Several authors have set out to challenge the western taboo of talking about death. Though books about death don't usually offer the most lighthearted read, they certainly change and challenge our views of death and dying.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Best Nonfiction Books About the Funeral Industry
- Best Fiction Books About Funeral Homes
- Best Books About Mortuary Science
Books open our minds to worlds unexplored and misunderstood and a better genre to crack open might not exist than books written about the funeral industry. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of some of the best funerals books for diving into the highly avoided and largely misunderstood topic of death.
Best Nonfiction Books About the Funeral Industry
For those who want to get a first-person glimpse into the funeral industry, read through a nonfiction book. These eye-opening, enlightening, and even humorous books about death offer an honest look into today’s funeral industry.
1. The American Way of Death Revisited by Jessica Mitford
Author Jessica Mitford wrote this classic book, loved by many both inside and outside the funeral industry. She took a long, hard, critical look at funeral industry practices. One of the first to highlight what was wrong with the funeral industry, Mitford presents an insightful look at what we accept as normal and challenges to our understanding of how we approach death.
2. Spoiler Alert: You’re Gonna Die by Korttany Finn and Jacquie Purcell
Along with religion and politics, death seems to be the one topic most Americans avoid if at all possible. Rather than dance around the elephant in the room, Korttany Finn and Jacquie Purcell decided to take to the internet and pose a whole slew of questions about death. As a coroner, Purcell could answer all the questions anyone ever wanted to know about death, dying, and what happens after death.
3. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
Curious about what happens to your body after you die? Read this book by Mary Roach, which takes an interesting look at what happens to our deceased selves during their postmortem lives. Take a trip from modern times to centuries past and back again to learn how cadavers have helped us accomplish some of the greatest scientific undertakings known to man.
4. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty
If there’s one book on this list that you want to consider a classic, read this one. Doughty began her funeral industry career as a crematory operator at a young age. Unnerved by the Western cultural mindset of fearing death, she decided to pull back the curtain, help people peer into the realm of the dead, and demystify what seems so terrifying to so many.
Her book is packed with insight, humor, wit, and stories that you'll probably want more. We even put together a Smoke Gets in You Eyes book review for this book.
5. Modern Death by Haider Warraich, M.D.
Take a look at death from a doctor’s perspective. Warraich delves into centuries of tradition surrounding the way we view death and how it impacts our outlook on life. He also looks at the vast changes that occurred in modern times due to medicine and technology. Learn how our views and our understanding of death have changed over time.
6. Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial by Mark Harris
Green burials have slowly but surely been on the rise as the negative environmental impacts of chemical-based funeral practices such as embalming come to light. In this book, Harris follows several families who found green burials much more redeeming, therapeutic, and natural than typical funeral practices.
If you’re looking for unique insight on the green burial movement for yourself or a family member, this is the book that will answer questions you probably want to ask.
Best Fiction Books About Funeral Homes
Sometimes you need a break from the serious, no-nonsense nonfiction books available on today’s market. When you want a lighthearted read to kick back and relax with but still itch to know more about the darker side of life, one of these books should do the trick.
7. The Last Four Days of Paddy Buckley by Jeremy Massey
In this dark yet amusing tale, Paddy Buckley ends up meeting the man he accidentally murdered in the morgue where he works. Tasked with helping the grieving mob-boss family and preparing the deceased, he gets sucked into the mob underworld of crime, intrigue, and deceit. This book is certainly an amusing read and one that could certainly make for a lighthearted gift for a funeral director.
8. The Flicker of Old Dreams by Susan Henderson
Set in the small western town of Petroleum, Mary Crampton chronicles her life working as the town’s sole embalmer. Seen as an outsider by the local residents, she struggles between being present for grieving families and longing for something "more" outside of her town. After befriending an unlikely citizen, she can start dreaming about life outside of Petroleum. The question is whether she’ll ever pick up and leave.
9. Flirting with Death by Patricia Grasso
Book one in a mystery series features Zara Romano, embalmer, and mortician in Salem, Massachusetts. Filled with a zest for life, she constantly finds herself getting mixed up with death — like the mayor’s murder or the two other unsolved murders with similar features. Can she figure out who the killer is in time? Or will the killer make Zara his (or her) next mark?
10. Casket Cache by Janice J. Richardson
After inheriting her father’s funeral home, Jennifer Spencer moves to the Niagara Falls area to take over the business. Her move goes well enough until someone breaks into the funeral home and stashes a large amount of cash in one of the caskets. While tending to grieving families and setting up her new life, the main character has to contend with an unsolved mystery that lands her on the suspect list and a dangerous thief who will stop at nothing to retrieve the cash.
Best Books About Mortuary Science
Mortuary science is an art unto itself and as misunderstood as death by those on the outside trying to look in. These books shed light on the field of mortuary science from yesterday to modern-day practices.
11. Embalming: History, Theory, and Practice by Robert G. Mayer and Jacquelyn Taylor
This book, a veritable textbook on everything you’d ever want to know related to the art and science of embalming, offers a practical reference for anyone interested in mortuary cosmetology, embalming, and restorative art. The American Board of Funeral Service Education sponsors its release.
12. The Chick and the Dead by Carla Valentine
If you’ve ever wanted to know what happens during an autopsy, this book will take you through the process, step-by-step. Valentine has performed over 5,000 autopsies during her career and sheds light on details of the process most of us wouldn’t know to ask about. She examines the way each part of our bodies interconnect and asks questions about what makes each of us live the way we do.
13. Down Among the Dead Men: A Year in the Life of a Mortuary Technician by Michelle Williams
Michelle Williams began her life as a mortuary technician on a whim; she applied and was offered the job. As soon as she started work in the mortuary, she fell in love with what she did. In her engaging book, she records her life as a mortician, chronicles some of the lives she’s encountered, and provides insight into what happens to the dead once they go to the morgue.
14. Curtains: Adventures of an Undertaker-in-Training by Tom Jokinen
After a successful career, at 44, he decided to make different life choices and became an apprentice undertaker. He asks questions about the trade, such as how the dead get treated, what options families have when carrying out end-of-life wishes, and why the funeral industry became such big business. At turns hilariously honest and downright serious, the book offers an enlightening read for anyone who wants insight into the role of tradition versus modern-day practices when saying final goodbyes.
15. The Undertaking: Life Studies from a Dismal Trade by Thomas Lynch
If you want a funeral director’s view into the trade and how they carry out the complex art of mortuary science, read this book. Thomas Lynch is his town’s only funeral director and mortuary owner. He cremates, buries, sells coffins and urns, and helps grieving families navigate the complexities of death.
16. Mortuary Confidential: Undertakers Spill the Dirt by Todd Harra
While many of the stories in this book sound like fiction, each one of them is true and told by funeral directors across the country. The compilation of stories sheds insight into mortuary science, funeral directing, grieving, and the sometimes outlandish ways we all tend to view and deal with death.
What Goes on After the Grave
Whether you know a little about the world of undertakers, want to know more about mortuary science, or are curious about life beyond the grave, these books will open your eyes to a whole new world. Crack open a book and you’ll learn, laugh, cry, and gain more insight than you thought possible — straight from the funeral industry’s finest.