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review 2018-06-23 15:55
Is Death owned by Big Business?
The American Way of Death Revisited - Jessica Mitford

The American Way of Death Revisited by Jessica Mitford blew my freaking mind. There's no other way to say it. I took 4 pages of notes after finishing it and then bought my own copy so that I could reference back to it. As you might have guessed from the title this is another book about death culture and funeral practices in the United States. (Here are 3 more on the topic: Caitlin Doughty 1 & 2 and Bess Lovejoy.) Mitford gives a comprehensive look at the funeral industry in America up to the last update of her book in 1997. (A small portion of the book compares the US outlook on death with the UK and there is a stark difference.) She does not shy away from making her points about the injustices committed by those working in the funeral industry. She discusses the methods employed by everyone from funeral home directors to gravestone manufacturers. This book was a definite eyeopener in terms of what is actually legal when it comes to the handling of the dead. (Spoiler alert: pretty much everything.) 

Alas, poor Yorick! How surprised he would be to see how his counterpart of today is whisked off to a funeral parlor and is in short order sprayed, sliced, pierced, pickled, trussed, trimmed, creamed, waxed, painted, rouged, and neatly dressed - transformed from common corpse into a Beautiful Memory Picture. This process is known in the trade as embalming and restorative art, and is so universally employed in the United States and Canada that for years the funeral director did it routinely, without consulting corpse or kin. He regards as eccentric those few who are hardy enough to suggest that it might be dispensed with yet no law requires embalming, no religious doctrine commends it, nor is it dictated by considerations of health, sanitation, or even of personal daintiness. In no part of the world but in North America is it widely used. The purpose of embalming is to make the corpse presentable for viewing in a suitably costly container; and here too the funeral director routinely, without first consulting the family, prepares the body for public display. - pg 43

I include this lengthy quote (and another in a moment) to illustrate the importance of being educated about what your rights are both as the deceased and as the loved one making the arrangements after death. Mitford includes accounts of deliberate fraud by members of the funeral industry against the grieving. (Many funeral homes even include in their pricing grief counseling!) The frauds range from offering 'package deals' with no options for opting out, non-disclosed fees prior to invoicing, refusal to provide itemized statements for services, or inflation on pre-need arrangements (example: plots purchased well before death). I think this is a book that every single person should read because it discusses in depth a topic which is considered taboo in our country but until it is talked about openly and frankly as Mitford does the funeral industry under its many guises will continue to take advantage of the average consumer. Know your rights, people! 10/10


And speaking of rights I'd like to leave you with this bit of advice from the last chapter of Mitford's book:

Send a friend to two or more mortuaries to obtain their general price lists and casket prices. Ask for the cost of direct cremation, including transportation costs and crematory fees. Likewise, for the cost of immediate burial. Pay no money in advance. If death has not yet occurred and you wish to pay in installments, do so by setting up a Totten Trust, naming yourself or a relative or close friend as beneficiary. Remember, above all, that many funeral homes have a "no-walk" policy, which means simply that if and when you start to walk out, the fee will come down, down, down until a level acceptable to you is reached. - pg 274



What's Up Next: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows & Mary Ann Shaffer


What I'm Currently Reading: Condoleezza Rice: A memoir of my extraordinary, ordinary family and me by Condoleezza Rice

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2014-02-23 00:00
The Making of a Muckraker
The Making Of A Muckraker - Jessica Mitford Making of Muckraker has almost exactly the same contents as [b:Poison Penmanship: The Gentle Art of Muckraking|7932625|Poison Penmanship The Gentle Art of Muckraking|Jessica Mitford|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1320519474s/7932625.jpg|513406] except for a short Vogue piece contained in this edition. It's worth it to read as a Jessica Mitford completist, but Poison Penmanship is easier to find than Making of a Muckraker. Introductory and afterword material is different, but one version is sufficient to start off with baring any particular enthusiasm for Jessica Mitford.
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review 2013-10-14 21:14
Decca: The Letters Of Jessica Mitford - Jessica Mitford

Like many, I am fascinated by the Mitford sisters. Books-wise, so far, I have only read "Hons and Rebels" by Jessica Mitford. Having read "Hons and Rebels" I was interested to find out more about her. Perhaps a 700 page plus book of her letters, and that covers her entire life, was a bit too ambitious. I cannot pretend to have read every letter contained in the book however I managed to read plenty, and I came away from the book even more impressed by Jessica (aka Decca) than I had expected.

Despite far more than her fair share of tragedy and upheaval, what emerges is a woman who faced life with courage, humour, conviction and honesty. From a very early age she rebelled against her aristocratic background, running away to Spain during the Spanish Civil War, and then America, where she married radical lawyer, Robert Treuhaft, having joined the Communist Party during the McCarthy era, which also signalled decades of civil rights activism. 

The letters in this book cover her very early years up to her death. I was most interested in the letters she exchanged with her mother and sisters, and realised as I worked through this book that I might have been better off reading a biography about the family. Indeed I think this book would be most suitable for someone who has already got a good understanding of Jessica's own story and that of her family. That said, Peter Y. Sussman who edited this book, provides detailed a helpful introduction to each section, in addition to numerous useful explanatory footnotes - it must have taken him ages!

This book contains many wonderful letters which are well worth reading if you are interested in Jessica Mitford, and it is probably most suitable for readers who have already read her other works and want to dig deeper.

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review 2013-07-23 00:00
The Making Of A Muckraker
The Making Of A Muckraker - Jessica Mitford Very informative, very funny. I do wonder if blowing the lid off of expensive funeral arrangements and overpriced correspondence courses is the height of high-wire muckraking, but time will tell. Strange that an expert in preparation for death had so little interest in ancient Egyptian culture.

Ms. Mitford is almost the quintessential success story, with no formal education at all, including primary school. She started writing and publishing in her forties and lays out the book as if it were an instructional manual. It appears that her journalistic output was far more serious in subsequent books.
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review 2013-06-12 00:00
The American Way of Death Revisited
The American Way of Death Revisited - Jessica Mitford I only gave this three stars, even though I thought the book was great. I reduced the star value because, though the book has a fantastic subject and the writing is wonderful, the information is necessarily dated. (This is the revised edition, which was published in the 1990s.)

That said, however, the book certainly is food for thought. The author digs into the funeral profession, why it costs so much to die, and how to die without leaving your descendents with a load of debt from the funeral.

Luckily there are more updated volumes about this topic, and I'd recommend reading those, but this is what started it all.
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