The Unclaimed: Abandonment and Hope in the City of Angels

Crown. Mar. 2024. 336p. ISBN 9780593239056. $30. SOC SCI
In the U.S., roughly 150,000 dead bodies go unclaimed each year, and that number is rising. Sociologists Prickett (Univ. of Amsterdam; Believing in South Central) and Timmermans (UCLA; coauthor, Data Analysis in Qualitative Research) explore the question of a life’s value when the deceased remain unidentified, sometimes abandoned, and left for local governments to dispose of. The authors use four people as case studies to investigate how this can happen. They conclude that when a body is found, sometimes no one ever sorts through public records to determine who the person is. There’s also little to no evidence of attempts to find people who might be able to identify them. The authors believe that the fracturing of families, the lack of connection, unresolved solutions to reducing the significant number of unhoused people nationwide, and many other social ills contribute to this situation. Noteworthy is their mention of how hundreds of people show their care for humanity for others by gathering once a year in Boyle Heights, CA, to mourn and bury unidentified people in the area.
VERDICT This title urges readers to care (in life and in death) about the disturbing number of Americans who go unclaimed each year.
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