Books and Movies Reviews

The American Way Of Death

“Mitford’s funny and unforgiving book is the best memento mori we are likely to get. It should be updated and reissued each decade for our spiritual health.”–The New York Review of BooksOnly the scathing wit and searching intelligence of Jessica Mitford could turn an expose of the American funeral industry into a book that is at once deadly serious and side-splittingly funny. When first published in 1963 this landmark of investigative journalism became a runaway bestseller and resulted in legislation to protect grieving families from the unscrupulous sales practices of those in “the dismal trade.”Just before her death in 1996, Mitford thoroughly revised and updated her classic study. The American Way of Death Revisited confronts new trends, including the success of the profession’s lobbyists in Washington, inflated cremation costs, the telemarketing of pay-in-advance graves, and the effects of monopolies in a death-care industry now dominated by multinational corporations. With its hard-nosed consumer activism and a satiric vision out of Evelyn Waugh’s novel The Loved One, The American Way of Death Revisited will not fail to inform, delight, and disturb. “Brilliant–hilarious–A must-read for anyone planning to throw a funeral in their lifetime.”–New York Post”Witty and penetrating–it speaks the truth.”–The Washington Post

The American Way of Death Revisited is almost unforgivably funny. Jessica Mitford’s expose of the funeral industry, a number one bestseller upon first publication, is a model of muckraking–an almost incredible description of how undertakers in the U.S. assault people’s souls and wallets. Before her death in 1996, Mitford devoted most of her energy to this revised edition of her masterwork, which zeroes in on funeral prepayment (the chapter is titled “Pay Now–Die Poorer”), the new multinational funeral corporations (“A Global Village of the Dead”), and the Federal Trade Commission’s failure to enforce the laws the first edition of this book helped bring about. The book’s greatest treasure is probably her shocking and hilarious description of exactly what happens in the process of embalming. Equally impressive, however, is her chapter called “The Nosy Clergy,” which describes the collusion and competition between America’s undertakers and its preachers. –Michael Joseph Gross

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