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The American Way of Death Revisited

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  2,151 ratings  ·  260 reviews
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 funny. When first published in 1963 this landmark of investigative journalism became a runaway bestseller and resulted in legislation to protect grieving families from the unscrupulous sale ...more
Paperback, 296 pages
Published January 4th 2000 by Vintage (first published 1963)
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AJ Muszynski I got both editions at the same time because I didn't want to miss anything. The introduction to "Revisited" explains exactly what changes were made. …moreI got both editions at the same time because I didn't want to miss anything. The introduction to "Revisited" explains exactly what changes were made. Most of the chapters are from the original edition with slight additions to show what, if anything, is different after 30-ish years. After I finished "Revisited," I briefly skimmed the original out of curiosity, but I don't think I really missed much by not reading it cover-to-cover. (less)

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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. ...more
Sep 29, 2009 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
Aug 29, 2009 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
Ghost of the Library
I cant give a personal opinion on this book without first addressing its author..after all she was one of the (in)famous Mitford sisters.
Over the years I've read extensively and researched a good bit myself about the family and the girls, and quite frankly never liked all the anger and rage and frustration that seemed to ooze off of Jessica Mitford and ultimately led to her doing her utmost best to paint the darkest of portraits about her parents and siblings...seriously this one would have give
Robert Sheard
Nov 08, 2018 rated it liked it
The investigative journalism is top-notch and essential about an industry few of us really know about (until we have to make time-sensitive and stressful decisions). I'm not enthralled with the writing style, which for me is old-fashioned and circuitous. The blurbs describe it as hilarious and side-splitting. Um... no. It's witty and mildly amusing at best. Nevertheless, everyone should read it to understand precisely how badly you're going to get screwed by the undertaker someday. ...more
Elizabeth Desole
Feb 21, 2014 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
Jan 20, 2015 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. ...more
Apr 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: cultural
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
Joy Messinger
[3.75 stars] An investigative exploration into the overwhelmingly white male-run US death care industry, updated from the original edition published more than thirty years prior. Jessica Mitford’s research on exploitative funeral practices was excellent, though it was often hard to tell if the prices and profits were given in 1963 or 1998 dollars. Her focus on corporate cemetery and funeral home owners was expected, given her well-known communist and socialist beliefs. But even with her anti-cor ...more
Jason Diamond
Sep 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've read this before, but reading it a second time you get to really savor just how funny Mitford is reporting on this topic. ...more
I knew I was going to enjoy this book, but I really enjoyed this book. I've always been anti-fancy: anti-fancy weddings, anti-fancy showers, anti-fancy funerals, and Mitford really helped cement that for me. I was also shocked and amused to find that this was the one area (okay, maybe not the one area, but let's go with that for humor purposes) where I found myself vehemently standing on the side of religion - but then again, I never really stand on the side of business, and when there are only ...more
Mar 24, 2016 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
Sep 02, 2013 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.
Oct 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing

When Jessica Mitford first wrote this expose, it was a shocking book. That was in 1963; I read the updated 1998 version. Sadly, she died just as they were finishing up the book. I would have loved to have read what she thought about the funeral industry today!

While Mitford is careful to point out that there are honest and caring funeral professionals, she takes aim at the ones who are in it strictly for the money. While *any* business is in it for money, people seeking funeral services are in a
Tim Johnson
Apr 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wonder what it would cost to have my cremated remains put into a rocket that is then launched and set on a trajectory for the sun. The American Way of Death makes it clear that there will be two costs: the real cost with a reasonable profit built in and the cost most of the funeral homes will charge.

Funeral homes are businesses, I get it. At some level, every business has a right to claim some profits for jobs well done and this includes morticians and funeral directors. At another level, indu
Lisa Shultz
May 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: end-of-life
I can't believe I liked this book. I actually read it all. Originally published in 1963 and then an updated version in 1998, it exposes the funeral industry. I was educated and enlightened about the practices of that institution and will never look at funerals the same way. Like all industries, they can rip off the public but pretend not to be doing so. Taking advantage of people in times of bereavement is not okay with me! I found the topic fascinating but I realize that I might be an oddity in ...more
Aug 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
Even considering the age of the original and revisted versions, Mitford's work holds value in that the funeral industry has likely changed little since and that corporations with enough money invested in pr. Add to that the obvious capitalization on one's grief in what appears to be one of the best scenarios for high pressure sales. ...more
Jun 02, 2021 rated it liked it
A 5 second flash of this book on Mad Men was all the product placement needed to pique my interest. After finishing the book I agree with Jim Cutler's quip, "We can all learn something from the funeral business." Some parts were dry and slow, others infuriating and shocking. So much of the shopping process and burial arrangements are, even today, done in hurried moments, in whispered tones, heavy with grief and clouded by uncertainty. Death is an enormous money making racket, especially in Ameri ...more
Feb 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult, history
This was a fascinating book about how funeral practices in the United States have evolved. It is mainly a scathing critique of the industry. I found it to be very educational. The author can also be humorous with her wit. Her sarcasm made me laugh a few times. After reading this book, I believe that there are more funeral homes in the country than needed. And instead of having a free market that naturally winnows the number to a sustainable amount and necessitates morticians to compete and offer ...more
Jan 14, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I could read about about this subject for another few hundred pages, if only their was a "Revisited (again but in the UK this time)" edition.

JM is just a very fun author/teacher/guide to be led by. The troublemaker reputation is palpable and you can see why Christopher Hitchens, amongst others, admired her.

I'm off now to plan my own minimal cost,funeral.
Jan 21, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommended to Rebecca by: Kimberly
I grew up going to funerals. My parents never kept this macabre portion of life from me, although it was the "sanitized" version critiqued by this book. I spent time with cousins playing around the caskets of relatives during viewings; I touched the deli-cold hand of my embalmed grandfather with the intrepid caution of a curious fourteen-year-old; I overheard adults repeating the oft-heard refrain, "We only see each other at weddings and funerals;" instilling in me from childhood the connection ...more
May 01, 2011 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
Nov 21, 2020 rated it it was ok
Cocktail chatter for the damned! It's hard not to want to share facts from this book with others, such as Mitford's note that American demand for embalming started with a quack doctor who claimed to have embalmed 4,000 soldiers who died in the Civil War, so that their mothers could have one last glimpse of their sons. These are only small asides as the main goal of the book is to convince readers to turn to nonprofit funeral and memorial societies.

The "revisited"-ness of it all is a problem. Of
Dec 10, 2012 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 12, 2014 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
Mar 26, 2016 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
Jun 18, 2014 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
Hank Stuever
Aug 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great (and frankly, very improved) update of the original journalism classic -- much more than just an update, lots of re-reporting, re-writing. I wrote a review of this book in 1998, which prompted a local funeral director to call me and invite me to come visit his discount funeral home and see what it's all about. I wound up doing a story on him and his family that took months to report and write and was one of my most satisfying journalistic encounters, mostly because I learned so much abou ...more
Dec 06, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: death
So very dull. I've read many books about the funeral/memorial/death business and this was by far my least favorite. It was one of the first of its kind though when originally published in the 60s so I wanted to be sure to read it. It probably was shocking when it came out, but in today's world nothing that was said was unexpected. At times it became frustrating when trying to figure out if what Mitford was quoting was from the 60s or the 90s when it was later revised. If you find yourself lookin ...more
Laura Jean
Nov 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Laura Jean by: Waren Brownell
Shelves: non-fiction, 2011
A wonderful exposé of the funerary industry. After reading this book, I simply want to be dumped in the Chesapeake Bay and let the crabs have at me. Seriously! Who needs a casket with an adjustable mattress and a picture of heaven painted on the inside of the lid? I'LL BE DEAD! I WON'T BE ENJOYING IT. My family need not feel matter how manipulative the funeral people are. Just think of how tasty the crabs will find me and then go have some's the circle of life. ...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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