Last Rites: The Evolution of the American Funeral

Sounds True. Aug. 2022. 288p. ISBN 9781683648055. $26.99. SOC SCI
For readers with a taste for the quirky or the macabre, Harra, a writer and funeral professional, explores the hows and whys of American funerals, including changing influences from religion, war, high-profile deaths, the ancient world, and more. Rather than presenting these evolutions linearly, each chapter is dedicated to a topic, such as burial vaults and embalming, and relevantly bounces around time periods. This allows the casual reader to enjoy each chapter independently. There’s plenty of trivia to be had along the way, including why it’s called a living room, the difference between a casket and a coffin, and just why would someone want to put a live grenade in a grave? A chapter on newer funerary trends and thorough notes add to the work’s usefulness, though it does lack a bibliography for further reading.
VERDICT This is a swell companion piece for fans of Mary Roach’s Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, but libraries should also consider it a source of serious information for those who may be facing difficult end-of-life decisions.
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