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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 w 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).


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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 w 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).

30 review for Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory

  1. 5 out of 5

    Kat

    if anyone needs me i’ll be living out my dream of working in a crematory

  2. 5 out of 5

    Will Byrnes

    There are many words a woman in love longs to hear. “I’ll love you forever, darling,” and “Will it be a diamond this year?” are two fine examples. But young lovers take note: above all else, the phrase every girl truly wants to hear is, “Hi, this is Amy from Science Support; I’m dropping off some heads.” You have all seen The Producers, right? The version with Zero or Nathan, in the cinema, on TV, on the stage, whatever. Those of you who have not…well…tsk, tsk, tsk, for shame, for shame. We There are many words a woman in love longs to hear. “I’ll love you forever, darling,” and “Will it be a diamond this year?” are two fine examples. But young lovers take note: above all else, the phrase every girl truly wants to hear is, “Hi, this is Amy from Science Support; I’m dropping off some heads.” You have all seen The Producers, right? The version with Zero or Nathan, in the cinema, on TV, on the stage, whatever. Those of you who have not…well…tsk, tsk, tsk, for shame, for shame. Well, there is one scene that pops to mind apropos this book. In the film, the producers of the title have put together a show that is designed to fail. The surprise is on them, though, when their engineered disaster turns out to be a hit. During intermission of the opening performance, to Max and Leo’s absolute horror, they overhear a man saying to his wife, “Honey, I never in a million years thought I'd ever love a show called Springtime For Hitler. One might be forgiven for having similar thoughts about Caitlin Doughty’s sparkling romp through the joys of mortuary science, Smoke Gets in your Eyes. If you were expecting a lifeless look at what most of us consider a dark subject, well, surprise, surprise. Yes we are, and dead-ender Caitlin is happy to help with the cleanup Caitlin Doughty has cooked up a book that is part memoir, part guidebook through the world of what lies beyond, well, the earth-bound part, at least, and part advocacy for new ways of dealing with our remains. Doughty, a Hawaiian native, is a 6-foot Amazon pixie, bubbling over (like some of her clients?) with enthusiasm for the work of seeing people off on their final journey. Her glee is infectious, in a good way. The bulk of the tale is based on her experience working at WestWind Cremation and Burial in Oakland, California, her first gig in the field. She was 23, had had a fascination with death since she was a kid and this seemed a perfectly reasonable place in which to begin what she believed would be her career. Turned out she was right. Caitlin Doughty from her site Smoke Gets in your Eyes is rich with information not only about contemporary mortuary practices, but on practices in other cultures and on how death was handled in the past. For example, embalming did not come into use in the USA until the Civil War, when the delay in getting the recently deceased from battlefield to home in a non-putrid form presented considerable difficulties. She also looks at the practice of seeing people off at home as opposed to institutional settings. There is a rich lode of intel in here about the origin of church and churchyard burials. I imagine churchgoers of the eras when such practices were still fresh might have been praying for a good stiff wind. No Kibby, no smoke monsters here Doughty worked primarily in the cremation end of the biz, and offers many juicy details about this increasingly popular exit strategy. But mixing the factual material with her personal experience turns the burners up a notch. The first time I peeked in on a cremating body felt outrageously transgressive, even though it was required by Westwind’s protocol. No matter how many heavy-metal album covers you’ve seen, how many Hieronymous Bosch prints of the tortures of Hell, or even the scene in Indiana Jones where the Nazi’s face melts off, you cannot be prepared to view a body being cremated. Seeing a flaming human skull is intense beyond your wildest flights of imagination. Beyond her paying gig, Doughty has, for some time, been undertaking to run a blog on mortuary practice, The Order of the Good Death, with a focus on greener ways of returning our elements back to the source. (Would it be wrong to think of those who make use of green self disposal as the dearly de-potted?) One tidbit from this stream was meeting with a lady who has devised a death suit with mushroom spores, the better to extract toxins from a decomposing body. I was drooling over the potential for Troma films that might be made from this notion. No, not pizza One of life’s great joys is to learn something new while being thoroughly entertained. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes offers a unique compendium of fascinating information about how death is handled, mostly in America. Doughty’s sense of humor is right up my alley. The book is LOL funny and not just occasionally. You may want to make sure you have swallowed your coffee before reading, lest it come flying out your nose. I was very much reminded of the infectious humor of Mary Roach or Margee Kerr. Doughty is also TED-talk smart. She takes on some very real issues in both the science and economics of death-dealing, offers well-informed critiques of how we handle death today, and suggests some alternatives. If the last face you see is Caitlin Doughty’s something is very, very wrong. The face itself is lovely, but usually by the time she gets her mitts on you should be seeing the pearly gates, that renowned steambath, or nothing at all. Preferably you can see Doughty in one of the many nifty short vids available on her site. You will learn something while being thoroughly charmed. Reading this book won’t kill you, even with laughter, but it will begin to prepare you to look at that event that lies out there, somewhere in the distance for all of us, and point you in a direction that is care and not fear based. If you enjoy learning and laughing Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is dead on. Review posted – 12/11/15 Publication date – 10/15/2014 (hc) – 9/28/15 - TP I received this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. Well, not really. I mean they specifically said that there was no obligation to produce a review, so there is no quid pro quo involved, but it does seem the right thing to do, don’tchya think? =============================EXTRA STUFF Links to the author’s personal, Twitter, Instagram and FB pages You MUST CHECK OUT vids on her site. My favorite is The Foreskin Wedding Ring of St Catherine . All right, I’m gonna stop you right there. Go ahead. I know you wanna ask. No? Fine. I’ll do it for you, but you know this is what you were asking yourself. “If she rubs it does it become a bracelet?” Ok? Are ya happy now? Sheesh! If you are uncertain about making a final commitment to reading this book you might want a taste of the product first (That sounds sooooo wrong) Here is an article Doughty wrote about her first experience with death as a kid, from Fortnightjournal.com. There are several other Doughty articles on this site as well. Another book sample can be found here, in The Atlantic Doughty offers a nifty list of sites to use for dealing with death, your own (presumably, you know, before) or others. Interview in Wired I came across this Caitlin Doughty video in June 2016. The caps are all hers. WHAT HAPPENED TO TITANIC'S DEAD? You might want to check out one or more of the following -----The Loved One -----The American Way of Death ----- The American Way of Death Revisited -----Six Feet Under -----January 22, 2020 - Vox - Why millennials are the “death positive” generation - by Eleanor Cummins Some items noted in Doughty's tale are getting a bit of attention. Here, a NY Times article by Katie Rogers - April 22, 2016 - Mushroom Suits, Biodegradable Urns and Death’s Green Frontier Daughty has written two more books since this one -----2017 - From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death -----2019 - Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? Big Questions from Tiny Mortals About Death

  3. 4 out of 5

    _ngallagher

    For me, the way the United States deals with death was something I could never question because it just....is! Like it’s just something that exists in the world! People die and their family takes care of it and that’s it. But WOW was this book eye opening towards the super strange way I view death / burial / cremation. The funeral industry is a BUSINESS? Literally WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT ! NOT ME !

  4. 4 out of 5

    Larry

    Great sense of humor about a topic most people fear, without any irreverence. Enjoyed this book immensely!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Petra-X has been locked down for one full year

    I finished the book. The first part is 2-star fluffy. The main part is 5-star interesting with lots of gems on what we really look like dead and how even dead premature babies get shaved of their lanugo and cosmetically-enhanced so they will look 'natural' for their viewing. That was creey, right? But that's what makes the book so interesting, it's creepy (view spoiler)[Why crematory floors need to be old and pitted and why obese people are cremated early in the day and skinny old corpses later. I finished the book. The first part is 2-star fluffy. The main part is 5-star interesting with lots of gems on what we really look like dead and how even dead premature babies get shaved of their lanugo and cosmetically-enhanced so they will look 'natural' for their viewing. That was creey, right? But that's what makes the book so interesting, it's creepy (view spoiler)[Why crematory floors need to be old and pitted and why obese people are cremated early in the day and skinny old corpses later. Because with a starting cold crematory machine the fat burns off gradually. If it was hot already the body would burn before the fat. The floor is best pitted and not new and smooth hecause the melted fat of obese bodies pools into the pits and burns off slowly. On a smooth-painted floor, it runs out, in bucketfuls. (hide spoiler)] , creepy (view spoiler)[.There is this woman who doesn't want to pay $175 for a last viewing of their mother before she is consigned to the fires of the crematory machine. She doesn't want to pay. So the author, to us, describes why they charge. She describes exactly what a dead body looks like before it is prepared for viewing. And how after a long period on intravenous fluids and bed ridden a michelin-man body with skin slippage covered in oozing slime, gaping mouth and wide open milky eyes are not really what people think of as a body 'at rest'. (hide spoiler)] , creepy (view spoiler)[When the skull survives the crematory flames whole, the author smashes it with her sweeping-out broom before it goes it to a pulverizer to mash all tthe bone fragments into the ashes called "cremains". (hide spoiler)] But then the author is definitely out on the left field herself. When an athlete in school she and a couple of friends used to dress up in rubber Goth ballgowns and go to an S&M club to spend the night being tied to a cross and whipped by strangers. That's more than a little unusual. I wonder how she hid her bruises from her parents and school? She always dreamed of own funeral business and enlightening people to what happened after death, wanting to encourage them to take responsibility for their own family corpses. After nearly a year in the crematory she writes about, she went to a mortuary school which she didn't like (mostly because of the embalming). The final part really does go off a bit. I wasn't terribly interested in the man she loved rejecting her which made her suicidal and so we get long musings on how she might kill herself. Although this didn't go on too long, apart from the interlude at the mortuary school which was only quite interesting, the book never really picked up again and at some point, just petered out. The author can write and had obviously done a lot of research. I think a better editor would have made the book tighter and explored interesting aspects, like being a teenager who finds it a nice night out to be whipped by strangers, and forgotten the boring ones - we all had a first love that didn't work out, it's only interesting if you are the one involved (or like reading romances). Definitely a good read especially if you like books about death, I have a whole shelf called death. I find it an interesting business but I cannot imagine who would actually want to work in it. The author though, seems very jolly, and I'd like to have lunch and a chat about work with her every now and again, but not too often. _____ In spoilers are my initial thoughts and a bit about a jewelry scam that funeral directors - burials or cremations operate. (view spoiler)[After reading Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our DecisionsI wanted something a little lighter. This is so featherweight I can scarcely keep my attention on it. I've been musing on 'fluffy' and 'light'. Does that equal flighty? What is one word to describe a book that has an interesting title and no substance whatsoever? The author has absolutely no respect for the dead people she is about to burn, or whose still-whole skulls she reduces to dust with her retort scraper. 2. The funeral business really is one of scam the grief-stricken customer while they are so emotional they won't notice. You can buy a 14k gold cross with a teeny 0.05 ct. diamond on the net for $120 and up. Or buy one at a crematory for $2,470! I was looking at another site which doesn't have gold crosses but does have a lot of jewelry you can fill with a bit of the dear-departed's ashes from about $50. They'll even make jewelry from the ashes Wearing a bit of old auntie Ada around your neck... If you want to look at some rather creepy (to me) funeral and crematory equipment, this site has a good selection. Nothing has changed since Jessica Mitford wrote her expose of the money-making scam that is the The American Way of Death. (hide spoiler)]

  6. 4 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    Call me morbid? ....ghastly?.....Bonkers? Right after I finished reading the memoir "When Breath Becomes Air", by Paul Kalanithi- a 4th year medical student working at Stanford Hospital ...(only 30 minutes from my house), - who died this year of Lung Cancer.., THIS book arrives in my mail box the SAME day (just 'hours' after I wrote a review for Kalanithi's book) Creepy! AND .....what's even more creepy ... is I don't know who sent me this paper back 'new copy'. Thank You to the Mystery Person!! Call me morbid? ....ghastly?.....Bonkers? Right after I finished reading the memoir "When Breath Becomes Air", by Paul Kalanithi- a 4th year medical student working at Stanford Hospital ...(only 30 minutes from my house), - who died this year of Lung Cancer.., THIS book arrives in my mail box the SAME day (just 'hours' after I wrote a review for Kalanithi's book) Creepy! AND .....what's even more creepy ... is I don't know who sent me this paper back 'new copy'. Thank You to the Mystery Person!!!! Is somebody trying to send me a message? So... I read it! Apparently, the author, Caitlin Doughty, a fascination with death, is her life's work. The very first sentence made me laugh ( a little anyway).... "A girl always remembers the first corpse she shaves." Caitlin also says..... "It is the only event in her life more awkward than her first kiss or the loss of her virginity." OK???? Mary Roach....( I'm thinking)... "Are you and Caitlin friends" ....(Mary Roach wrote the morbidly fascinating- oddly fun- engrossing book "STIFF"). They ' must' know each other ( and I love Mary Roach.... whom I've met twice ...as she lives in The Bay Area) Caitlin also worked the suburban San Francisco's 'Westwind' Crematorium. I can't believe how much I enjoyed reading Caitlin's memoir. ( it's a different take than STIFF)...but like STIFF, there is humor, historical anecdotes about death, body disposal, the death industry, and how things are done behind the scenes. ( GORY DETAILS r-us)) Yuck! ... [DO NOT READ DURING EATING DINNER]... However, I liked Caitlin's human warmth ...( she was real and personable). I also enjoyed her candor about her own struggles within the funeral industry ( her own infatuation and preoccupation- if you will about her own emotional- wired brain) I think two books in a row - "imagining facing death" - and "behind the scenes" of what happens to the bodies ... Is enough for awhile to say .., "I've done my Mitzvah" reading for this month... Worth reading... Yet... mix it up with a good comic book - or an adorable youthful playful children's book, (as I did), to balance you 'chi'! Hugs ... and "cheers-to-life", my sweet friends!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Melki

    Ten months into my job at Westwind, I knew death was the life for me. When Caitlin Doughty took a job at a California crematory, she learned more than just how to dispose of dead bodies. The daily exposure to death changed her thinking on the subject and turned her into a warrior fighting the good fight for the good death. While practicing the process of turning a former human into four to seven pounds of grayish ash and bone, Doughty's way of thinking on the subject began to evolve. Corpses keep Ten months into my job at Westwind, I knew death was the life for me. When Caitlin Doughty took a job at a California crematory, she learned more than just how to dispose of dead bodies. The daily exposure to death changed her thinking on the subject and turned her into a warrior fighting the good fight for the good death. While practicing the process of turning a former human into four to seven pounds of grayish ash and bone, Doughty's way of thinking on the subject began to evolve. Corpses keep the living tethered to reality. I had lived my entire life until I began working at Westwood relatively corpse-free. Now I had access to scores of them - stacked in the crematory freezer. They forced me to face my own death and the deaths of those I loved. No matter how much technology may become our master, it takes only a human corpse to toss the anchor off that boat and pull us back down to the firm knowledge that we are glorified animals that eat and shit and are doomed to die. We are all just future corpses. In addition to her philosophical musings, Doughty presents a nice historical overview of death and its many resulting rituals. Particularly interesting was how a book - The American Way of Death - helped popularize cremation in this country. Doughty's relaxed conversational tone, positive attitude and great sense of humor keep a potentially depressing subject from getting too bleak. She offers a unique perspective on the fate that awaits us all. This book made me do a little rethinking of my own. Doughty's mention that to incinerate one body uses as much energy as a 500-mile car trip, made me question if cremation is right for me. And while it was Mary Roach's Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers that first made me give some serious thought to what should happen to my carcass when I'm done using it, THIS book prompted me look up Green Burial options in my state. There aren't many. Hopefully, when I check out in a few decades - fingers crossed, knock on wood - the choices will be bountiful. But it doesn't hurt (too badly) to think about it now. After all, I'm just a (future) dead gal, typing.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Diane

    I saw this title on a few Best Of lists for the year, but I thought it was just OK. Caitlin Doughty worked at a crematory in the San Francisco area. She said she had been both fascinated by and terrified of death since she was a little girl, when she witnessed a child's fatal fall in a shopping mall. This book is a combination of her stories about cremating bodies, her research into the history of death practices around the world, and tales of woe about her love life and attending mortuary school I saw this title on a few Best Of lists for the year, but I thought it was just OK. Caitlin Doughty worked at a crematory in the San Francisco area. She said she had been both fascinated by and terrified of death since she was a little girl, when she witnessed a child's fatal fall in a shopping mall. This book is a combination of her stories about cremating bodies, her research into the history of death practices around the world, and tales of woe about her love life and attending mortuary school. She also writes about wanting to help educate Americans about death so we aren't so afraid of it. "We can do our best to push death to the margins, keeping corpses behind stainless-steel doors and tucking the sick and dying in hospital rooms. So masterfully do we hide death, you would almost believe we are the first generation of immortals. But we are not. We are all going to die and we know it. As the great cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker said, 'The idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else.' The fear of death is why we build cathedrals, have children, declare war, and watch cat videos online at three a.m. Death drives every creative and destructive impulse we have as human beings. The closer we come to understanding it, the closer we come to understanding ourselves." This is a book that was more interesting in theory than in practice. Caitlin's writing style is immature, and she relies heavily on pop culture references. If this is your first book about death practices, you might find her stories interesting. If you want to read about grief rituals and bereavement, I recommend "The Death Class" by Erika Hayasaki.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Debbie "DJ"

    I think this book gets the award for best opening line. "A girl always remembers the first corpse she shaves." So, yeah, I was pulled in from the beginning. Caitlin is 23 and lands her first job as a mortician. Why you ask? Well, turns out she is terrified of death. Has been ever since she saw a documentary that depicted death when she was very young. She is obsessed with thoughts of her, her family, and friends demise. The beginning wasted no time in taking me right into the world of the mortici I think this book gets the award for best opening line. "A girl always remembers the first corpse she shaves." So, yeah, I was pulled in from the beginning. Caitlin is 23 and lands her first job as a mortician. Why you ask? Well, turns out she is terrified of death. Has been ever since she saw a documentary that depicted death when she was very young. She is obsessed with thoughts of her, her family, and friends demise. The beginning wasted no time in taking me right into the world of the mortician. I got to learn all about what it takes to be embalmed, (OMG) and just how a crematorium works. Yet, this is not the focus of the book. Doughty is on a mission to show how our society has become separated from the natural process of dying. She talks about other cultures, and the rituals they have around death. How we as Americans are becoming more secular and no longer have these rituals, and/or the priest/ spiritual leader in our final moments. It is the doctor now. How our culture is separated from death. She went from thinking it was strange our culture doesn't see dead bodies anymore, to believing this absence is the root cause of so many of our troubles. Death is now seen as a failure of the medical system, so we've cleaned it all up. Everything is designed to mask death. From our obsession with youth, to all the beauty products designed to keep us looking young, even the embalming, done to make us look our very best. This book really has a lot to offer. It's not a heavy read either, in fact, sometimes it's too light. Still, I learned a lot of valuable information. Being exposed to death properly, at an early age is very important. I don't have to be embalmed, or even cremated. Most of all Doughty exposes the real fear of death, and is leading a call to teach people how to take care of their dead like our ancestors before us. Really an excellent read!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lois Bujold

    An arresting opening line like "A girl always remembers the first corpse she shaves." is one any novelist might envy. This is a fascinating memoir of a then-apprentice young mortician who is, I think, quite right in her self-evaluation that her work became, for her, a secular calling. A sometimes painful, sometimes refreshingly honest guided trip behind the scenes of a part of life most of us seldom see -- death is, after all, only a once-in-a-lifetime event -- but will all travel. Yet not experi An arresting opening line like "A girl always remembers the first corpse she shaves." is one any novelist might envy. This is a fascinating memoir of a then-apprentice young mortician who is, I think, quite right in her self-evaluation that her work became, for her, a secular calling. A sometimes painful, sometimes refreshingly honest guided trip behind the scenes of a part of life most of us seldom see -- death is, after all, only a once-in-a-lifetime event -- but will all travel. Yet not experience, so this may be the only preview one may get. Some of her anecdotes stirred up decades-old memories of my hospital-worker days I would rather have left unstirred -- a girl never forgets her first bedsore the size of a dessert plate, I guess. Doughty's work would have begun when ours ended, except for the part about living half a century and most of a continent apart. I don't think I could ever share her secular reverence for corpses, nor her belief in the value of facing them, though I can only be glad, in her line of work, that she possesses it. It's possibly an effect of the way my subculture values the mind over the body. The mind-me I imagine I am is rather disembodied, like the light generated from a lightbulb, or music from an instrument, continuously created then eaten by time. The lightbulb, once broken and not making me anymore, is not something I particularly identify with or care about, apart from a vague hope that it will be disposed of promptly and properly. I want people to remember the light, not the broken bulb. But hey, maybe that's just me... I don't often give five-star reviews to books I wouldn't hurry to read again, but this one earned it. Recommended. Ta, L.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lori

    I think the MacArthur Foundation ought to give Caitlin Doughty a Genius Grant. I've been watching her vlog and reading her blog with fascination for a while, and now this book has taught me a lot and given me more to admire too. She's brilliant, a great writer and I so appreciate her direct, unsparing and frequently funny fact-filled book based on her education and experience working in the death industry as well as her studies of death practices across cultures. I disagree with comparisons to M I think the MacArthur Foundation ought to give Caitlin Doughty a Genius Grant. I've been watching her vlog and reading her blog with fascination for a while, and now this book has taught me a lot and given me more to admire too. She's brilliant, a great writer and I so appreciate her direct, unsparing and frequently funny fact-filled book based on her education and experience working in the death industry as well as her studies of death practices across cultures. I disagree with comparisons to Mary Roach's "Stiff." I enjoyed it, but Roach is a journalist whereas Caitlin is a practicing mortician. She has an insider's viewpoint and investment, with deeper and broader knowledge as well as a trove of anecdotes from personally doing many things to many dead bodies. Sure I couldn't read about her loading each body into the cremulator (that name!) then smashing the skull of the deceased with a cremator's shovel before processing the cremains into a fine powder which cumulatively coats her clothes...without thinking of cremated loved ones or my own cremation to come. I only hope the person operating that cremulator is as respectful and devoted to my remains as Caitlin is to all the dead bodies in her care. (But I'm skeptical). Whether she's telling us about purge fluid, which sometimes comes out of the mouth of a corpse and sometimes gets on a person in contact with said corpse or skin slip, when decomposition causes the top layer of the skin to slide right off the body , she writes and speaks of the dead with devotion, affection and the humor of a stand-up comic. This is not for the squeamish, but thanks to Caitlin I'm not nearly as squeamish as I was. I know this because I tested myself using Google and Youtube, though I'm sure I wouldn't do so well with in-person studies. She's full of ideas and I so admire her commitment to The Order of The Good Death, where professionals across specialties work for change in Western society to make death and death practices natural, the way they used to be before the Civil War led to the practice of embalming. Members of The Order want to normalize dead bodies, make them not something to dread and disguise and fill with artificial preservatives. Their commitment is to return death and the idea of it to what it is and should be seen as: the natural and inevitable outcome of life. That's the way it used to be. Bodies were often tended to by loved ones and seeing corpses in different stages of decomposition was a lot more common and the thought of them a lot less frightening. The Order of the Good Death's mission is to take the fright and formaldehyde out of our deaths, use the energy generated by cremulators to power the cremulators and other things, in all sorts of ways to innovate across disciplines. I so admire its aims and especially its founder, Caitlin Doughty, which is why I think her worthy of a MacArthur Grant. I love learning from Caitlin. She makes the harshest things palatable, like the deceased whose head was swelled to the size of a basketball and looked like one too because it was covered with an orange fungus. Her audiences are always made to feel like students, not voyeurs. Her new book, "Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs: Big Questions From Tiny Mortals about Death" arrived yesterday. Since there are other books ahead of it I'll probably peek later, because I want to know the answer to the question in the title because I keep imagining my departed darling Annabel Lee chomping on my eyeballs. But I know when Caitlin explains it, no matter the answer I'll be able to deal. And when I get my next cat, wild Ligeia, one of the first things I'll tell her is: hey, do what you have to do.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jay Green

    Yes, I finished it on Halloween. Perfect! Except I would have been happy for it to have had another 100 pages to devour. I'm still on a kind of coming-to-terms-with-Dad's-death reading program, and since we followed his wishes and had him cremated, this book seemed like it would offer real insights into that process and help me understand what his remains went through. But it was better than that. Caitlin Doughty offers a down-to-earth, matter-of-fact and everyday approach to death and dying. Sh Yes, I finished it on Halloween. Perfect! Except I would have been happy for it to have had another 100 pages to devour. I'm still on a kind of coming-to-terms-with-Dad's-death reading program, and since we followed his wishes and had him cremated, this book seemed like it would offer real insights into that process and help me understand what his remains went through. But it was better than that. Caitlin Doughty offers a down-to-earth, matter-of-fact and everyday approach to death and dying. She doesn't pretend to offer much information on the experience preceding death (how to accompany a dying person in their final days or hours, for instance) or how to cope with grief and grieving, but that isn't really her metier, and I've been able to research elsewhere into those aspects of the death process. What she does provide is a clear and comprehensive account of what crematoria workers do, how they deal with the decomposing body, and how she came round to being a advocate for natural death. I have to confess to a bit of a crush on her after reading this and watching her videos, but it's mostly because she genuinely offers empathy, help, and kindness in relation to a left-field subject in a not-at-all-weird way, and such kindness is a trait that's sorely lacking in this day and age.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    4.5 stars "Though you may have never attended a funeral, two of the world's humans die every second. Eight in the time it took you to read that sentence. Now we're at fourteen. If this is too abstract, consider this number: 2.5 million. The 2.5 million people who die in the [U.S.] every year . . ." -- the author, on page 37 Perhaps it was oddly inevitable that after reading both of the great memoirs Guardian of the Golden Gate (about a California Highway Patrol officer who has successfully talked 4.5 stars "Though you may have never attended a funeral, two of the world's humans die every second. Eight in the time it took you to read that sentence. Now we're at fourteen. If this is too abstract, consider this number: 2.5 million. The 2.5 million people who die in the [U.S.] every year . . ." -- the author, on page 37 Perhaps it was oddly inevitable that after reading both of the great memoirs Guardian of the Golden Gate (about a California Highway Patrol officer who has successfully talked down a number of would-be suicides at the Golden Gate Bridge) and The Education of a Coroner (about the career of an investigator from the Marin County Coroner's Office, just north of San Francisco) earlier this year that I would chance onto - and I really did just coincidentally notice it while looking for a completely different book on the library shelves - Doughty's Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, who details the years of her post-collegiate life as an employee of a busy Oakland-based mortuary / funeral home. (How did this geographic slice of northern California's 'Bay Area' apparently corner the market for these types of tomes? Asking for a friend . . .) Interestingly and fortunately - as the subject matter of death may be unusual, uncomfortable or difficult for some readers - Doughty's work is just as good as those aforementioned books, which are mostly different but share a few 'all in a day's work' similarities. To put it bluntly - death, like politics and religion, is something we don't often talk about in polite conversation these days. It didn't use to be that way - part of Doughty's narrative is to explain why. Doughty's style was certainly a plus - breezy, yet still respectful; reasonably humorous on occasion, but wholly not inappropriate. I appreciated her plain and honest thoughts / observations on death in the 21st century, and the good and the sometimes bad (or questionable) of the present-day funeral service industry. This could have been a completely morbid or downer of a story - or, even worse, a tabloid-styled 'hit piece' - but the author's clear-eyed view, and her way of explaining some of the common misconceptions about her career, make it both informative and (gasp!) entertaining.

  14. 5 out of 5

    jenny✨

    Death should be known. Known as a difficult mental, physical, and emotional process, respected and feared for what it is. Recently I’ve been thinking about how little I speak about death—with my friends, family, even within the confines of my own head. As a result, I have such little language with which to express my feelings about death and loss, grief and mourning. I don’t know what to say to a friend coping with the loss of their brother. I have no clue how to broach the subject of my grandpa’ Death should be known. Known as a difficult mental, physical, and emotional process, respected and feared for what it is. Recently I’ve been thinking about how little I speak about death—with my friends, family, even within the confines of my own head. As a result, I have such little language with which to express my feelings about death and loss, grief and mourning. I don’t know what to say to a friend coping with the loss of their brother. I have no clue how to broach the subject of my grandpa’s premature death with my mom. I want to comfort the people I love... and I simply don’t even know where to begin. This book, touching on our culture’s death anxiety and denial of mortality, reminds me once again how important it is to have these conversations. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes talks both historical and modern incarnations of the death industry: embalming, cremation, death rituals (be it cannibalism, professional mourners, or devouring by vulture), even our squeamish repudiation of decomposition. Doughty describes shaving her first corpse, and picking up bodies from homes and babies from hospital morgues. Anecdotes, historical facts, and scholarly readings interweave. I didn’t care much for the latter (I went into this expecting a memoir, not so much an academic paper), but I did very much enjoy the personal nature and dark humour of the former. It discusses the clinical distance at which we hold ourselves from death, the ways in which dying has become marketable to consumers—even so far as to trademark “dignity.” Doughty argues that we as a culture have become so removed from a process natural and integral to us, death, that we don't know what to do with ourselves when the time arises. We allow the bodies of our loved ones to be handled by strangers with industrial machinery, in processes that are invasive and environmentally unsustainable. Another thing that struck me as I read (and not for the first time) was the prevalence of fatphobia, even in the death industry. Even within the pages of this book. It's really gross how normalized this is. Bottom line: I thought that parts of this book were SO interesting and important, especially its consideration of alternative death and funerals. And above all, championing having these conversations in the first place.

  15. 4 out of 5

    sarah

    2020 non fiction book 3 out 12 Morbid, hilarious and informative, 'Smoke Gets in Your Eyes' works to break the taboo of death. “A culture that denies death is a barrier to achieving a good death. Overcoming our fears and wild misconceptions about death will be no small task, but we shouldn't forget how quickly other cultural prejudices--racism, sexism, homophobia--have begun to topple in the recent past. It is high time death had its own moment of truth.” This book was addicting, and once I star 2020 non fiction book 3 out 12 Morbid, hilarious and informative, 'Smoke Gets in Your Eyes' works to break the taboo of death. “A culture that denies death is a barrier to achieving a good death. Overcoming our fears and wild misconceptions about death will be no small task, but we shouldn't forget how quickly other cultural prejudices--racism, sexism, homophobia--have begun to topple in the recent past. It is high time death had its own moment of truth.” This book was addicting, and once I started it, I had to continue through to the end. It included a perfect balance of anecdotes, facts and humour to keep you invested. It was by no means a typical dry statistic filled non-fiction, so if you are wanting to get more into the genre, but worried that it will read like a boring textbook- try this one! It bordered the line between memoir and informative, making it easily accessible and entertaining despite the macabre subject matter. I would also really recommend the audiobook, read by the author herself. Our society seems to think that if we just don't acknowledge death, it won't bother us. We cover our ears, eyes and hearts to the knowledge that one day we will no longer exist. Instead, we focus on our improving technologies, lifespans and medical systems. It was really interesting to see the lengths that we as a society go to, to try and ignore death, or beat it. “It is no surprise that the people trying so frantically to extend our lifespans are almost entirely rich, white men. Men who have lived lives of systematic privilege, and believe that privilege should extend indefinitely.” I particularly loved the look at death rituals from different cultures around the world, as well as our own. Caitlin Doughty really does spare no details, however gruesome. While not for the faint of heart, I would recommend to this book to anyone in the right headspace. Previous to reading this, I didn't think I had been sheltered to the reality of death- but I was shocked by how revolutionary this book was to me. I didn't know so many things, which unbeknownst to me had led to me harbouring a fear of death. Ignorance leads to fear, which is why removing the blindfold and truly being exposed to the truth is invaluable. “Looking mortality straight in the eye is no easy feat. To avoid the exercise, we choose to stay blindfolded, in the dark as to the realities of death and dying. But ignorance is not bliss, only a deeper kind of terror.”

  16. 5 out of 5

    Johann (jobis89)

    "A girl always remembers the first corpse she shaves." Part memoir, part information source on death and death culture, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes provides a uniquely light and humorous insight into what happens to the body after death. As someone who has an intense fear of death and dying, I found this book to be really helpful - Doughty wants to change the dark and negative mindset that surrounds death, as well as clear up some of the misconceptions regarding the funeral industry. I learnt a LOT wh "A girl always remembers the first corpse she shaves." Part memoir, part information source on death and death culture, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes provides a uniquely light and humorous insight into what happens to the body after death. As someone who has an intense fear of death and dying, I found this book to be really helpful - Doughty wants to change the dark and negative mindset that surrounds death, as well as clear up some of the misconceptions regarding the funeral industry. I learnt a LOT while reading this one, I kept passing on my little nuggets of information to those around me (I'm sure they were thrilled), whilst also being thoroughly entertained by the stories that Doughty shares. Doughty discusses other cultures and the rituals they have around death, in addition to teaching about the process of embalming and what exactly happens in a crematorium. If you're a fan of Six Feet Under, you'll love this one. I really related to her dark sense of humour and have no doubt I'll pick up more of her books!! A really enjoyable book that I would recommend FOR SURE. 4 stars.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jenna

    Have you ever wondered just what happens to your body when you die? Many people avoid thinking about death altogether, uncomfortable as we are with our own demise and that of those we love. Others have a curiosity that is considered macabre and abnormal in our culture. I fluctuate between the two, leaning more heavily towards the latter. Like the author of this book, I think it is better to learn about what happens when we die in order to become comfortable with death. Or as comfortable as is po Have you ever wondered just what happens to your body when you die? Many people avoid thinking about death altogether, uncomfortable as we are with our own demise and that of those we love. Others have a curiosity that is considered macabre and abnormal in our culture. I fluctuate between the two, leaning more heavily towards the latter. Like the author of this book, I think it is better to learn about what happens when we die in order to become comfortable with death. Or as comfortable as is possible when thinking about how your body will break down into mere atoms, recycled and used for other living things. Most people don't want to die, but no matter what one might want, we're all going to die eventually.... unless those scientists hurry up and figure out how to grant us all immortality. (What the heck is taking them so long anyway??!) Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory is part memoir, part history and exploration of death practices in different cultures. Caitlin Doughty relates how she became terrified of death when, as a young child, she sees another child die. As an adult, she decides to confront her fears head on and goes to work in the funeral industry. She gets a job at a crematorium and this is mostly what the book is about, her experiences there. It is both disgusting and interesting to read about the process of cremation. She also tells us about embalming (which I find much more disgusting than cremation!). Written with the same acerbic wit that so delighted me in her more recent book From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death, Ms. Doughty makes death accessible in a way that not many people can do. There are some parts that left me squeamish and even nauseated at one point ( like when bucketfuls of liquefied fat escaped from the oven, pouring all over the floor), but for the most part it's simply interesting. I learned quite a lot from this book which more than makes up for any ick factor. Fans of the macabre will enjoy this book but so will many others. If you like the writing style of Mary Roach, you will appreciate that of Caitlin Doughty's as well. “Death might appear to destroy the meaning in our lives, but in fact it is the very source of our creativity. As Kafka said, “The meaning of life is that it ends.” Death is the engine that keeps us running, giving us the motivation to achieve, learn, love, and create.”

  18. 4 out of 5

    Carole (Carole's Random Life in Books)

    This review was also posted at Carole's Random Life This was the best little book that I didn't even know that I wanted to read. I have to say that I would have probably never picked this book up for myself. I didn't even know that this book existed until it showed up at my house a couple of weeks ago. My initial impression of the book when I received was lackluster at best. I thought it was an advance copy of a book at first because the cover looks just so unfinished. Nothing about this book scr This review was also posted at Carole's Random Life This was the best little book that I didn't even know that I wanted to read. I have to say that I would have probably never picked this book up for myself. I didn't even know that this book existed until it showed up at my house a couple of weeks ago. My initial impression of the book when I received was lackluster at best. I thought it was an advance copy of a book at first because the cover looks just so unfinished. Nothing about this book screamed "Read Me" at first glance. But then I decided to pick it up and my thoughts changed very quickly. Whatever stars lined up on the day this book found its way to my home, I can't say but I am very grateful. This really is the perfect book for me. I have a slight fascination with death. My favorite class in college was Death Education. When the local coroner came to class to give a presentation complete with slides, I was completely impressed. I have never worked in the death industry but my husband actually has delivered caskets part-time for the past couple of years. This book deals with a difficult subject in a way that really pulls the reader in. I think everyone could find something in this book that they would relate to in these pages. I liked that this book made me think and it also made me laugh. I didn't think that this was a sad or depressing book at all which is kind of surprising when you think of the subject matter. I learned a lot from reading this book. There are so many misconceptions regarding death and the funeral industry. I do think that most people really would appreciate this honest look at the subject. Each of the people that are in this book really add to the overall story. Everyone from Caitlin's co-workers to the families who have lost someone they loved really had a story to tell. I liked the parts that featured Caitlin's co-workers because I feel like it takes a special kind of person to want to do this kind of work. People who work in the funeral industry really see people when they are at their worst but they must stay at their best. It has to be incredibly hard to do that day after day. I really appreciated the parts of the book that really let us see how much this kind of work affected the author. I liked the way that this book was written. I was completely engaged in the book from the very beginning. I think it reads almost like one of your friends are telling you a story. Even the more educational sections that gave some history were completely mesmerizing. There was enough lighthearted and funny moments to balance out the sections that were really anything but funny. I would highly recommend to others. I think that this is a topic that we need to know more about and this is an entertaining way to get a peek. This is the first book by Caitlin Doughty that I have read but I would definitely read more of her work in the future. I received a copy of this book from W.W. Norton & Company for the purpose of providing an honest review. Initial Thoughts I loved this book! This isn't a book that I would have ever picked up for myself but it was a great fit for me.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Michelle F

    A book club read, this is the first non-fiction we have tackled together, and the subject matter made for an interesting patio-chat this past summer. Doughty is in the Death Business, and Smoke is essentially a collection of personal anecdotes about that. As we learn little nuggets about her progress through the industry we discover a lot about her, too. Her voice is honest and funny and she feels very realistically self-aware. My favourite bits were about the technical process; I learned details A book club read, this is the first non-fiction we have tackled together, and the subject matter made for an interesting patio-chat this past summer. Doughty is in the Death Business, and Smoke is essentially a collection of personal anecdotes about that. As we learn little nuggets about her progress through the industry we discover a lot about her, too. Her voice is honest and funny and she feels very realistically self-aware. My favourite bits were about the technical process; I learned details about embalming, cremation and burial that I did not know before. Equally interesting were the historical and cultural practices that she related and compared to the modern Western customs. Doughty uses her own history to introduce these bites of information. It sounds like a very curious life, but I admit that I didn't love those parts of each chapter. She has an engaging way of relating her story, but the connecting threads between her anecdotes was sometimes hard to find. It took her most of the book to tell the readers why she was writing it, and many of her personal inclusions seemed irrelevant in their inclusion. It added personal interest, certainly, but occasionally had me wondering what the point was. I ultimately admire her passionate end-goal, though. She wants very much for people to understand and to be comfortable about the end of life process. She illustrates well how unaware we are of all of our options, and hopes to foster conversation about that. Within the book club, there were things that many of us were surprised to learn. I often think the best measure of a book club book is the conversation that comes from it, and in that arena this one was definitely a winner.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sandy Reilly

    Amazing! Yes, it is about death, but not in the way one would typically think. It was difficult for me to describe this book to friends who asked what I was currently reading, as most would give me a funny look when I said it is about a woman who worked at a crematory. However, I can say with great confidence that Ms. Doughty has written one of the most interesting, thought-provoking pieces I have read in a very long time. She poses many questions and notions about death, and does something not Amazing! Yes, it is about death, but not in the way one would typically think. It was difficult for me to describe this book to friends who asked what I was currently reading, as most would give me a funny look when I said it is about a woman who worked at a crematory. However, I can say with great confidence that Ms. Doughty has written one of the most interesting, thought-provoking pieces I have read in a very long time. She poses many questions and notions about death, and does something not many would dare toe the line to do -- ask why we treat death and the process of dying the way we do in our country. Naturally, people tend to fear death, however death can be an incredibly moving experience for those of us left in its wake. Having lost both parents, my siblings and I might have a different outlook on it than some others who have not experienced such loss. Ms. Doughty's work hit a nerve for me in this regard -- death is a devastating loss to the living, but can be a celebration of peace and freedom to those who have died. I highly recommend this title to anyone who enjoys nonfiction works that can inspire deeper-level thinking and personal exploration. (ARC obtained at Book Expo of America convention. Did not meet author at convention.)

  21. 4 out of 5

    ~Jo~

    "Smoke gets in your eyes, and other lessons from the crematorium" is partly a memoir and also partly tells us the history behind death customs. Doughty is a mortician, and has a remarkably positive attitude towards death, and she questions the need for change in the way people view death and mortality in general. I found this all incredibly morbid, but it was really very interesting. The subject matter contained within this book is gruesome and abrupt. If one is pretty squeamish, then maybe give "Smoke gets in your eyes, and other lessons from the crematorium" is partly a memoir and also partly tells us the history behind death customs. Doughty is a mortician, and has a remarkably positive attitude towards death, and she questions the need for change in the way people view death and mortality in general. I found this all incredibly morbid, but it was really very interesting. The subject matter contained within this book is gruesome and abrupt. If one is pretty squeamish, then maybe give it a miss, as Doughty goes into terrific detail of life working in a crematory. She seems to be very honest with her feelings and opinions, but not in slightest bit disrespectful when she does so. She tell us about the first time she had to shave a male corpse or the first time she came into contact with a decomposing corpse. I think, personally, Doughty tells us the gruesome and difficult to prosess details, not to shock, but to enable her readers to feel more comfortable when it comes to discussing death. I feel she did that amicably. I found this book to be thought provoking, interesting and even funny, at times, and I'd certainly recommend it.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    Glad to have read this but wouldn't reread it 🤷‍♀️, 3 ⭐⭐⭐ Glad to have read this but wouldn't reread it 🤷‍♀️, 3 ⭐⭐⭐

  23. 4 out of 5

    Darlene

    "The meaning of life is that it ends." -Kafka This book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory is difficult to characterize. It's part memoir and part history of death customs; but it is also an advocacy for a much needed change in the way our society views death, the deceased and our own mortality. The author, Caitlin Doughty, describes herself as a 'death-positive' mortician. She also blogs about issues and attitudes regarding mortality and she has a web series called 'A "The meaning of life is that it ends." -Kafka This book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory is difficult to characterize. It's part memoir and part history of death customs; but it is also an advocacy for a much needed change in the way our society views death, the deceased and our own mortality. The author, Caitlin Doughty, describes herself as a 'death-positive' mortician. She also blogs about issues and attitudes regarding mortality and she has a web series called 'Ask a Mortician'. Caitlin Doughty explains that she has always had a complicated relationship with death. From the time she realized that the fate of human beings was death, she battled warring feelings of fear and curiosity. This book really is a result of her long emotional journey. She describes that, as a child, she witnessed a bizarre accidental death of a young girl at a shopping mall and this death has always stayed with her. So at the age of 23, with her newly minted degree in medieval history in hand, Caitlin Doughty decided to explore death in a more 'up close and personal' way. She got a job as crematory operator at Westwind Cremation and Burial mortuary in Oakland, California and her experiences there were another step in her journey to make sense of her personal feelings about her own mortality and also to explain the way Americans experience death. Although the subject matter of this book may seem morbid and gruesome, I found Ms. Doughty's writing engaging, humorous and not at all grim. Certainly, if you are squeamish, then this book may not be for you because Ms. Doughty DOES describe in great detail (although as tastefully as possible) her experiences working in a crematory. She discusses her first time shaving a corpse to prepare him for a family viewing before cremation and all the emotions engaging in that very intimate act evoked in her. She relates her duty of keeping watch of the body inside the cremation chamber and the shock she felt when she witnessed a flaming, glowing skull. And she describes being repulsed and curious about viewing a corpse with the blackened skin of advanced decomposition and a thick, spidery white mold covering the face. All of her descriptions are startling and arouse feelings of revulsion but Ms. Doughty is never disrespectful in her writing. Instead, she is matter-of-fact and entertaining and you can't help but feel she is regarding you knowingly.. as if she feels sympathy for her readers and their reactions. It's apparent that Ms. Doughty's motive in providing the realistic and often ghastly details of death is not to shock or disturb; rather, I believe she is being intentionally provocative, hoping her readers will become familiar, if not entirely comfortable, with the reality facing all living beings.... we all will die. She has become painfully aware through her work in the funeral industry, that many people have become quite separated and isolated from death and that has resulted in a culture that is full of fear, misconceptions and often in total denial of their own mortality. In order to understand how society has become so distant from the thoughts and emotions regarding mortality, Ms. Doughty provides a kind of history of death practices in the United States. This history illustrates that our emotional isolation from death is a direct result of being PHYSICALLY separated from the practices of caring for the deceased. Death practices in America were constant for hundreds of years. When a person died, the family of the deceased (mostly women) took charge of preparing the body for burial. The family members would wash the body, wrap it in a shroud and lay it out in the home for several days, keeping a constant vigil over the body because of a belief that the corpse might awaken. Meanwhile, other family members or a local cabinetmaker would assemble a plain wooden coffin and the body would then be placed in the ground. The tradition of the family caring for their dead was the norm until the Civil War. It was the Civil War which started the shift in America's death rituals. Because of the massive casualties incurred during the war, there was a need to devise a new way to transport the large number of dead soldiers back got their families. This need led to the development of various embalming fluids which could be sued to preserve the dead for their train rides home, often in the extreme summer heat of the American south. This technique of embalming the dead caught on and although initially, these 'undertakers' were not the medical professionals they are considered today, the death industry became quite lucrative.. creating great wealth until the early 1960s. It was the period from the turn of the twentieth century until the 1960s that death rituals went from being performed in homes to being taken care of by 'professionals' providing more and more elaborate funerals, fancy coffins and extravagant flower arrangements. And of course, more people began dying in hospitals than at home. These societal changes led to changes in how we thought of (or rather didn't think of at all) of the deceased. Family members were isolated from their beloved deceased for the first time in history. Although the extravagant funerals seem to be a thing of the past and there has been an increase in cremations in recent years, families are still very much left out of the death process. This removal of the family from this last phase of life is part of what Caitlin Doughty is determined to change... to bring the idea of a 'good death' back to families where she feels it belongs. Through her years at Westwind Cremation and Burial; her extensive research into the history of America's death rituals and the death rituals from cultures around the world and her subsequent training in mortuary school, Caitlin Doughty, formed the educated opinion that America needs to change its relationship with death... how we view our own deaths and how we care for the dead. She concluded that when death became 'big business' and people began making a great deal of money off of the deceased and their families, a shift began to occur in Americans' thinking about death and mortality and people began to be pushed out of the end of life care of their family members. She writes... "We can wander further into the death dystopia, denying that we will die and hiding dead bodies from our sight. Making that choice means we will continue to be terrified and ignorant of death..." Ms. Doughty advocates for better laws at all levels of government.. local, state and federal.. so that people might be encouraged to experiment with and pursue different death customs and rituals... such as natural burials, where bodies can be laid out in open areas so that nature can consume the bodies or open-air funeral pyres. In the end, Ms. Doughty believes that connecting emotionally with our own mortality and participating in meaningful death rituals are important for the LIVING... after all, the dead no longer require anything of us. Replacing the myths and superstitions regarding death and the deceased with information and facts won't take the sting out of death but perhaps a bit of knowledge combined with meaningful rituals can provide comfort and acceptance. This book is an honest, funny and thought-provoking look at a subject that is relevant to all of us and I highly recommend it! A YouTube video from Caitlin Doughty's first episode of her web series 'Ask a Mortician': https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTCg6...

  24. 4 out of 5

    Dan Schwent

    Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is the story of Caitlin Doughty's ruminations on death and dying interspersed with her own journey from death touched little girl to licensed mortician. My wife and I are big fans of Caitlin Doughty's Ask a Mortician series on Youtube and I bought this for my wife, who gave it to me as a reading assignment upon her completion. Caitlin's writing has a funny yet respectful tone, much like her Youtube series. She details death practices and beliefs from around the world but th Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is the story of Caitlin Doughty's ruminations on death and dying interspersed with her own journey from death touched little girl to licensed mortician. My wife and I are big fans of Caitlin Doughty's Ask a Mortician series on Youtube and I bought this for my wife, who gave it to me as a reading assignment upon her completion. Caitlin's writing has a funny yet respectful tone, much like her Youtube series. She details death practices and beliefs from around the world but the really interesting bits where about Caitlin herself. The funny tone makes a topic a lot of people find distasteful easy to digest and I kinda wish she'd try her hand at writing some crematorium based mysteries or something. Raised in Hawaii, Caitlin saw a little girl fall from an escalator and die in a mall when she was a kid, forever changing the trajectory of her life. From there, she went from goth to crematory operator to mortuary school, pondering death the whole way. There are darkly humorous stories, like molten fat gushing out of a cremation machine like something in a Three Stooges short, to poignant moments like Caitlin having to cremate a box of babies from the local hospital. She also pulls back the black curtain shrouding the funeral industry, an industry full of lies and pressure to upsell. Shady shit. If you've been entertained by Caitlin's Ask a Mortician videos, this is a must read. Four out of five cremulators.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Jeffers

    I’ve had more first-hand experience with death than just about anyone else I know in my age group. By the time I hit thirty, I’d lost three grandparents (five, if you let me count my high-school boyfriend’s grandparents; they lived with his family), a mother, two high-school friends, a former roommate, an uncle, a dozen great aunts and uncles, three dogs, and a small army of cats. I briefly considered becoming a grief therapist before realizing I was just too misanthropic to pursue graduate stud I’ve had more first-hand experience with death than just about anyone else I know in my age group. By the time I hit thirty, I’d lost three grandparents (five, if you let me count my high-school boyfriend’s grandparents; they lived with his family), a mother, two high-school friends, a former roommate, an uncle, a dozen great aunts and uncles, three dogs, and a small army of cats. I briefly considered becoming a grief therapist before realizing I was just too misanthropic to pursue graduate studies in counseling. So in some ways I am both less afraid and more afraid of death than many of my peers. I feel like I think about it as a realistic possibility (as opposed to a vague, scary, distant concept) more than most people I know. I wasn’t familiar with Caitlin Doughty’s work before I picked up her book -- I’d heard her name but had never perused her video series or Jezebel articles -- but I’m interested enough in the grieving process and familiar enough with death that I thought I would enjoy this. And I actually enjoyed it quite a bit; I read the whole thing in a single day. It sounds to me like Caitlin applied for a job in a crematory because she A) has the kind of darkish personality that leads to a fascination with that kind of thing and B) had a kind of useless B.A. in medieval studies. She spent a year as a crematory operator in San Francisco before pursuing licensure as a mortician and becoming the death-awareness advocate she is today. This book is chock-full of interesting facts about the death industry (part of the reason Americans started embalming the dead was because the number of Civil War casualties was too many to deal with before the smell became unbearable for anyone tasked with transporting them) and the rituals performed by other cultures (a tribe in Brazil that was forced to give up their cannibalistic traditions). Caitlin talks a lot about the kinds of activities that she performed on a regular basis and how those things shaped her views on life and death: transporting deceased people, preparing their bodies for a final viewing, handling unclaimed remains, and dismissing the general public’s misconceptions of her job. Even the science of how cremation works was incredibly interesting, such as how the day is scheduled according to the size of the bodies. I was a little disappointed that she kind of speeds through her time in mortuary school because, by that time, she had already decided that she disagreed with the positions of academic morticians. It was a combination of her time at the crematory and what morticians were being taught that drove her to start her “Ask a Mortician” video series and The Order of the Good Death, which advocates for more open, natural approaches to both death preparation (let’s talk about our final wishes more) and burial practices (which she believes sanitizes death to a point where we fear it too much to process it in a healthy way). This book obviously handles some things that might be upsetting to some people, but Caitlin’s argument is essentially that we let death upset us too much. It’s one thing to grieve and to worry that our lives will be cut short before we’ve fulfilled our goals, but it’s another thing to try to slow down the natural aging process in an attempt to avoid dealing with death entirely. Her stories aren’t meant to shock so much as demonstrate how normal this whole thing is. I enjoyed her writing style, which is conversational and engaging, and I feel like there’s a lot about this book that’s going to stick with me. Very highly recommended.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sonja Arlow

    My fascination with the macabre and death is perhaps a case of staring at the boogeyman till he loses its power over me. This book gave me the opportunity to stare very hard! Part memoir, part research and full of the right intentions this book covers a range of death related topics: 1) Death rituals of other cultures and just how skewed the Western worlds desire to detach itself so completely from death and any reminder of its own mortality 2) Death through he ages – from medieval times to now 3) Co My fascination with the macabre and death is perhaps a case of staring at the boogeyman till he loses its power over me. This book gave me the opportunity to stare very hard! Part memoir, part research and full of the right intentions this book covers a range of death related topics: 1) Death rituals of other cultures and just how skewed the Western worlds desire to detach itself so completely from death and any reminder of its own mortality 2) Death through he ages – from medieval times to now 3) Comparing Egyptian embalming (which had a very specific religious meaning) to modern day embalming. Embalming in today’s world has zero cultural value yet it’s the backbone of America’s billion dollar funeral industry 4) A glimpse into the politics in the funeral industry of the USA 5) Our obsession to cheat death and live forever 6) Even the impact of our ever growing geriatric population Unlike Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers which is more of a laugh a minute type of book, this one handles the subject with a bit more compassion even though a healthy dose of humor is also present. But be warned, there are one or two sections where you really need to put your food down and NOT EAT while reading. Trust me on this! The writing is not bad for someone who does not make a living off of it but its no literary masterpiece and overall is around a 4 star rating. However what the author is trying to do with this book and her very cheesy You Tube videos, is bring education and demystification to us, a culture that will do everything we can to ignore our own mortality. For that effort she gets my full 5 star rating. Highly recommended!!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Book Riot Community

    A little bit morbid, a little bit gross, a whole lot empowering. That’s basically the only way I can describe this book. Caitlin Doughty has been obsessed with death her whole life, so it’s only natural she goes to work at a crematory. In her tales, she busts a lot of myths about the death industry, like, no, crematories don’t dump the day’s worth of bodies in and scoop out bits of ash for the families’ urns afterward. At least, reputable ones don’t. She ends on a philosophical look at life and A little bit morbid, a little bit gross, a whole lot empowering. That’s basically the only way I can describe this book. Caitlin Doughty has been obsessed with death her whole life, so it’s only natural she goes to work at a crematory. In her tales, she busts a lot of myths about the death industry, like, no, crematories don’t dump the day’s worth of bodies in and scoop out bits of ash for the families’ urns afterward. At least, reputable ones don’t. She ends on a philosophical look at life and death, how our culture views death, and how we can change that. It’s just the book I needed this month. – Ashley Holstrom from The Best Books We Read In April: http://bookriot.com/2016/04/29/riot-r...

  28. 4 out of 5

    Captive Audience

    Is it like a thing that if you want to work in a death industry and write a book, you have to be a judgemental asshole? Around the time I finally gave up on trying to get through Judy Melinek's Working Stiff (angry review here, I read an enthusiastic discussion about this book and what an interesting book it is and what a great person the author seems like. I'm not quite halfway through and after reading some disjointed stories about the author that seem to spend as much time talking about her l Is it like a thing that if you want to work in a death industry and write a book, you have to be a judgemental asshole? Around the time I finally gave up on trying to get through Judy Melinek's Working Stiff (angry review here, I read an enthusiastic discussion about this book and what an interesting book it is and what a great person the author seems like. I'm not quite halfway through and after reading some disjointed stories about the author that seem to spend as much time talking about her life and not the crematory, I'm now reading her thoughts on people who order low cost internet cremation. Apparently despite all her insinuations about how cool she is with other belief systems and ways of grieving (she spends time talking about how cannibalism of a corpse is cool, because it's based on a belief), this is just too much, because she is now devoting part of her book to talking about how it's not okay for people to choose low-cost internet cremation with no human interaction. Why? Because... reasons? I don't know, but she decided to pick on the family of a dead 9 year old girl for her example. Because clearly, if you've just lost your 9 year old, you damn well *better* behave in a way that Caitlin thinks is 'right', never mind any of the many many reasons I can think of for why someone would go the low cost internet route. I mean let's see, off the top of my head: - they may be poor and this is the best price they could find. Imagine *having* to bargain shop for the process of dealing with your newly dead little girl's remains. Yeah, those assholes. - they may not want to be around people right now. I mean, she just spent a chapter talking about a Chinese family that responds to death in a certain way, but apparently it's only cool if it's something she likes, because feeling the need to *not* talk to strangers about setting your newly dead little girl's body on fire and then handing them back a box full of charred dead daughter - as I said, those *assholes*, right? - okay, long shot here, but maybe they called the in-person business she works for and dealt with her and were turned off by her personality and didn't want to meet more people like her, and decided "fuck it, internet this shit." I suppose it's clear that I'm annoyed. As an introvert who hates showing emotion in front of *anyone*, but particularly strangers, I have no idea how I'm going to cope with the deaths of my parents. I have a sneaking suspicion I might not even be able to handle going to their funerals. And yeah, that's going to cause some shit to go down, but after considering it a long time, I've decided that my way of mourning - shutting myself in and dealing with the emotions alone until I can get through them - is no less valid than the way of mourning that involves dressing up and eating egg salad sandwiches and trying to find something to say about the deceased that the last three speakers didn't already say. Or eating the flesh of the dead. Or hiring professional mourners. Whatever. What I'm saying is, this lady's attitude offends me on both a personal and a general level. I probably should have been forewarned by her weird snark talking about a parent naming their kid Caitlin but spelling it KateLynne. Weirdly petty at the best of times, this came in the midst of her trying to come off as compassionate by talking about cremating stillborns, and how it was sadder when they came with full names than just "Baby Johnson" because it meant the parents were "ready [...] for them to be born and become a part of the family." Sadder unless you're the kind of person to name your kid something "terrible" (her word) like "KateLynne", apparently. Christ. (And I won't even bother going into the question of why not having chosen a baby's name before it was born somehow means you're not as invested in your baby, because that question raises itself just fine.)

  29. 5 out of 5

    Bark | Ladies Of Horror Fiction

    “A girl always remembers the first corpse she shaves.” I sometimes think I’ve missed my life’s true calling. That of being a mortuary worker. But after reading this book I’m not so sure. I always thought the idea of working with people who didn’t talk back was a nice one, you know? No office politics, no grumpy personalities to tip-toe around, no one stealing your lunch and there’s never a lack of business. Sounds like bliss to me. Until I read this book which shattered those daydreams. There are “A girl always remembers the first corpse she shaves.” I sometimes think I’ve missed my life’s true calling. That of being a mortuary worker. But after reading this book I’m not so sure. I always thought the idea of working with people who didn’t talk back was a nice one, you know? No office politics, no grumpy personalities to tip-toe around, no one stealing your lunch and there’s never a lack of business. Sounds like bliss to me. Until I read this book which shattered those daydreams. There are some unsavory, heartbreaking and infuriating parts of the job that I never considered like . . . Incinerating Babies Gushing molten fat Cheap ass relatives Moving heavy bodies into the incinerator by yourself Heads. Yep. Just the heads. But then again, no job is perfect, right? Caitlin Doughty captures her experiences while working at a mortuary and later going to school to make it official, with humor, insight and horror. I loved every captivating word. She has an extremely fanciful imagination and morbid wit that keeps you listening even when things get really dark or really disgusting and believe me they get disgusting! She delves deep into the history of death rituals and how it all evolved into the system currently in place today. She doesn’t pull any punches and explains how embalming, though once a necessity on the battlefield, has morphed into nothing more than a money maker for the death industry. Fascinating! I always wondered why bodies weren’t buried naturally and given back to the earth and now I know the reason and it’s pretty damn depressing. Doughty narrates this audiobook and she does a fantastic job. She knows her material best, after all, and her voice is clear and pleasant to listen to. She adds humor in all the right spots and it never feels forced. She has a strong grasp on the toll that being surrounded by death brings on those who deal with it day in and day out. She and her co-workers look at the world a little differently than most folks. I guess it’s hard not to when you face down death and deal with the aftermath every day. Death happens to everyone sooner or later and there’s no point living your life fearful of it coming for you. And it is coming for you! “We are just future corpses.” If you’re a morbid sort such as I, I highly recommend this book to you.

  30. 5 out of 5

    B. Rule

    This is a quick read and a relatively light, frothy take on a dark subject. Doughty adopts the authorial persona of "cheerful goth" which largely works for her approach, combining anecdotal accounts of her time in the death industry with repeated polemics to bring death back into our daily awareness through proximity to bodies and decay, a la her "Order of the Good Death." There are some weird tonal shifts that I think may be evidence of clumsy editing (e.g., a single chapter digression about he This is a quick read and a relatively light, frothy take on a dark subject. Doughty adopts the authorial persona of "cheerful goth" which largely works for her approach, combining anecdotal accounts of her time in the death industry with repeated polemics to bring death back into our daily awareness through proximity to bodies and decay, a la her "Order of the Good Death." There are some weird tonal shifts that I think may be evidence of clumsy editing (e.g., a single chapter digression about her love for a friend named Luke does tie back thematically in a strained way, but the concluding tossed off aside about a hunky teenager she beds as a rebound is a weird touch in a book that otherwise skims the surface of her intimate interpersonal interactions). The biggest problem with her narrative is the astounding lack of progress that it shows. She talks all of the time about her philosophy of death and treats it as fully formed from basically before she started working at her first crematory, but then repeatedly violates her own principles without any rationale. For instance, she decries the professionalization and normalization of embalming, yet decides to go to mortuary school to learn the trade. She believes in the importance of keeping the dead in the home and avoiding the masks of embalming to conceal death, yet runs her own grandmother through the death industry machine in its most disneyfied and obtrusive forms. Uh, what? Either she's deeply lacking in self-awareness, or more charitably, has bungled the timing of her story and is unable to imaginatively place herself back in the mental space she inhabited before this became a personal crusade. If she only lately came to her current position through these traumatic and formative experiences, you have an interesting memoir of her journey to death activist. As it stands, you have the story of a funny but slightly airheaded young woman who is estranged from her own espoused doctrines. Doughty seems like too smart of an author for the latter to be true, so I will simply assume she was not given adequate editorial assistance to tell her story in the gripping manner it deserves. That said, this is written in a breezy, slightly humorous, and winkingly irreverent way that definitely will appeal to fans of Mary Roach. I expected more of a literary memoir (partially judging the book by its cover) but this is pure bubblegum. Sure, she tosses in a lot of literary references about death, but the book's true nature is decidedly more pop. There's nothing wrong with a little bubblegum sometimes.

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