Rated Reads

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory

by Caitlin Doughty

Rated: High

If you are a fan of Mary Roach’s fascinating book on what happens to our bodies after death, Stiff, you are likely to appreciate Caitlin Doughty’s book focusing mostly on the aspect of cremation. Just as with Roach’s work, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is not for the faint of heart: there are plenty of gory details about just what happens to a body before, during and after it goes into a machine that’s cranked up hot enough to reduce a body (or pieces of it) to ashes and chunks of bone. That being said, it’s pretty darn cool.

While the book is informative and curiosity-slaking while also liberally sprinkled with dry wit and gallows humor, it’s also a reminder that Americans today are far removed from death. And this is much of Doughty’s point: after spending about a year working at a crematorium in Oakland, California, she then decided to pursue the career and attend mortuary school. The experiences served to incite in her a passion for helping people in our culture reacquaint themselves with death. Rather than fearing aging and death and dead bodies and shoving all we find distasteful off onto professionals who work behind a screen, we would be better served mentally and emotionally if we had more to do with the whole process.

Recommended reading if you don’t mind hearing about melted fat, for instance, or that in California, not only do cremation services burn bodies, but then the remains (with their large bits of bone) are ground up so they are completely turned to powder.

Rated: High, for seven uses of strong language and a noticeable amount of moderate language. There are a few coarse references and a fair amount of what some might consider “irreverent humor” about bodies.

— Reviewed by Cathy Carmode Lim

Cathy Carmode Lim has been reviewing books for newspapers for about 15 years, two of which she was a book page editor. She founded Rated Reads in January 2008.

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Smoke in Eyes
  • Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory
  • by Caitlin Doughty
  • Rated: High
  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Reviewer: