The American Way of Death Revisited
Since Jessica Mitford took on the funeral industry in her ground-excavating expose THE AMERICAN WAY OF DEATH (1963), dying in America has changed very little. THE AMERICAN WAY OF DEATH REVISITED reopens the casket of concerns about the practices of the industry, especially the promotion of a costly death.
The 1998 revision updates not only the statistical material of the original but documents new developments in the industry which postdate the first version. Americans can now prepay their funerals and live to regret the investment (see the chapter entitled “Pay Now—Die Poorer”). Those whose grief occurs in the late twentieth century must deal with multinational funeral conglomerates rather than cede the bodies and final rituals of their loved ones to a local and likely well-known family friend (“A Global Village of the Dead”). In Mitford’s view the issues are money rather than concern for families. It is not difficult to pay as much as eight or nine thousand dollars for a funeral. Often prices include full package add-ons which the grieving neither want nor choose.
Mitford’s practical aim is to offer alternatives in the form of low-cost funeral societies to bereaved families. How threatening these alternatives are to the funeral industry is demonstrated in their characterizations of such groups as “the burial beatniks of contemporary America.”
The reader will appreciate the index as well as a “Directory of Not-for-Profit Funeral and Memorial Services.” Resources are listed by state, with full address and phone number. For those who wish to avoid the costly and coercive practices documented in the text, this is an invaluable resource. One assumes that Mitford herself, who died before the book was complete, has had the last laugh.
Sources for Further Study
The Atlantic. CCLXXXII, September, 1998, p. 24.
Business Week. September 21, 1998, p. 18B.
The Lancet. CCCLII, November 21, 1998, p. 1713.
Library Journal. CXXIII, July, 1998, p. 117.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. August 2, 1998, p. 6.
The New York Review of Books. XLV, September 24, 1998, p. 20.
The New York Times Book Review. CIII, October 4, 1998, p. 22.
Publishers Weekly. CCXLV, May 18, 1998, p. 58.
The Washington Post Book World. XXVIII, August 2, 1998, p. 3.