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From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death

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Fascinated by our pervasive fear of dead bodies, mortician Caitlin Doughty embarks on a global expedition to discover how other cultures care for the dead. From Zoroastrian sky burials to wish-granting Bolivian skulls, she investigates the world’s funerary customs and expands our sense of what it means to treat the dead with dignity. Her account questions the rituals of th Fascinated by our pervasive fear of dead bodies, mortician Caitlin Doughty embarks on a global expedition to discover how other cultures care for the dead. From Zoroastrian sky burials to wish-granting Bolivian skulls, she investigates the world’s funerary customs and expands our sense of what it means to treat the dead with dignity. Her account questions the rituals of the American funeral industry—especially chemical embalming—and suggests that the most effective traditions are those that allow mourners to personally attend to the body of the deceased. Exquisitely illustrated by artist Landis Blair, From Here to Eternity is an adventure into the morbid unknown, a fascinating tour through the unique ways people everywhere confront mortality.


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Fascinated by our pervasive fear of dead bodies, mortician Caitlin Doughty embarks on a global expedition to discover how other cultures care for the dead. From Zoroastrian sky burials to wish-granting Bolivian skulls, she investigates the world’s funerary customs and expands our sense of what it means to treat the dead with dignity. Her account questions the rituals of th Fascinated by our pervasive fear of dead bodies, mortician Caitlin Doughty embarks on a global expedition to discover how other cultures care for the dead. From Zoroastrian sky burials to wish-granting Bolivian skulls, she investigates the world’s funerary customs and expands our sense of what it means to treat the dead with dignity. Her account questions the rituals of the American funeral industry—especially chemical embalming—and suggests that the most effective traditions are those that allow mourners to personally attend to the body of the deceased. Exquisitely illustrated by artist Landis Blair, From Here to Eternity is an adventure into the morbid unknown, a fascinating tour through the unique ways people everywhere confront mortality.

30 review for From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death

  1. 5 out of 5

    PorshaJo

    OK, this might sound really weird....but I've been to a lot of funerals. And I mean a lot. As a very young girl, I used to go church on weekends with my grandparents, and they would always go to the funeral home after church. It was always the funeral home three day viewings followed by a church service and grave site service. Many, many years later a family member passed and was cremated. I thought it the oddest thing, completely unheard of. I had many long discussions with my husband about it OK, this might sound really weird....but I've been to a lot of funerals. And I mean a lot. As a very young girl, I used to go church on weekends with my grandparents, and they would always go to the funeral home after church. It was always the funeral home three day viewings followed by a church service and grave site service. Many, many years later a family member passed and was cremated. I thought it the oddest thing, completely unheard of. I had many long discussions with my husband about it as I was so confused. I didn't know there was anything different. This book was an eye opening experience to see different countries and cultures and their methods of burying the dead. I found it fascinating to learn of so many different methods from an open air funeral pyre, to cultures who keep a body in the house for 5, 10+ years mummifying the body, to Indonesia where they prop up their bodies, to Japan where they have very ultra-modern places to sit with the deceased and where relatives use chopsticks to pluck their loved- ones’ bones from cremation ashes, to homes that store skulls, and many more. Finally, to the one I found most fascinating....the FOREST. The Forensic Osteology Research Station in North Carolina. Here, bodies are placed on the grounds of a research facility and 'composted' providing a green burial. The author is a mortician and is fascinated by how people fear dead bodies. She is also quite rough on the American funeral industry and doesn't hold back. It is a huge area that makes tons of money. Your basic American funeral can start at around $20K and go up substantially from there. I find it odd to say I 'enjoyed' reading this book, but I learned a lot about how many in the rest of the world view death and how they bury their dead. The book includes illustrations that show many of the rituals and images of Mexico's Dias de los Muertos. I have not read the authors first book but it is one I plan to pick up soon. I can't say this is for everyone. Some might find it quite macabre. I found it a bit educational and it's one that can lead to many in-depth discussions.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Petra-X Off having adventures

    This is a brief tour of some of the world's strangest burial practices. In the epilogue, thanking people, Caitlin says, "Finally Landis Blair, who was an all-right boyfriend but is now a killer collaborator". And that feels like the key to this all-right, 3.5 star (at best) book. It feels like flushed with the deserved success of first book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory, the author had decided to have a dual career as of funeral home proprietor and writer and had This is a brief tour of some of the world's strangest burial practices. In the epilogue, thanking people, Caitlin says, "Finally Landis Blair, who was an all-right boyfriend but is now a killer collaborator". And that feels like the key to this all-right, 3.5 star (at best) book. It feels like flushed with the deserved success of first book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory, the author had decided to have a dual career as of funeral home proprietor and writer and had cast around for a subject to write about it. A tour of the world's more unusual funerary practices! It was so obvious. There was a New Age funeral pyre in Colorado, the scraped-clean and dressed dead of Sulawesi brought out for their annual, communal party. Then in Bolivia, skulls it seemed everyone had in their home that they and bring offerings to ask favours of (and get blessed by the local Catholic priest). In another country graves are only rented and then the remains turfed out if the family fail to pay. The most interesting was Tibet where the recently dead are chopped up and mixed with flour and butter and offered to birds of prey who having filled up on the corpses fly off, and so it is known, poetically, as 'sky burial'. I knew most of these funeral rituals so it wasn't that interesting. But one thing really caught my attention. We are schooled to think of Buddhism as some ideal spiritual philosophy, something peaceful that brings contentment, despite one of the world's most celebrated Buddhists and well known champions of human rights, Aung San Suu Kyi's support of the state persecution and violence directed at the Muslims in Myanmar. But is this not modern thinking? This is what the Buddha thought of women: "The ancient scriptures tell of the Buddha encouraging his community of male monks to take trips to the charnel grounds to meditate on women’s rotting bodies. The motive of these “meditations on foulness” was to liberate a monk from his desire for women; they were, as scholar Liz Wilson calls them, “sensual stumbling blocks.” The hope was that charnel meditation would strip women of all their desirable qualities so men would realize they are merely flesh-sacks filled with blood, guts, and phlegm. The Buddha was explicit, claiming that a woman’s deception is not in her accessories, like makeup and gowns, but in her fraudulent garment of flesh, surreptitiously oozing grotesque liquids from its orifices." That was enlightening. For that the author gets upped to 4 stars. It's a good book, very readable, the insights and descriptions are very much of the popular science genre, not too deep, not too challenging, a quick read and light non-fiction. It does make you realise that a funeral is for the benefit of the mourners and the funeral directors. You might want to consider a ritual that is personal for the family, and less the killingly expensive pressure that benefits the funeral directors.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    Although a strange choice for Christmas reading, I found this book utterly fascinating. It seems that the United States may be the only country that avoids the subject of death. Other countries, not only have a different view of their dead, but treat their dead entirely different. In the Torajan region of Sulawel in Indonesia, many live along side their dead. The mummified corpses are not buried, but remain part of the home. In Mexico, most of us have heard of the the Day of the dead, which actua Although a strange choice for Christmas reading, I found this book utterly fascinating. It seems that the United States may be the only country that avoids the subject of death. Other countries, not only have a different view of their dead, but treat their dead entirely different. In the Torajan region of Sulawel in Indonesia, many live along side their dead. The mummified corpses are not buried, but remain part of the home. In Mexico, most of us have heard of the the Day of the dead, which actually lasts more than one day. The dead are invited back, tempted with their favorite foods, to come and visit with their loved ones. Japan's dead are often cremated. In fact, Japan has a 99.9% rate of cremation, and the cremation is attended by 60% of their loved ones. They also have the highest longevity expected, for women, and they are healthy to boot. The different ways the dead are treated in this country is very interesting and makes remarkable reading. Different ways of treating the dead are making a push in the United States. Making death a natural part of life, not something to fear, and a less abrupt way of dealing with this subject. Practices of old as well as the evolving role and costly practice of our current ways of handling death, are also discussed. Truly fascinating, though not a subject I actually thought of before reading this book. All the same, the constant TV commercials trying to convince the elderly, or near elderly, to buy insurance so their family is not financially responsible for the significant costs of their deaths, is distasteful. The author narrates her own book, and does a very good job doing so.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    I was sent this book by the publisher after responding to an email sent to a librarian email list; they had extras leftover from ALA, and I was #ALAleftbehind, so I asked for a few from their list. I knew of Caitlin Doughty but never read her earlier book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory, which talks about her experience running a crematory and funeral home. In this book, she visits several different places that deal with death differently, either from cultural diffe I was sent this book by the publisher after responding to an email sent to a librarian email list; they had extras leftover from ALA, and I was #ALAleftbehind, so I asked for a few from their list. I knew of Caitlin Doughty but never read her earlier book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory, which talks about her experience running a crematory and funeral home. In this book, she visits several different places that deal with death differently, either from cultural differences or people thinking outside the mold. From going through my father's death this past year, I certainly was well acquainted with the incredible costs of a burial, and my Dad was fortunate enough to have a gravesite and gravestone provided by the government because of his status as a veteran. But I witnessed price gouging and how funeral homes take advantage of grieving families who feel trapped. It isn't pretty. I hadn't stopped to think of how it might be different other places, how the racket might be unique to our country or that other countries at the very least would have different rackets. Doughty explores some of the standard expectations of other places and I felt like I learned a lot, from the Japanese crematorium experience (where the family watches), to the corpses living with families on an island in Indonesia, to the idea that a burial plot is only as good as long as the body is decomposing in Spain (and not a permanent space as it is in the USA.) Doughty also tells the story of how the way a Mexican town honors their dead is healing to her friend who lost a baby. Such a minor part, but I found myself fascinated by the pages about whales... how their poop feeds an ecosystem, how their decomposing bodies sustain life for half a year! These are the things I brought up during dinner conversation. I was surprised too, but the way she has written some of the details proves hard to forget.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Saajid Hosein

    Note that this isn't a review as much as it is a personal reflection. You've been warned. This book made me think a lot about how we construct knowledge differently across the globe. What might seem gross and macabre for some of us might be a deeply important ritual of mourning and death observance for others. I like that Doughty is decentering Western ideas of how death should be conceived and observed, showing us that our own fear of death causes us to forget what we were biologically designed Note that this isn't a review as much as it is a personal reflection. You've been warned. This book made me think a lot about how we construct knowledge differently across the globe. What might seem gross and macabre for some of us might be a deeply important ritual of mourning and death observance for others. I like that Doughty is decentering Western ideas of how death should be conceived and observed, showing us that our own fear of death causes us to forget what we were biologically designed to do and that is to decompose back into the planet that fed us. Growing up in the Muslim community of Trinidad, I was lucky to be exposed to a more naturalistic way burial. In my area we have one small Muslim cemetery where graves are reused. In Islam, the afterlife is more important than the mundane, the body is merely a vessel. We bathe it, no embalming, and the body is placed into the earth and left to decompose naturally. The body will sink over the years making the grave reusable once more, which is why the very small cemetery never runs out of space. However, I've always had death anxiety and my religion never really helped me deal with it in a way that was positive. It's not the religion itself, but what Muslims choose to focus on. There's a lot of hellfire talk and all the punishments that people will face in the grave. I've had to bar these ideas from my head, not because I don't believe them, but because they've always been used to instill fear in ways that only bolstered my fear of death, rather than allowed me to come to terms with it. It took a YouTuber/mortician from California to help me come to terms with mortality in a healthier way. Finding myself at the intersection of queer and Muslim is extremely difficult. You might ask "Okay Saajid, but what does death have to do with your queer Muslim woes?" EVERYTHING! Death marks the beginning of your journey into the metaphysical world, a world where evil and corrupt souls are subjected to divine retribution. When you grow up learning that your own natural desires and expressions as a queer person supposedly fall into the categories of evil and corrupt, death isn't a prospect to look forward to. As I journey through my faith, though, I've been working on decentering mainstream fundamentalist ideas that plague a religion which is a lot more historically and culturally diverse than we give it credit for. There's space for me in Islam, I just have to find it myself, inshaAllah. Oh and one more thing: Naya Rivera (if you haven't heard, look it up). Her death affected me in ways I couldn't have imagine. I knew of her, was familiar with her work, but I wasn't a super fan or anything. I think the sheer suddenness and sadness of her death is what got to me. A young, talented, woman of colour, gone in a matter of minutes. Leaving her baby stranded on a boat, the last memory he will ever have of his mother is her disappearing into the waters. Naya's death reminded me of something I've always grappled to accept and that's that death can come anytime, anywhere. With that in mind, I realized what bothered me so much about her dying and that's that I've been conditioned into thinking that death doesn't suit someone like Naya. It's an odd match. I would go back and watch old interviews and clips of her singing and dancing and acting on 'Glee' and think so myself "How can SHE actually be dead?" She's too young, too healthy, too wealthy, too talented, too successful, too loved for death too have the audacity too take her away. But it doesn't work like that, now does it? Bringing it back to this book. It looks at death practices and rituals across the world and how we shouldn't be absolutist with our knowledge of death. Not everyone on this planet is going to conceptualize death in the same way, the least we can do is respect each other's practices. But I think this book also prompts us to learn from those who have mastered the art of dealing with death in ways that honour dead body and the natural process of dying, instead of fear them. Inna Lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un - Verily, we belong to Allah, and to Allah we will return (Qur'an, 2:156).

  6. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    Caitlin Doughty has done it again: dragged us death-phobic Westerners into the light of what grieving and death could (and maybe should) look like. In From Here to Eternity, Caitlin travels the globe and shares her first-hand experiences of getting up close and personal with death rituals from around the world. I found each section absolutely captivating, and although the Tana Toraja bit did give me a nightmare last night (seriously), I'm going to blame that on the arms-length (or maybe football Caitlin Doughty has done it again: dragged us death-phobic Westerners into the light of what grieving and death could (and maybe should) look like. In From Here to Eternity, Caitlin travels the globe and shares her first-hand experiences of getting up close and personal with death rituals from around the world. I found each section absolutely captivating, and although the Tana Toraja bit did give me a nightmare last night (seriously), I'm going to blame that on the arms-length (or maybe football field) distance we Americans prefer to keep from death. I still don't know what I'd like to happen to my remains after I die, but thanks to Caitlin Doughty, I have hope that we as a culture can move towards a more open-minded, natural approach to death that allows different preferences and options to be acceptable and attainable for everyone.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader

    I read this about a year ago as a buddy read with Beth. I must have forgotten to formally review it. It’s a fascinating glimpse into customs and rituals from around the world after the death of loved ones. It reminded me of my undergrad studies in anthropology, and I learned a vast amount. Well-written and completely absorbing, I’ll definitely read all of Doughty’s other books.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    I absolutely LOVED this. I cannot wait to pick up more of Doughty's work and to binge watch her YouTube channel "Ask a Mortician." In this book, Doughty outlines all of the fucked up ways in which the US death industry is fucked up. She looks at expenses, dignity, and the seeming moratorium on public grief here in the states. In contrast, Doughty takes the reader along with her as she travels the world learning about other cultures' death rituals and mourning practices. This could have very easily I absolutely LOVED this. I cannot wait to pick up more of Doughty's work and to binge watch her YouTube channel "Ask a Mortician." In this book, Doughty outlines all of the fucked up ways in which the US death industry is fucked up. She looks at expenses, dignity, and the seeming moratorium on public grief here in the states. In contrast, Doughty takes the reader along with her as she travels the world learning about other cultures' death rituals and mourning practices. This could have very easily devolved into some gross, appropriative, fetishization of how beautiful and spiritual non-Western cultural traditions are. I mean, a white lady visiting Buddhist monks and remote Indonesian villages? I was ready to say, "No thank you, macabre Eat Pray Love." But now I have to eat my words! Doughty looks at different cultural traditions without a tinge of fetishization, and with a whole lot of respect. It's WONDERFUL. It's educational, it highlights how awful the corporatization of death is, AND it touches on the impacts of colonialism. I mean... I just could not have been more wrong. And I'm so happy about it. Doughty's tone in this novel is great. She's informative, blunt, and funny. None of these seems in-line with how American's typically talk about death (which is pretty much the point of this book). She pulls back the curtain, gives you honesty and insight, and makes death a whole lot less scary. Can't recommend this book enough!!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Alice Lippart

    So interesting and a great introduction to this topic!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Iben Frederiksen

    This is the second book Caitlin Doughty's published, and it is also my second read of hers. In this book Caitlin, a writer and mortician, chronicles her meetings with other cultures death and burial traditions, in a very chill and humorous way. It's interesting to say the least, how very different the ending of someone's life is dealt with around the world. From Mexico to Japan, the business of death is quite different aross the globe, making the reader aware of practices that are so very unlike t This is the second book Caitlin Doughty's published, and it is also my second read of hers. In this book Caitlin, a writer and mortician, chronicles her meetings with other cultures death and burial traditions, in a very chill and humorous way. It's interesting to say the least, how very different the ending of someone's life is dealt with around the world. From Mexico to Japan, the business of death is quite different aross the globe, making the reader aware of practices that are so very unlike their own. Some of these practices and traditions may seem miles apart from what the reader considers "the norm", but Caitlin let's the representatives from burial companies around the word, explain in their own words how their traditions have come to be, making you consider and decide for yourself, which practices you can realate to the most, and which ones you just find too unusual. Being danish myself, even the practices that are "the norm" to american Caitlin Doughty, are very different from the ones we have here in Denmark. I find things like embalming and open caskets, to be very different (and also slightly creepy) from the burials we have. A fascinating and humorous read!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Montzalee Wittmann

    From Here to Eternity Traveling the World to Find the Good Death By: Caitlin Doughty Narrated by: Caitlin Doughty The author traveled around various countries and described the countries way of treating their dead, their thoughts on death, and how it may have changed. She compares these countries to the US. It was very interesting, a little strange from the view from an American. I do see how we have lost sight of the respect of the ritual of death and the big business of funeral homes have made it From Here to Eternity Traveling the World to Find the Good Death By: Caitlin Doughty Narrated by: Caitlin Doughty The author traveled around various countries and described the countries way of treating their dead, their thoughts on death, and how it may have changed. She compares these countries to the US. It was very interesting, a little strange from the view from an American. I do see how we have lost sight of the respect of the ritual of death and the big business of funeral homes have made it impersonal and costly. I love her books. I have read all three now and love her website. She did a remarkable job with the narration.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Lois Bujold

    Three-and-a-half stars, really. Read in one fascinated day. The personal explorations by a young California mortician of funeral practices across the world. My eye was first caught by her more recent work, the irresistibly titled Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? Big Questions From Tiny Mortals About Death, but my library's wait list was too long, so I selected this one instead. Good value. Her others are certainly on my to-read list now. Ta, L. Three-and-a-half stars, really. Read in one fascinated day. The personal explorations by a young California mortician of funeral practices across the world. My eye was first caught by her more recent work, the irresistibly titled Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? Big Questions From Tiny Mortals About Death, but my library's wait list was too long, so I selected this one instead. Good value. Her others are certainly on my to-read list now. Ta, L.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ross Blocher

    From Here to Eternity is the kind of exuberant, passionate non-fiction I live for. Caitlin Doughty has a deep fascination with death: she is a funeral director by trade and her knowledge, enthusiasm and good humor are clearly evident as she describes and de-stigmatizes cultural attitudes toward death around the world. Many of the stories revolve around her own travels to various parts of the world to witness ceremonies, crypts, crematoria, and columbaria (places where cremated remains are kept). From Here to Eternity is the kind of exuberant, passionate non-fiction I live for. Caitlin Doughty has a deep fascination with death: she is a funeral director by trade and her knowledge, enthusiasm and good humor are clearly evident as she describes and de-stigmatizes cultural attitudes toward death around the world. Many of the stories revolve around her own travels to various parts of the world to witness ceremonies, crypts, crematoria, and columbaria (places where cremated remains are kept). In Colorado, one group has fought legal battles and intense suspicion to offer outdoor cremation. In Indonesia, families co-habitate with the bodies of their loved ones for many years: talking to them, applying preservatives, and bringing them out each year to walk the streets. In North Carolina, forensics facilities allow experimentation with human composting. In Japan, you might be given a pair of chopsticks to retrieve your loved one's bones following cremation, and a modern facility lets you hold up a keycard to trigger a colorful light display identifying their remains in one Buddha-shaped urn amongst hundreds. In Bolivia, some steal skulls from graves and keep them around to share advice and answer prayers. In Joshua Tree, California, a pilot program lets you be buried, sans embalming fluids, in a simple cloth four feet below the ground. In the mountains of Tibet, bodies are chopped up and fed to vultures: one of the faster returns to nature one might imagine (if one imagined such things). The book has wonderful illustrations by Landis Blair, which perform a crucial role: they let you visualize what is being described without the "yick" factor some might experience seeing photos. I, of course, did plenty of Google surfing to find the photos. Along the way, Doughty shares numerous fun facts and thought-provoking commentary on our relationship to death. In the US, death has become a lucrative business, and bodies are whisked away and kept hidden, and there are only two options offered: embalming/burial or cremation. She advocates for a more diverse, nuanced approach to death that honors the dead in the way they have chosen and that allows family time and space to process the loss, and also for death not to worsen our ecological crises. At the same time, this can be accomplished without compromising the health or safety of the living. I found myself jealous of many of the practices described here, and thinking about my own choices for my body after I die. I am an organ donor, and want any useful organs to go to people who need them. I'd love to donate my body to medical students or scientific study (my wife is against this, and she and I have had great conversations after reading this book together). In the end, I don't want to be embalmed, and would even prefer not to be burned - I'd love for my body to be returned back to the earth in the least invasive, time-consuming way, so my nutrients can go back into creating new forms of life. I'm hoping, by the time it comes to that, there will be more options available. If so, it will be thanks to efforts like this book, which I highly recommend.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Erica

    My anticipated reaction: My actual reaction: This isn't bad, not by a longshot. It's also not the stunning masterpiece I'd lead myself to believe it would be. A lot of that is my fault because I've stalked Caitlin Doughty for about 4 or 5 years now and am up to date on all her YouTube videos. I often read articles about her or by her or those written for Order of the Good Death so not a lot of this information was new to me. While I expected such to be the case, I also expected to get a mo My anticipated reaction: My actual reaction: This isn't bad, not by a longshot. It's also not the stunning masterpiece I'd lead myself to believe it would be. A lot of that is my fault because I've stalked Caitlin Doughty for about 4 or 5 years now and am up to date on all her YouTube videos. I often read articles about her or by her or those written for Order of the Good Death so not a lot of this information was new to me. While I expected such to be the case, I also expected to get a more in-depth anthropological/sociological analysis of the death rituals explored in each chapter and that is the source of my lackluster response. These read like interesting blog posts and I wanted more. MORE! Also, the book is illustrated nicely but I wanted photographs or, in a perfect book, a mix of photographs and illustrations. That disappointment is solely on me and, yes, I did do a lot of Googling, as you're about to find out. There are eight chapters in this book, each a compilation of Caitlin's (we're not friends but I'm calling her by her first name anyway. I'm older than she is and in some societies, that totally gives me the right to not be formal) experiences with community traditions surrounding death. I felt it was a little odd so much of this centers on American experiences - 3/8 chapters take place in the ol' US of A. I guess that could go to show that we're not as death squeamish as we think and that there is hope for progress among the pearl-clutchers but I wanted more glimpses of what other cultures do with their dead because I already live here and know what we do with corpses. She starts out in Colorado (Represent!) and I'm going to go ahead and talk about what I thought of each chapter but I'll put it all under a spoiler tag in case you want to be surprised in regard to the places she travels and the things she sees! (view spoiler)[ Colorado: Crestone Caitlin comes to Colorado! As I noted in my while-I'm-reading-this update, I was sure she'd come here for Frozen Dead Guy Days or the coffin races in Manitou. I was wrong! She came for the Crestone Funeral Pyre which I had never heard of and was excited to learn about. After I read this chapter, I called up (texted) my BFF, T, and was all, "Hey. We need to buy some land and start up a burning business." She was like, "LOLWUT?" And I was, "You know how we're always talking about sumping the bodies? Well, now we can burn them. We can rent out a funeral pyre and hold funerals! It will be just like a wedding venue only, you know, with death and fire!" I waited awhile to hear back and then finally got, "Ok, there's available land in..." and this is why we are soulmates for life. Indonesia: South Sulawesi First, she and her death buddy went to see the Londa Burial Caves where she is supposedly Instagramed by strangers (I did a quick sweep of Instagram and found nothing, but Instagram could have been used as a name for any general social media site or I just didn't dig deeply enough) and I was completely fascinated by this. However, too quickly, she moved to the next place and topic, the Tana Toraja death rituals which I'd known about, to an extent. I love that the families hang out with their dead, put their dead in little houses and then bring them out to change their clothes and catch them up on all the gossip but now I worry they’re going to run out of buffalo. How do you make enough water buffalo for this event? I would have liked this chapter fleshed out (ha!) a little more. Like, how are the Londo Caves related to the people who get to come out and be cleaned up on visitation day? Who gets the wood carvings and when? How does this all work? I felt this was the weakest chapter with the least amount of solid explanation and observation which is a shame because it seems like such an affirming and happy place to embrace death. Mexico: Michoacán It's Days of the Dead in Mexico! Caitlin runs down to Michoacán to see what they've got going on for their Dias de los Muertos. Let me tell you about my experience with Day of the Dead. There's a pretty solid Hispanic and Latino population around here so I'd heard of Day of the Dead but it wasn't taught in school when I was a kid and I didn't know anything about it. When I was in my 20's, though, my boyfriend at the time moved down to Taos and since it was just 4 hours away, I'd visit every other weekend. I went down one Halloween and went home two days later, in the dark, and noticed the cemeteries were glowing. Actually, they were full of live people and candles with farolitos and luminarias everywhere. When I got home, I called back down to ask just what in the world was going on and the boyfriend told me he'd find out. When he got back to me, he said it was the Day of the Dead celebration. When I went down again two weekends later, his delightful neighbors (whom I still miss), told me all about it and invited me to attend with them the following year. And when the following year rolled around, they remembered the invitation and extended it again, telling me I could meet grandma! It was a hard sell but because I am the whitest white girl, I figured I really wasn't supposed to go visit the grandmother I'd never met in the cemetery I'd only ever seen from the road so I demurred as gracefully as possible but I still feel honored that they wanted me to come with them to celebrate with their family in the graveyard. And even though we can't do the marigolds up here, due to them all being long dead by the time Nov. 1 and 2 roll around, the graves are still lovely to see, all brimming with light and food and living people. Caitlin's Day of the Dead experience was much different. First, she got to go to the traditional Dias de los Muertos parade in Mexico City! In its inaugural year, no less! And you're all like, "Erica, you can't have a tradition that is inagurual." I'm here to tell you that yes, you absolutely can because traditions have to start somewhere. In this case, the parade started because of the James Bond movie, "Spectre." In the opening scene of the film, Bond glides through the melee in a skeleton mask and a tux and slips into a hotel with a masked woman. Except, here's the trick. The Dias de los Muertos parade did not inspire the James Bond film. The James Bond film inspired the parade. The Mexican government, afraid that people around the world would see the film and expect that the parade exists when it did not, recruited 1,200 volunteers and spent a year re-creating a four-hour pageant. And I thought Coca-Cola had a large global impact. So, anyway, the next day, Caitlin and her friend/associate, Sarah, go to Michoacán. Sarah's story is important because she's of Mexican descent but did not grow up with her heritage. After she lost her baby, she had a hard time finding ways to express her grief in a culturally appropriate manner, appropriate to death-shunning Americans, I mean. It was through Frida Kahlo she learned about the betrayals of a woman's body and the unashamed acknowledgement of bereavement. That took her to Mexico to experience Day of the Dead with people who did not shy away from death, where she could express her agony and it was recognized and accepted. So, of course, she took Caitlin on her next trip so that they could see the mummies and angelitos, could visit an effigy of Father Cornelio, and take part in an actual Dias de los Muertos festival and the following walk to the cemetery. This is probably the most personal chapter in the book. It's touching, sad, and also hopeful and I appreciated Caitlin's friend, Sarah, giving Caitlin, and therefore her readers, the gift of her story and journey. On a related note, If you’re interested in Day of the Dead and haven’t seen Coco, do yourself a favor and view it ASAP. North Carolina: Cullowhee My mom, when she was dying, to concerned parties: "Don't be sad. I'm going to a better place." Us, her family: *rolling eyes, shaking heads* Concerned parties: *hands on hearts, tears in eyes* "Yes. To heaven. You'll be with God, blah blah blah." Mom: "No. I'm going to Grand Junction." *endless cackling even though she's told this joke a thousand times by this point* Concerned parties: *confusion or, at least, polite bemusement* Us, her family: "She's going to a body farm in Grand Junction after she dies." Concerned parties: *blanch and flee* Guess where Caitlin is today, kids? A body farm! And not just any body farm! This one is helping Katrina Spade with her Urban Death Project. It's here she's trying to figure out the magical soil mixture to quickly and efficiently compost human bodies! This is something I'd found out about through Caitlin and have been watching ever since because I would freaking LOVE to be compost and then go into a garden or a park! That would be absolutely perfect for me! So I'm hoping this is a thing by the time I die, but after reading this chapter, I realize I need to hold off on dying for awhile because while it's possible to compost big animals at a rapid rate, there's a lot of wasteful stuff that goes into that and this project is all about being eco-friendly, sooo...there's still more experimentation to go. But I'm on board! Oh, and also? This chapter will teach you all about the magical whale fall. It's pretty amazing stuff. Spain: Barcelona Oh! A critical piece! Caitlin journeys to Spain to conduct interviews with the National Press regarding Spain’s treatment of death. It seems they like to put death on display, complete with glass barrier keeping the living from the deceased. Though Caitlin was asking critical questions of Spain's funeral industry, Altima Funeral Home, Google-headquarters-meets-Church-of-Scientology...minimalist, hypermodern, projecting the potential for cultlike activity agreed to give her a tour of their sleek facilities. She learned that families can choose sepultura or incinerar for their dead and because of Catholicism not having the most positive views on cremation, many still choose sepultura except in Seville where there is no room, no room! so the government subsidizes cremation for its citizens. Also, there’s not a lot of embalming going on because Spain is pretty quick to dispose of its no-longer-living. Like many European countries, graves in Spain are often recycled, the bony inhabitants exhumed and given eternal rest in communal bone pits. I assume some families have mausoleums for their bones, but that’s just a leap I’m making on my own. Caitlin gets to see a cremation and she continues to be puzzled by the glass that offers both transparency and a barrier to death. You can probably tell I wasn’t as interested while reading this. It seemed pretty cut and dry, like something that would happen here, Stateside, except for the grave exhumations but that’s something I’d already encountered sooo… moving on. Japan: Tokyo NO! She did not go to visit Aokigahara, though she did just talk about Aokigahara in a recent video. Caitlin went to Japan for other death reasons: But before you learn about those, you’ll learn about Hachiko, a story you’ve probably already heard, and the death of Sony’s robo-dogs. (Happier follow-up story can be found here) So the first reason was to see Koukokuji Buddhist Temple and Yajima jushoku’s technological upgrade to the old columbarium, which you may have heard about when it took over the news a few years back, and now I want to go there and see it! It sounds amazing. The second reason was to learn more about the family’s role in cremation ceremonies. Unlike Spain, Japan has the highest cremation rate in the world but they don’t get a bunch of ashes in a bag like we do. Instead, after the incineration is complete, the family stands around the ash tray (because that’s kind of literally what it is, though I doubt that’s what it’s called) to pick out the leftover bones with chopsticks. They put the bones in an urn and take the turn home. The custom is called kotsuage and it sounds like an awfully nice way to continue to care for your loved one after death. Then Caitlin finds the hotel of her dreams. It’s a corpse hotel. It’s pretty freaking awesome and I’m not sure why this isn’t a thing in all first-world countries that haven’t figured out a good way for people to deal with death. She also visits the super high-tech Daitokuin Ryogoku Ryoen, a multisensory temple and graveyard. Seriously, this chapter is worth the price of the book. It’s illuminating! Bolivia: La Paz Caitlin’s traveling the world with her friend, Paul, again! This time, they go to Bolivia to meet skulls. It’s the kind of anthropological tale I’ve been waiting for! I was a tad bitter that there was no photo of Sandra, the fancy natita who had her picture taken that day. There's only a very nice illustration. Don't worry, I found her on Instagram. That may even be Caitlin holding her, since she was charged with hanging out with Sandra while Sandra's...landlady? Roommate? Minion? Caretaker? The person with whom Sandra lives and upon whom Sandra grants favors - found her something nice to wear for the picture. While I don’t have much to say about this chapter, it was my favorite. California: Joshua Tree Caitlin talks a little about her job at her funeral home, Undertaking LA which segues into a discussion on natural burials, specifically those in Joshua Tree Memorial Park. Afterward, she discusses her preferred mode of corpse management, the one she’d most like to have if only it were an option. But it’s not for two reasons. 1) It’s not something we do in America and, 2) read the book and find out for yourself. I liked this chapter because she brings death back around to a personal level. We’ve seen what other cultures do and now we need to think about how we want to approach our own deaths and care for the deceased that start showing up in everyone’s lives eventually. (hide spoiler)] So that's the book. And I liked it, obviously. I just didn't love it like I'd wanted. Side note: I am interested to find out the title of her next book. She's covered a song lyric, a movie title...what's next? A dance move? Only time will tell.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ashley DiNorcia

    4.5 In her second book, Caitlin takes us around the world to take a look at how other cultures view and treat death. If you're already aware of how bizarre, detached and corporate-ified the US is about death, this will be a lovely trip through some truly beautiful rituals and cultures. If you aren't aware, well, this might be a bit jarring for you. Caitlin approaches the topic with respect and just the right amount of humor. I can't recommend her writing enough, and would definitely recommend her 4.5 In her second book, Caitlin takes us around the world to take a look at how other cultures view and treat death. If you're already aware of how bizarre, detached and corporate-ified the US is about death, this will be a lovely trip through some truly beautiful rituals and cultures. If you aren't aware, well, this might be a bit jarring for you. Caitlin approaches the topic with respect and just the right amount of humor. I can't recommend her writing enough, and would definitely recommend her first book Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory if you'd like to learn a bit more about the way our current death care system works. Also, moving to Colorado immediately because I WANT THE PYRE TREATMENT. Thank you to the publisher and Edelweiss for providing me a copy for review.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ammar

    fascinating book about the various cultures and how they interact with death, and the concept of the departed or loved one. were many non-western cultures perform more natural acts of burial, a non-industrial cremation. some use a pyre to lit a loved one, while others keep them mummified, and visit them often. The Japanese use chopsticks to pluck their loved one's bones from the ashes. Fascinating and written beautifully fascinating book about the various cultures and how they interact with death, and the concept of the departed or loved one. were many non-western cultures perform more natural acts of burial, a non-industrial cremation. some use a pyre to lit a loved one, while others keep them mummified, and visit them often. The Japanese use chopsticks to pluck their loved one's bones from the ashes. Fascinating and written beautifully

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jenna

    Who says death can't be fun? Well, maybe not death as in the process of dying, but a a good book about death? Sure, it can be lots of fun! In "From Here to Eternity", Caitlin Doughty takes us to several countries around the world, detailing their practices with their dead. At times quite macabre (this is a book about death, afterall), it is nonetheless a most interesting book. Ms. Doughty mixes wit and sarcasm with fascinating details, making this one delightful book to read! Why is it each cult Who says death can't be fun? Well, maybe not death as in the process of dying, but a a good book about death? Sure, it can be lots of fun! In "From Here to Eternity", Caitlin Doughty takes us to several countries around the world, detailing their practices with their dead. At times quite macabre (this is a book about death, afterall), it is nonetheless a most interesting book. Ms. Doughty mixes wit and sarcasm with fascinating details, making this one delightful book to read! Why is it each culture thinks their own way to handle the dead is the only right way, whilst all others are disturbing, disgusting, and disrespectful? Perhaps we in the West, especially in the USA where the death industry is just like everything else in this country -- capitalism gone crazy -- have something to learn from the way other cultures honor their dead. Perhaps we are too divorced from the process, stifling our healing and grief and fearing death in a way we need not. We venture to Japan where the practice of kotsuage involves the mourners using chopsticks to gently place the bones of a partially-cremated body into urns. We visit Tana Toraja in Indonesia where they have a ritual known as ma'nene' where the dead are periodically pulled from their graves, cleaned and dressed, talked to, and given food and cigarettes. We visit Spain and Italy, Tibet and Mexico, Bolivia and the USA, learning about the customs, rituals, and attitudes concerning the dead. Some people might find this book a little too disturbing. However, for those who can handle thinking about death and who have an open mind to other cultures and their practices, this is a most fascinating and fun read.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Rachel (TheShadesofOrange)

    3.5 Stars This was an interesting non-fiction book that explored a variety of non-traditional burial practices (non-traditional by North American standards, at least). Even though this book dealt with the topic of grief, it was not creepy, but rather try to normalize the topic, taking out the fear that tends to surround dead bodies. I particularly liked the sections about fire burning in Colorado as well as the section on Japanese traditions.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Robin

    This author is so awesome. I want to go to her funeral facility when I pass. More to come.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Carole (Carole's Random Life in Books)

    This review can also be found at Carole's Random Life in Books. This was such an interesting listen! I have been wanting to read this book since I learned of its existence. I find the way that we handle death as humans to be a topic that I never tire from. When I first picked up Caitlin Doughty's debut novel, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, I had my doubts but decided to read a few pages just to see what I thought. I couldn't put it down and it is a book that I frequently recommend to others today. I we This review can also be found at Carole's Random Life in Books. This was such an interesting listen! I have been wanting to read this book since I learned of its existence. I find the way that we handle death as humans to be a topic that I never tire from. When I first picked up Caitlin Doughty's debut novel, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, I had my doubts but decided to read a few pages just to see what I thought. I couldn't put it down and it is a book that I frequently recommend to others today. I went into this audiobook with pretty high expectations and I am thrilled that the book was able to meet them. In this book, the author travels the world to see how death is handled in a variety of cultures. It was a very eye-opening journey for me. I had no idea how little I actually knew about this topic. I thought that in the United States the options for dealing with a loved one's remains consisted of a choice between burial and cremation. I had no idea that in one community, residents have the option of an open-air pyre. Why don't we have this everywhere? I was amazed by the variety of customs associated with dying. In this book, we see communities that keep the corpses of loved ones with them for rather long periods of time continuing their relationship with the deceased. There were a variety of rituals from around the world explained. Some of the scenes were quite vivid. While I don't think that I want to rush to practice some of the traditions explained in this book, I really liked being able to see how variations of how people around the world look at the process of death. In some ways, I think that a lot of cultures have a much healthier relationship with the dead. They prepare the bodies and care for the dead while in the United States, we are removed from the process leaving it to the professionals. This book is narrated by the author. I think that she did a great job with the reading of this book. The book covers things and events that the author has seen so I think that she was able to deliver the story in a manner that nobody else would have been able to do. I thought that she had a very pleasant voice and I found it easy to listen to this book for long periods of time. I ended up listening to the entire book in a single day and found that I liked the narration more and more as I made my way through the book. I would recommend this book to others. I love the way that this author is able to educate others on the process of death and dying in an entertaining manner. I found this book to be quite thought-provoking and I feel like I learned a thing or two. I could easily see myself reading this book again at some point in the future and I can't wait to check out some of the author's other works. Initial Thoughts This was really interesting. I think that there are a lot of problems with the way that death is handled in the US. I found some of the practices in other countries were very eye-opening. I am not going to sign up for a lot of the rituals described in this book but it did make me think about what kind of changes I would like to see closer to home. The author did a good job narrating the book. Book source: Purchased

  21. 5 out of 5

    Heather *Undercover Goth Queen*

    I didn't enjoy this quite as much as Doughty's previous book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory, but some parts were really interesting (Himalayan vultures with nine-foot wing spans) and others quite moving (people grieving their dead children). I didn't enjoy this quite as much as Doughty's previous book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory, but some parts were really interesting (Himalayan vultures with nine-foot wing spans) and others quite moving (people grieving their dead children).

  22. 4 out of 5

    Karyl

    This is an absolute must-read. Here in America, we are so separated from death. It is something to be feared, kept away from, hidden behind expensive caskets and embalming and services in a "multisensory experience room" (p. 234). Our dead are basically ripped from us, held in morgues and funeral homes, with little transition from the state of living to being buried in a cemetery or being resigned to the flames during cremation. Doughty's point during this book isn't a tour of the world's strang This is an absolute must-read. Here in America, we are so separated from death. It is something to be feared, kept away from, hidden behind expensive caskets and embalming and services in a "multisensory experience room" (p. 234). Our dead are basically ripped from us, held in morgues and funeral homes, with little transition from the state of living to being buried in a cemetery or being resigned to the flames during cremation. Doughty's point during this book isn't a tour of the world's strangest burial habits (and if this is what you take away from it, you've totally missed the point). Instead, it's to show how other cultures who are more in tune with death and how to process it and grieve can be seen as having a healthier relationship with death than we do in the western world. In Japan, the families are given special chopsticks with which to gather the bones of their loved ones after cremation. In Bolivia, certain skulls becomeñatitas, a liaison between living and the dead. In Indonesia, bodies are kept at home until they have their funerals (which can be years away), and then in certain rituals, the mummified bodies are taken out and cleaned, and the families spend time with them as they would any other family member. These practices might seem barbaric to us, but then it's just a different way of dealing with the dead. It may behoove us to be more connected to our dead to allow us to grieve in a more healthy way. We've lost our intimacy with death, even though one day we will all pass away, and now it's an expensive proposition to die in America. Doughty wants us to think about how we can begin to fix the extortionist death industry in America, and perhaps open our eyes to other methods that may be cheaper and better for us emotionally. Read this book with an open mind, and I can almost guarantee that you may change your mind about the way the death industry works in America.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    This was not what I was expecting, which was a SGIYE part two. This is very much an informational nonfiction rather than a memoir, though there are memoir-esque elements about the companions Caitlin travelled with. This is a great overview of death rituals around the world, but not an in depth resource for death geeks. My favorite chapter was about Japan, as there were more details that helped me understand their rituals and culture. I wish Caitlin had been more present in the text as she was in This was not what I was expecting, which was a SGIYE part two. This is very much an informational nonfiction rather than a memoir, though there are memoir-esque elements about the companions Caitlin travelled with. This is a great overview of death rituals around the world, but not an in depth resource for death geeks. My favorite chapter was about Japan, as there were more details that helped me understand their rituals and culture. I wish Caitlin had been more present in the text as she was in SGIYE. I would still recommend this though and read anything else she publishes.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Victoria ♡

    This book was so interesting! It really got me thinking tbh. Recommend Caitlin's books to everyone they're so good!! This book was so interesting! It really got me thinking tbh. Recommend Caitlin's books to everyone they're so good!!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sonja Arlow

    3 ½ stars I absolutely LOVED Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory. It was a quirky memoir of an inexperienced cremation assistant finding her feet in a macabre and sometimes quite depressing industry. But Caitlin has grown up, the funeral business is no longer just funny anecdotes but an industry that sometimes hurt the grieving more than help by making the final goodbye so absurdly clinical that it loses its humanity. This book follows Caitlin around the world exploring di 3 ½ stars I absolutely LOVED Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory. It was a quirky memoir of an inexperienced cremation assistant finding her feet in a macabre and sometimes quite depressing industry. But Caitlin has grown up, the funeral business is no longer just funny anecdotes but an industry that sometimes hurt the grieving more than help by making the final goodbye so absurdly clinical that it loses its humanity. This book follows Caitlin around the world exploring different ways in which cultures revere, fear, celebrate and even at times resurrect the dead. I particularly enjoyed the chapters on Mexico and their festival of the dead, the FOREST project and grave renting. Sky burial featured in book 1 and this one explores the concept further. I am open to other possibilities for burial but still balk a little at the thought of this one. Caitlin REALLY lays into the Western funeral industry and yes, she has valid points however not everyone wants a bohemian funeral pyre in the forest for grandma. I think what she is trying to convey is that in death, as in life there should not be a one sizes fits all. This book didn’t flow for me as well as the first one, but I have rounded up my rating to 4 stars as I think it’s a great book even if it’s just for the discussions it will spark.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Katie.dorny

    A journey around the world about death and grief. It was eye opening, enjoyable and thought provoking.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Selkis

    Never judge a book by its cover ... but when I first saw this cover, I was intrigued. The Mortician Caitlin Doughty is fed up with the impersonal death ceremonies in the USA. So she travels around the world in an attempt to discover how other cultures deal with grief and loss. Which rituals and ceremonies do they celebrate? How do they treat the body of a loved one after their death? I love finding out about different cultures and death has always had a strange fascination to me. Therefore, this Never judge a book by its cover ... but when I first saw this cover, I was intrigued. The Mortician Caitlin Doughty is fed up with the impersonal death ceremonies in the USA. So she travels around the world in an attempt to discover how other cultures deal with grief and loss. Which rituals and ceremonies do they celebrate? How do they treat the body of a loved one after their death? I love finding out about different cultures and death has always had a strange fascination to me. Therefore, this book was perfect for me. I really enjoyed the other's (very respectful) descriptions of burial ceremonies all around the world. She also mentions the important role of grief and saying goodbye and how it can help with the healing process. It was a quick and enjoyable read for me. At times funny and entertaining, but mostly thought-provoking. Sometimes it's important to look at something from a different angle, and this book forced me to do exactly that. I also wanted to mention the illustrations in my paperback copy, which are absolutely stunning! They really helped with visualising the different rituals. I can recommend the book to everybody who is interested in death or generally curious about different cultures around the world.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ilana

    I enjoy Caitlin Doughty’s books so much, I’m now sorry I’ve finished the third book she’s published so far because I could use more of her caustic humour on the facts of death and what happens to our bodies, told in delightfully gruesome details, once life as we know it departs from them and other forms of life take over what’s left. Here Doughty recounts her travels to different parts of the world to see up close what death rituals involve in different cultures. Japan has death hotels and buddh I enjoy Caitlin Doughty’s books so much, I’m now sorry I’ve finished the third book she’s published so far because I could use more of her caustic humour on the facts of death and what happens to our bodies, told in delightfully gruesome details, once life as we know it departs from them and other forms of life take over what’s left. Here Doughty recounts her travels to different parts of the world to see up close what death rituals involve in different cultures. Japan has death hotels and buddhas with ambient light projections in a high tech funerary memorial. Bolivia has skulls covered in cute caps which bring otherworldly gifts to those who come seeking spiritual guidance. A small town—a very small town in the US allows a not-for profit funeral pyre provider to operate legally, a rare exception in the land where corporate funeral companies are willing to crush out competition even from Benedictine monks for maximum profits. Doughty is a gifted storyteller and her delivery is casual and entertaining. Here’s hoping she’s already completing her next book project.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Renner

    Few life events affect us more than the death of a loved one. At times, it can seem that grief is monolithic, but not every culture deals with death and grief in the same way. The death culture of the US endeavors to paint a pleasing facade over what we consider macabre. Embalmers camouflage the reality of the grave with chemicals and adornments. Cemeteries wall off the dead behind stone, concrete, and coffin wood. In her nonfiction book From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find Few life events affect us more than the death of a loved one. At times, it can seem that grief is monolithic, but not every culture deals with death and grief in the same way. The death culture of the US endeavors to paint a pleasing facade over what we consider macabre. Embalmers camouflage the reality of the grave with chemicals and adornments. Cemeteries wall off the dead behind stone, concrete, and coffin wood. In her nonfiction book From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death , Caitlin Doughty delves into death cultures around the globe, thus casting a stark contrast between our national death avoidance and cultures that literally take death into their arms. On her binge of thanotourism, Doughty investigated cultures in Belize, Indonesia, Mexico, Japan, Spain, and Bolivia in addition to small enclaves within the United States. She found two striking commonalities between cultures that don’t deny or try to hide the inevitability of death, in other words, “death positive” cultures. The first is that these cultures live closely with the dead and are not afraid to touch their bodies or their relics. For example, the people of Tana Toraja, Indonesia celebrate ma’nene , during which they exhume the bodies of their loved ones to clean and commune with the mummies. In Bolivia, many households keep ñatitas , skulls of the dead believed to possess a sacred link with the divine. The second commonality is that, in death positive cultures, the living feel a sense of purpose in caring for the dead. In Mexico, during the famous Dia de los Muertos, families bring offerings to the graves of their loved ones to share a night with their returned spirits. Even in Japan, custom dictates that family members pick through the deceased’s ashes with chopsticks and deposit their bones into an urn. Doughty brings the life of these cultures to the page with vivid details, some of which aren’t for the faint of heart. However, Doughty’s appealing, insightful, often sarcastic voice makes this morbid topic approachable. This clear writing prowess in combination with her experience as a Los Angeles mortician allow Doughty to make effective contrasts between American death culture and what she believes are healthier attitudes towards death. “In my practice as a mortician,” says Doughty, “I’ve found that both cleaning the body and spending time with it serves a powerful role in processing grief. It helps mourners see the corpse not as a cursed object, but as a beautiful vessel that once held their loved one.” Despite her Anthony-Bordainesque adventures, Doughty’s message is clear: she wants her American readers to reassess not only how they view death but how they perform grief. She wants Americans to turn away from “business models, upselling families on mahogany caskets and marble headstones” but saving the talk of death until the last minute to a culture that speaks openly about death and honors our dead and our environment instead of building walls to protect ourselves from reality. NOTE: I received a digital arc of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Want to read more of my reviews? Stay in touch by: Following me on social media: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Goodreads. Following this blog. 🙂 Signing up for my mailing list here. Before you try to pitch me your own book, please note that I am closed to book review requests at this time. However, you can read my review policy for when I open them back up again.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Tanya

    This was so on brand for me: A book about traveling the world to find the most unusual (some Westerners would say morbid and undignified) death and grieving practices. I loved everything about it, and only wish it had been longer and had covered more cultures! Mortician Caitlin Doughty runs a non-profit funeral home, and she thinks that Westerners (Americans in particular) have come to view death as a conversational taboo, which hinders our ability to properly grieve and cope with the loss. Meanw This was so on brand for me: A book about traveling the world to find the most unusual (some Westerners would say morbid and undignified) death and grieving practices. I loved everything about it, and only wish it had been longer and had covered more cultures! Mortician Caitlin Doughty runs a non-profit funeral home, and she thinks that Westerners (Americans in particular) have come to view death as a conversational taboo, which hinders our ability to properly grieve and cope with the loss. Meanwhile, the death industry has become ever more lucrative, and funeral homes profit from the general public's ignorance about everything surrounding death, especially their rights concerning a deceased relative's body. In this sophomore book, Doughty traveled the world to explore the fascinating ways in which different cultures confront mortality, to show that the traditional (brief, distant, and sterile) options of burial or cremation aren't necessarily the best or only ones—our taboos are another culture's sacred rituals. The takeaway is that the healthiest way to deal with a loss is one that allows mourners to participate in the funeral process by helping them care for the body of the deceased, and also by not making them hide their grief in order to not make others uncomfortable. For some of these customs, she didn't have to travel too far: Crestone, Colorado, is the site of the only community open-air funeral pyre in the Western world; Cullowhee, North Carolina, is where the FOREST project set up its human decomposition research facility; in Doughty's own State, California, there is the option of having a natural burial in the desert, in a designated section of Joshua Tree Memorial Park; and of course she couldn't miss Mexico's Días de los Muertos celebration. In Indonesia, the Torajan people celebrate the ma'nene festival every three years, during which the mummified corpses of their loved ones are exhumed and cleaned by the family. In the Japanese kotsuage ceremony, relatives pluck the skeletal remains from the cremated ashes with chopsticks, and transfer them into an urn. In Bolivia, some spiritual women collect skulls and dress them in matching beanies—these so-called ñatitas are believed to grant wishes, and an annual festival is held in their honor. In my (and the author's) personal favorite, the Tibetan sky burial, one's earthly remains are dismembered and/or beaten to a pulp, to be then left to be devoured by vultures. Doughty manages the impossible: She doesn't spare any of the vivid, gory details, but her tone remains chipper and even humorous, all while not losing sight of the profundity of the topic. She is an extremely likable guide who makes us at least momentarily drop our fear of mortality, expand our understanding of what it means to treat the dead with respect and dignity, all while compellingly educating us about different death practices, subverting all of our culturally ingrained preconceptions. From Here to Eternity is an incredibly fascinating, potentially life (and death)-changing book.

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