Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory” as Want to Read:
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  64,978 ratings  ·  7,822 reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 254 pages
Published September 28th 2015 by W. W. Norton Company (first published September 15th 2014)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

Popular Answered Questions
Alicia Nonfiction - have a look at her youtube channel, The Order of the Good Death and you can get a feel for Caitlin's approach.…moreNonfiction - have a look at her youtube channel, The Order of the Good Death and you can get a feel for Caitlin's approach.(less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.17  · 
Rating details
 ·  64,978 ratings  ·  7,822 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory
Nov 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
if anyone needs me i’ll be living out my dream of working in a crematory
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
Jul 16, 2020 added it
For me, the way the United States deals with death was something I could never question because it! 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 !
Jan 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Great sense of humor about a topic most people fear, without any irreverence. Enjoyed this book immensely!
Petra X karma should have given me a Ferrari
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)
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!!
Jul 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of "Six Feet Under"
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
Dec 21, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: meh, nonfiction, death
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
Debbie "DJ"
Jun 02, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Lois Bujold
Oct 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who plans to die
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
Oct 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
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 ...more
Jay Green
Nov 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Scott (on temporary hiatus)
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
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’
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
Johann (jobis89)
Aug 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
"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
Nov 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Smoke Shadow GIF - Smoke Shadow GIFs

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
Carole (Carole's Random Life)
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
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
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 ...more
Sandy Reilly
Jul 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, favorites
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 ...more
Nov 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
"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
Feb 05, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Glad to have read this but wouldn't reread it 🤷‍♀️, 3 ⭐⭐⭐ ...more
Jul 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
"The meaning of life is that it ends."

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
Dan Schwent
Jul 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
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
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
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 ...more
Captive Audience
Mar 05, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: did-not-finish
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 ...more
Laurie  |  LOHF
“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
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 ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • I'm Thinking of Ending Things
  • Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner
  • In the Dream House
  • Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
  • Bunny
  • Sleepwalking
  • Get a Life, Chloe Brown (The Brown Sisters, #1)
  • Past Mortems: Life and Death Behind Mortuary Doors
  • Take a Hint, Dani Brown (The Brown Sisters, #2)
  • The Troop
  • Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone
  • Radio Silence
  • Mexican Gothic
  • The House in the Cerulean Sea
  • The Deep
  • The Devil All the Time
  • The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister's Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine
  • The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires
See similar books…
See top shelves…
Caitlin Doughty is a mortician and the author of Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? as well as the New York Times best-selling books Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and From Here to Eternity. She is the creator of the “Ask a Mortician” web series and founder of The Order of the Good Death. She lives in Los Angeles, where she owns and runs a funeral home. ...more

Articles featuring this book

Need another excuse to go to the bookstore this week? We've got you covered with the buzziest new releases of the day. To create our list,...
55 likes · 14 comments
“Accepting death doesn't mean you won't be devastated when someone you love dies. It means you will be able to focus on your grief, unburdened by bigger existential questions like, "Why do people die?" and "Why is this happening to me?" Death isn't happening to you. Death is happening to us all.” 286 likes
“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.” 134 likes
More quotes…