The American Way Of Death Revisited / Jessica Mitford

Drawing howls of protest from the funeral industry, and acclaim from consumer interest groups, The American Way of Death was first published in 1963. This updated version, completed by Mitford just before her death in 1996, was published in 1998. It contains several new chapters and updated facts and figures to supplement the original material. While published just sixteen years ago, its overall tone seems quite dated. Throughout, Mitford references numerous journals from the funeral industry, titles that I would hazard to guess no longer exist here in the digital age. Even though the book has a Sixties feel to it, the questionable funeral practices that the author reports on still plague us today. In her muckraking report, Mitford shows how funeral directors and cemetery owners have sold Americans a bill of goods by claiming their extravagant funeral practices are a treasured tradition handed down from the earliest days of this country. In truth, the tradition was created out of whole cloth by the funeral industry itself one hundred years ago, driven by a desire to extract as much money as they can from grieving families. The situation has only gotten worse now that multi-national corporations have begun to dominate the profession. Since all families at some point will need to plan a funeral, this book serves as an excellent primer to alert consumers about the questionable practices that they might encounter when burying or cremating a family member. While the topic might seem like a grim one, Mitford leavens the material with a gleeful energy as she debunks the industry’s self-serving proclamations and exposes their lobbying efforts to insure fair practice legislation rarely sees the light of day. It is a book I wish I had read before helping to plan my parents’ funerals. Better late than never, it helped to spark a conversation with my wife on what I want done (and not done) to my body after I die. Since death never goes out of style, The American Way of Death will continue to inform consumers for a good many generations to come.

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