Book Review – Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Book: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory – Author: Caitlin Doughty

Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir

Description from Goodreads:

Most people want to avoid thinking about death, but Caitlin Doughty—a twenty-something with a degree in medieval history and a flair for the macabre—took a job at a crematory, turning morbid curiosity into her life’s work. Thrown into a profession of gallows humor and vivid characters (both living and very dead), Caitlin learned to navigate the secretive culture of those who care for the deceased.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes tells an unusual coming-of-age story full of bizarre encounters and unforgettable scenes. Caring for dead bodies of every color, shape, and affliction, Caitlin soon becomes an intrepid explorer in the world of the dead. She describes how she swept ashes from the machines (and sometimes onto her clothes) and reveals the strange history of cremation and undertaking, marveling at bizarre and wonderful funeral practices from different cultures.

Her eye-opening, candid, and often hilarious story is like going on a journey with your bravest friend to the cemetery at midnight. She demystifies death, leading us behind the black curtain of her unique profession. And she answers questions you didn’t know you had: Can you catch a disease from a corpse? How many dead bodies can you fit in a Dodge van? What exactly does a flaming skull look like?

Honest and heartfelt, self-deprecating and ironic, Caitlin’s engaging style makes this otherwise taboo topic both approachable and engrossing. Now a licensed mortician with an alternative funeral practice, Caitlin argues that our fear of dying warps our culture and society, and she calls for better ways of dealing with death (and our dead).

My Review:

I was a bit hesitant going into this book. I get a little queasy even just thinking about dead things; people, animals, anything dead really. Partially due to the squick factor and partially due to the connotation. But I was assured that the book was really interesting and humorous, so I decided to give it a try.

I ended up really enjoying the book. The author was able to put enough spin on the stories that you ended up more thoughtful than upset. And she has a nice, quirky sense of humor, which helps keep the narrative upbeat, even in the darkest portions. If you can make me laugh during a chapter about dead babies, you are doing something right. 😉

It was really interesting having such an in-depth look at a profession that most people shy away from even talking about. Learning about the history of burial practices in America was fascinating; the transition from natural burial to embalming to cremation and back to natural burial. I also liked how she discussed different burial practices without really putting any of them down. It was nice to learn about how other cultures treat death from a (mostly) unbiased perspective.

I would really recommend this book for people who are interested in learning about American burial practices or the funereal profession.

Similar Books:

Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner – Judy Melinek, T.J. Mitchell

The American Way of Death – Jessica Mitford


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