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The American Way of Death Revisited

3.96  ·  Rating Details ·  1,477 Ratings  ·  181 Reviews
"Mitford's funny and unforgiving book is the best memento mori we are likely to get.It should be updated and reissued each decade for our spiritual health."--The New York Review of Books

Only the scathing wit and searching intelligence of Jessica Mitford could turn an exposé of the American funeral industry into a book that is at once deadly serious and side-splittingly fun
Paperback, 296 pages
Published January 4th 2000 by Vintage (first published 1963)
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Oct 19, 2014 Lynn rated it it was ok
This is a patchwork of the original and it shows. You never whether she is talking about the 1960's or the 1990's, and the pricing is useless because $100 in 1960's or is over $500 in the 1990's when it was written.

I trust morticians about as much as I trust lawyers, but I came away from this book thinking Mitford can't be trusted either. She thinks the solutions all require help from politicians and government yet is constantly documenting how the regulated take control of the regulators. In fa
Mar 24, 2016 Boorrito rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I ended up reading this book because it's a book I'd hear of about the funeral business and my grandfather recently died. Difficult situation? Read a semi-related book about it!

It was really funny, in a morbid way. Mitford doesn't even have to say much, the undertakers' own words are adept at tripping them up, although she's very good with her words. Fine piece of mud-racking, and it's not surprising it got the attention it did on its first release.

I liked the chapter on funerals in England too
Jun 06, 2015 Erik rated it liked it
Though the subject matter is dry and depressing, I was fascinated with this exposé of the funeral industry. Not a "page turner" by any means, but I was interested from beginning to end.
Apr 30, 2013 Jay rated it it was amazing
A very important book in several regards.

1) It made me confront my own inevitable mortality like few others.
2) It shows how seemingly innocuous, mutually beneficial, capitalistic transactions (like arranging a funeral) can be and are corrupted by hard-selling, manipulation of guilt and covetousness, grief, greed, and monopolies. It also shows how good free-market, macro-economic principles are twisted to destructive purposes in micro-economic situations.
3) It serves an important lesson: do-goodi
Sep 29, 2009 Lisa rated it it was amazing
Letting Them Dig Their Own Graves: Jessica Mitford’s The American Way of Death Revisited

“You may not be able to change the world,” Jessica Mitford said, “but at least you can embarrass the guilty.”

Embarrass them she did, and the ways she did so in The American Way of Death Revisited comprise either the most forehead-slapping no-brainer approach to investigative journalism or the result of some serious immersion in/regurgitation of the scribblings/blatherings of the trade or all of the above. Wh
Feb 06, 2014 Judi rated it liked it
Eh? After reading The American Way of Death some time ago, I found this book a bit redundant. Dated. As I wend my own way closer to the grim reaper and my loved ones are dropping over like flies, my dealings with undertakers and graveyards are becoming increasingly commonplace. Cremation seems to be the primary choice these days. Certainly is practical.
If you're ever going to die, you should read this book. Also good for people who like watching a diminutive englishwoman who was a former communist bitch-slap the funeral industry over the course of 30 years.
Oct 23, 2014 Amanda rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2014
I just have to say...

Jessica Mitford is insane. It is horribly obvious that never in her life did she work with an honest funeral director and all of her opinions are based on the stories of people she knows who hit the crappy mortician jackpot. While I am not denying that some funeral directors are awfully shady, there are a lot of honest ones who don't take advantage of those in grief and don't push for them to buy a lot of pointless crap that isn't needed, just to make another dollar. In fact
May 01, 2011 Lynn rated it liked it
This book caused a sensation when it was released in its original form in the 1960s. These days, I can't imagine anyone would find it as shocking. Surely, we all must know that the American funeral industry, like other industries, is out to make a buck however it can, exploiting all possibilities to increase profits. Likewise, I don't think many people would be shocked to find that this industry has been aided by its friends in government or by a general failure on the part of so-called consumer ...more
Jul 09, 2014 Ana rated it liked it
I'd been looking forward to reading this as I've recently had first hand experience of a pretty badly done funeral.
But as some others have stated, this book might have been shocking in the 1960s, but now even the 1990s update seems severely outdated.

Some of the figures became confusing and it was hard to tell exactly how much something actually cost in the present time (1990s).

Still, after reading this book, I think I can safely say that I'd discourage anyone I know from getting a loved one emba
Elizabeth Desole
Feb 21, 2014 Elizabeth Desole rated it it was amazing
It's pretty shocking just how funny this book is. And it's not even written in a jokey "Mary Roach" kind of way. The funniest passages are lifted right from mortician's professional literature. I already knew some of the abuses and distortions put out by American morticians but this book really laid it all out (no pun intended). I even personally know people who were hoodwinked into believing that certain things were required "by law by the state". The level of lying in that profession is astoun ...more
Mar 20, 2015 Theresa rated it really liked it
I work in my family-owned monument business, so I've always enjoyed reading about the 'death industry.'

And I've always enjoyed not having to sell coffins.
Jun 17, 2015 Stephanie rated it liked it
It's really interesting to me how the American version of death is such an elaborate event. Expensive decisions are asked to be made at the most vulnerable time of a person's life, and in some cases, for completely unnecessary items. I think it's important for anyone to be educated about the funeral industry, as it will directly impact your life at some point in time. Good read.
Ruby Duvall
Mar 02, 2016 Ruby Duvall rated it really liked it
I'm not old enough to have read the original American Way of Death. Unlike other reviewers, I didn't find it at all difficult to understand when Mitford was talking about pricing or industry developments in the Sixties or the Nineties. Any prices not specifically called out as being "as of 199?" were obviously Sixities prices.

However, the Revisited version really could have done so much more to update the original content. The book is overwritten, especially to the modern reader, and I found mys
May 06, 2016 dejah_thoris rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
If you're going to read the original or this edition, I recommend the latter. There's about 15-20% new content in this version, but the majority of the research and arguments are from the 60s. I'm not sure if this is because the profession has changed so little or if Mitford was too ailing to attempt more research. (She does describe one recent episode where she and a friend posed as an aunt and her niece, but I got the sense that she was too well known within the industry to go undercover regul ...more
M. Milner
A blistering expose of the bloated funeral industry, Jessica Mitford's The American Way of Death Revisited is a bunch of things: infuriating, illuminating, interesting and very funny.

Back in the 60s, Mitford wrote a book about the rise of the funeral industry and it's many shady practices. They ranged from salespeople exploiting grieving families by price gouging to unnecessary practices like embalming or specialized clothing for the deceased. Her book caused an outpouring of letters and suppor
Sep 01, 2014 Mindy rated it liked it
An exceptionally well-researched and unexpectedly entertaining read about the exploitative nature of the funeral industry. Below is an excerpt of an exchange Jessica Mitford had during a talk at the Ohoopee Public Library in Savannah, Georgia.

Twelve black-suited funeral representatives sat on the front row. After her presentation, one arose and said, "I listened to Mrs. Mitford's speech and she never said that when Jesus Christ our Lord was crucified, a rich man gave him his vault." Mitford rep
Mar 28, 2016 Deft rated it it was amazing
Great expose about the funeral industry and it's scams. I highly recommend this book to everyone as most people don't realize what goes on behind the scenes with this stuff. It's really sad that people are taken advantage of in times of grief, however, it seems that even in this arena people are still mainly looking to make a profit at someone else's expense. I felt disgusted with much of the behavior of those in the funeral industry presented in this book. I personally want nothing to do with t ...more
Aug 16, 2016 Abigail rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: summer-shelf
I would recommend 'The American Way of Death' that everyone whom plans on dying in America and can stomach reading it. This book is 'The Jungle' of the funeral industry. However, this muckraking book is far from dull or drab. Mitford offers interesting commentary and analysis on everything from undertakers up selling caskets, cemeteries tightening their iron grip on their rules, and the funeral industry blockading any type of reform. She clearly outlines what she believes is the best way to deal ...more
Apr 17, 2016 Alex rated it liked it
Recommended to Alex by: Nadine
Planning a funeral requires great care if one wants to avoid excess and overpriced services. A highly informative book, despite being written more than 50 years ago (first edition). This version is updated with information up to 1996, but I think there are still many changes and innovations in this area since then.

I can’t say I’m all that surprised with the things I’ve learn about undertakers and their business of death, but I have a new degree of spite against anyone whose sole purpose in life
Apr 20, 2016 L rated it really liked it
Even though the updated version is now dated, this is an excellent primer for anyone who is planning on eventually dying. The funeral business is largely comprised of "grubby merchants" that will wring every last penny out of your surviving family in order to send you off in some pomp-filled ridiculousness. Please note, friends and family, that upon my perishing, I wish very much for my innards to be recycled and the rest torched. No wake, no embalming (something you have to stipulate it seems, ...more
Feb 20, 2015 Kathy rated it it was amazing
I actually started reading this in January (I'm not very good about getting online at home....) but I finished the book yesterday. All I can say is that I HOPE I die in rural England where tradition is a really big thing. This book was like a text book in all of the info that was jammed into it. It looked slimmish, light, something (dare I say it...) easy to read. WOW - not only was it full of info, some of the info made me so angry I was at a loss for words. Why does EVERYTHING seem to come dow ...more
Jun 18, 2014 Molly rated it liked it
Shelves: lump
Oh Jessica Mitford, you thorn in the side of the funeral industry! The timing of my reading this is unfortunate--I'd already seen so much from watching that glorious series Six Feet Under, and suspected the awfulness of it when my husband, who is an incredibly patient man, became angry at the experience of helping his mother plan his father's service.

It's good to get a whole picture of options, though times are always shifting, and the revisited-ness of this book is sometimes uneven (part of th
Robert Monk
Aug 05, 2016 Robert Monk rated it really liked it
This is a good book to read if you really want to work yourself into a dander. It basically pulls back the curtain on the death industry (and it really is an industry), showing how it took something simple and personal -- saying goodbye to a loved one -- and turned it into a very expensive circus. There are some problems with this 1996 revised version; it's sometimes hard to tell where one is reading the original text vs. the new text, which can be a problem given changes that have occurred in t ...more
Sep 18, 2016 Kathy rated it liked it
One certainly cannot call "The American Way of Death" and "The American Way of Death Revisited" journalism. Mrs. Mitford has an opinion and the facts are gonna fit that opinion. I guess that's what expose means - it's not an unbiased reporting, but an opinion. Some things were not setting right with me. And in chapter 17 "England Then and Now" I was confused about why English funeral customs were so much better than American customs. Aside from embalming they aren't that different. Sure American ...more
Oct 14, 2013 Kelly rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
Surely the dead must be rolling in their proverbial graves!

In "The American Way of Death Revisited," journalist and muckracker Jessica Mitford presents a searing exposé of the "death-care" industries, particularly funeral homes/directors and cemeteries. She potently argues that many death-care workers, rather than looking out for their customers' best interests, are more concerned about their bottom lines; that the FTC has failed to curb manipulative and downright illegal sales techniques engage
Jul 28, 2013 Jandae rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: consumers--all of you.
An update would generate five stars. Oh, how unfortunate that Jessica Mitford is no longer with us to update this work. I wholeheartedly agree that this is a work that needs an update for every decade.

Originally published in 1961, The American Way of Death made waves. Tsunami-type waves battered the infrastructure of the American mortuary industry. It influenced everyone in America from individual families of less-than-ideal means to federal legislators. But in the long run, the morticians have
Oct 16, 2008 Sam rated it it was amazing
This book was on my list of non-fiction books I could read one summer in high school. I remember the rest of the books on that list bored me with their descriptions, and this one had "death" in the title, which was better than what else was there. So, I read it. Not because I was some goth kid looking for something to encourage angsty hatred for mainstream culture, just because I had to read something. So, I chose it and read it. And it blew my fragile little mind.

This book extensively covers on
Nov 30, 2013 Karyl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Just... wow. I guess I can't afford to die. I had always assumed that the cost of a funeral was mainly due to being buried, and since neither my husband nor I understand the point of sticking a dead body into the ground, we'd both decided we should be cremated. But even there we are not immune to the shenanigans and corruption of most of the funeral homes in America.

And why in America do we do things like this? Why is it all about show? Does it matter that the Joneses had a better casket or a bi
Oct 06, 2011 Kimberly rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: non-fiction
I would not have rated this book so highly on the caliber of the writing alone, although Mitford is an excellent writer, but I found the subject matter sufficiently compelling to bump my rating up to five stars. I don't believe there is another book quite like this. A witty book about funeral/burial customs seems like an oxymoron, but that is precisely what this book offers. Mitford's initial volume, published in 1963, garnered widespread attention and lead to some minor reform in abuses that ap ...more
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Jessica Lucy Freeman-Mitford was an English author, journalist and political campaigner, who was one of the Mitford sisters. She gained American citizenship in later life.
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