The American Way of Death Revisited
The American Way of Death, first published in 1963, was an instant
bestseller. The book is not only an exposť of mortuary malpractice but also a sort of anthropological
study of this strange subgroup of American culture, which is equipped with its own language, customs,
and myths. Mitford, daughter of English eccentrics and sister of the well-known novelist Nancy Mitford,
attracted her first readers not only with shocking facts but with her fine ear for the ludicrous,
brilliantly recorded funeral industry hyperboles and euphemisms. Funeral directors, for example,
call cremated ashes "cremains," the corpse viewing room is called the "slumber room," and paying
for a fancy funeral is considered "grief therapy."
This edition of The American Way of Death, which was nearly complete when Mitford herself
"passed over" in 1996, updates the book with chapters on prepayment and multinational funeral
corporations, as well as revised statistics and a directory of not-for-profit funeral societies.