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Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial

4.06  ·  Rating Details  ·  391 Ratings  ·  94 Reviews
By the time Nate Fisher was laid to rest in a woodland grave sans coffin in the final season of Six Feet Under, Americans all across the country were starting to look outside the box when death came calling.

Grave Matters follows families who found in "green" burial a more natural, more economic, and ultimately more meaningful alternative to the tired and toxic send-off on
Paperback, 224 pages
Published December 9th 2008 by Scribner (first published 2007)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,139)
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This is one of those books that smacks you in the head and makes you think very hard about long-held beliefs. After reading about the conventional funeral--the type I had always assumed that I would have--my preferences are now starting to go towards the unconventional. For example, while fancy metal caskets were never my thing, the old-fashioned pine box is looking better and better to me after reading about the downside of today's standard casket (this book probably isn't for the squeamish, so ...more
Mar 02, 2012 Emily rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, meridian
After opening his book with a fictionalized description of a funeral director guiding grieving parents through selecting the services and planning their 18-year-old daughter's funeral, Mr. Harris presents a walk-through of the embalming process. As a contrast to this “standard funeral industry” approach, Mr. Harris spends the rest of the book chronicling the experiences of several people who chose more natural alternatives.

While it should be apparent that “no matter how it's sealed inside the co
One of the greatest books ever written. Excellent writing, storytelling, and research. Each chapter centers on a type of burial, blending research with an intimate story of a family who used that type of burial. I got teary eyed during pretty much every chapter, yet as a whole the book made me feel more okay with death. It kind of reminded me of the Buddhist belief in using the contemplation of death in order to live life better. Like the title suggests, the first chapter pertains to the most co ...more
Apr 06, 2009 Doreva rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Adults - over 18
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 04, 2013 Amy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was brought to my attention several years ago when I heard of the tragic death of a young girl. But I was very intrigued by the way her family chose to bury her; in a pine box, no embalming, simply wrapped in a sweet homemade quilt made by someone in her family. This appealed to me in so many ways. I was having a conversation with a group of friends about this strange, comforting idea when one of them told me I needed to read a book called Grave Matters. Finally after years I have just ...more
Jan 16, 2011 Myrrh rated it it was amazing
This book is a must-read for virtually everybody since we will all face death eventually. It explores the funeral industry, including a description of what a funeral director does from the moment he is contacted by a family memeber of the deceased (including a detailed description of the three-step embalming process). The author goes on to describe various funeral options including cremation, caring for the dead at home, natural burial, and even burial at sea. Many sources are mentioned througho ...more
Sep 19, 2009 Alline rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Guess what? Not only do you not have to be embalmed when you die, you also do not have to be buried in a casket. So much of what the funeral industry is pushing is absolute crap; we have become so far removed from the realities of death that we have allowed them to sanitize it and guilt trip us into spending thousands of unnecessary dollars and pollute the earth. This book is a well-researched look into ALL of our alternatives - from traditional embalming-hardwood casket-burial plot funeral to r ...more
Nov 04, 2013 Jessica rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jessica by: Donna Chavez
I recommend this book to everyone who cares about the environment and the people, animals, and plants that will live on it after s/he is dead -- who wants to feel good about the impact his/her remains will have on this Earth. My own choice is to be cremated in an environmentally friendly crematorium with the proper filters to keep mercury and such out of the air and water and then to have those ashes mixed with concrete to form a reef ball that will be dropped into the ocean to expand and suppor ...more
Sep 23, 2014 Mindy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I just wrote a review of authors who so obtrusively inserted themselves into their book that the focus of the book shifted to them rather than their subject.

Mark Harris, on the other hand, accomplished a feat that few authors reach. While writing about one of the most intimate subjects human beings experience, he kept himself out of the narrative...and yet his presence was palpable in the conversations he wove throughout the book. It was obvious from the way people had opened up to him and inclu
Feb 04, 2009 Alison rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Cremation trims much of the thirty million board feet of lumber that's diverted to coffins annually [in the U.S.:]. . . Cremated bodies leach none of the 800,000 gallons of formaldehyde that are injected into embalmed remains every year." And there's the conservation of space factor(which has led the UK to cremate at 80%).
Now, how d'ya feel?? The book outlines several other alternatives to traditional funerals/burials, some of which may be a little surprising.
Amy Jenkins
Jul 17, 2009 Amy Jenkins rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mark Harris explores the details of the standard toxic funeral with visual imagery of the anaerobic fuzzy-mold putrefaction of embalmed remains that were sealed in a coffin in an earnest intention to protect the body. After Harris shatters the illusion of the preserved corpse, he presents greener and perhaps more comforting options. Read entire review at
Stephanie Moran
Mar 13, 2016 Stephanie Moran rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, 2016
Written in 2007, I feel this book clearly needs an update. I feel more references would be helpful for some of the chapters, such as home funeral.

Mark Harris does a fantastic job of taking the reader through alternative burial and funeral options that the mainstream likely does not want you to know about. He writes each chapter clearly and without his own opinion, I appreciated how he took us through each process so honestly.

Honestly, after reading the step-by-step process of embalming, I am com
Jul 27, 2009 Jen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Creepy but fascinating. The environmental effects of a typical American burial is something I knew nothing about. It's absurd really, this quest to preserve the body. It ends up making a terrible toxic stew and it's a giant financial rip off as well. Just wrap me in a sheet and plant me under a tree please. Preferably on a quiet mountain side.
Quite informative.
Jan 08, 2011 Angela rated it it was amazing
I think this is an absolute must read for everyone. It is an eye opener and will help you to make the necessary decisions regarding the care and disposition of your remains. There are many more options than most of us realize and this knowledge can help you save your family some money and unnecessary stress in the end.
Brian Bohmueller
Sep 29, 2015 Brian Bohmueller rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A book well worth reading to explore the options for disposing of a loved ones body, including your own.

Harris provides a readable narrative that describes cremation, traditional burial and green burial which is becoming more popular. The anecdotal stories are sad yet hopeful, and generally provides informative details on the burial options including cost, logistics and other errata.

I wish Harris would have covered organ transplants and donation of ones body to science to round out the lineup. T
Jan 17, 2008 Leah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Resourceful! Have you ever thought about what your options are, following your death? This book stretches beyond the embalming/cremation categories. Not gory, just perfect research and communication. Take a peek. There is more to your final disposition than you think.
Aarøn VE
I really wanted to give this book four stars but there are some things that need to be addressed. As a student who is currently going through the schooling to become a Funeral Director, there is a lot about the industry that the author does not understand.
For instance, in the first chapter when describing embalming, almost every word used has a negative or even down right disgusting connotation. When being embalmed, orifices must be plugged to prevent leakage. That is a fact yes. But when he des
Heather *live on coffee and flowers*
This was quite a dry read compared to the other books I've read on, well, dead people stuff. It wasn't difficult, but it took me kind of a long time to slog through the boring detailed proceedings of various funerals and bodily disposals. However, this book did introduce me to certain things I didn't know about, such as memorial reefs and home funerals. It only takes a couple chapters to realize the traditional methods offered by a funeral parlor are probably not the way to go. The author provid ...more
Nov 14, 2014 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Since my Mother passed away at the beginning of last month, I have been a bit focused on death matters. Jessica Mitford's "The American Way of Death" is definitely required reading on the subject of funeral practices. It is a classic that all others in the genre reference. Mark Harris' "Grave Matters" is a worthy addition to the genre, looking at what he hopes to become the future of funeral practices in the United States. Harris takes the reader through a series of unconventional funeral approa ...more
Jun 13, 2015 Stephen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I recently moseyed out to New Melleray Abbey, a Trappist monastery in Iowa's Driftless that maintains a sustainable, organic forest for the making of simple pine caskets turned out by the monks. What a breath of fresh air to run across this book by accident right afterwards.

Hopefully won't be kicking the bucket soon - but I'll die easier some day having read this outstanding piece of environmental journalism. Great to know that I'm not legally required to have my guts vacuumed out by a stranger
Aug 28, 2013 Loren rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
From what I understand now, in the United States it was the Civil War that turned memorialization into an industry. The Great American Sendoff which masquerades as
the traditional American funeral service is nothing but. The American way of death was actually quite simplistic before the parade of the dead 16th president turned embalming to the mainstream as well as the snowball of other amenities that ensued. And a natural burial appears to be a return to the environmentally sound belief of Gene
May 28, 2010 Kimberly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I heard an interview with this author on NPR last year. It was fascinating, and I wanted to research the matter further at the time, but didn't. A recent conversation with a sibling led me to go back and find and read the book.

Harris begins by describing a typical embalming, funeral, and burial process, including the sorts of decisions living family members are called upon to make. He also includes troubling price information about funerals, the average cost of which is $10,000 in the U.S. He t
Carre Gardner
May 22, 2008 Carre Gardner rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If there were a 10-star option, this book would get it, IMHO. It's a look at the options that exist for planning your own or a loved one's after-death care. The first chapter describes, step-by-step, what happens to a person's body after the undertaker takes it to the mortuary to prepare it for burial in the traditional way. WARNING: this first chapter is not for the faint of stomach, though the rest of the book is not nearly as graphic as the beginning. The author shows what is involved in the ...more
Nov 30, 2007 Elizabeth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who will die someday
This book is a very interesting look at what happens to your body when you die. I suppose the queasy will not react well, but hey, get over it, you're going to die. And you're going to have someone you love die, too.

The book first highlights what happens during embalming procedures and the "preparing" of the body for burial. The description could make even the most stalwart somewhat queasy. It's not pretty. Costs of the typical American funeral are also discussed, and what "requirements" are no
Jul 22, 2011 Ann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
_Grave Matters_ is a really helpful and useful book on different types of ways to put people to rest. It begins with the traditional funeral service and what happens to the body as its prepared for this. It progresses then, roughly through various kinds of "greener" burials, including cremation, burial at sea, putting your loved one in a memorial reef, a home funeral, a coffin made by a local furniture maker, a backyard burial (only available in rural areas) to a natural cemetery (where the grav ...more
Linda Johnson
Feb 25, 2016 Linda Johnson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you're interested in what our modern society does to our deceased, and would like to find alternatives, this is the book for you. It was clear, easy to read, and full of good information. I will never look at an embalmed person the same way again, or ever have a loved one embalmed, for that matter. I hope more ways will be opened to return to the way we used to handle our deceased loved ones.
Laura Ricks
Jul 11, 2014 Laura Ricks rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book. Very well-written and quite moving at times. I'm relieved that in Denmark we do not often embalm. I found the first chapter about embalming hardgoing and can't believe this is what people choose with so little thought for the environment. Highly recommend this book and think about these issues NOW while you still can...
Mar 09, 2014 Joanne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very fascinating read about the funeral industry. I had always considered having a "traditional" funeral (when the time comes), but this book made me disgusted with how costly and wasteful a funeral can be. This book takes you through alternative forms of burial, that are more eco-friendly, personal and in a strange way - more lovely.
Sue Harper
Jun 04, 2014 Sue Harper rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Everyone should read this book to find out how awful an American "traditional" burial is. It's bad for your loved one, the environment and your pocket book. I wish I had read this prior to my mother's passing...I would have fought much harder for cremation (and not because of money). Many alternatives are listed also.
Sara Dee
Dec 14, 2014 Sara Dee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really found this book to be enlightening for me as to how I want my cadaver to be dealt with.

I also gave it to my mother.

Met the author at a writers seminar where I was selling his, and other author's books, through my job at the Moravian Bookshop. He rules.
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Mark Harris is a former environmental columnist with the Los Angeles Times Syndicate and the author of the book on green burial, Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial (Scribner, 2007).

The book follows a dozen families who conduct natural burials for their dead, including burials in backyard grave sites and "natural cemeteries," as well as sea buri
More about Mark Harris...

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