs are up tenfold since the first edition of this book); the rise of multinational companies, which buy up independent funeral homes, creating local monopolies with consequent price increases; and the traps in paying for funeral arrangements up front or “pre-need,” as industry jargon goes. The growing funeral/memorial society movement allowing people to bury their own dead or at least have more control of funeral arrangements is the subject of the final chapter. A state-by-state listing of memorial societies, plus several Website addresses for information on prices, laws, and compliance with FTC regulations, are valuable additions. No description here of Mitford’s own funeral. However she was laid to rest, it hasn’t detained her from a hilarious haunting of avaricious undertakers.

Pub Date: Aug. 3rd, 1998
ISBN: 0-679-45037-8
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1998




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