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Corpses, Coffins, and Crypts: A History of Burial Hardcover – December 15, 1997

25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 6 Up. Death, the last stage of the human condition, has been underreported and mostly avoided in writing for young people. Colman takes on the task with just the right mix of unblinking realism and sensitivity to varieties of beliefs and practices. The eight chapters explain decomposition, cremation, and burials; describe rituals and ceremonies from many times and places; and show the impact of death and loss on those still living through epitaphs and artworks?some humorous, some poignant. Extensive research is evident throughout the book, from the wide and knowledgeable coverage of cultures and past times to the impressive bibliography. Black-and-white prints, art reproductions, and photographs fill the pages. The author avoids being morbid by using a conversational tone, often referring to her own experiences and relating anecdotes told to her by others. She also balances grim facts about embalming and mourning with accounts of curious and witty gravestones and eccentric burial requests, turning the otherwise dark material into entertaining reading. Lists of significant dates in funereal history (e.g., the beginnings of mound building, the first use of catacombs) and a guide to burial sites of famous people complete the coverage. This is a book that answers many questions and introduces fascinating facts. It should find many readers.?Shirley Wilton, Ocean County College, Toms River, NJ
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.


“Understanding death doesn't necessarily take away our anxieties or fears about our own death, or our sadness about other people's deaths, but it does help us find ways to continue on with our lives.” ―Penny Colman

“A daring and satisfying approach to a difficult subject.” ―Publisher's Weekly, starred review

“Death, the last stage of the human condition, has been underreported and mostly avoided in writing for young people. Colman takes on the task with just the right mix of unblinking realism and sensitivity to varieties of beliefs and practices.” ―School Library Journal, starred review

“The author has a compassionate eye, and she manages to endow her topic with both humanity and humor.” ―The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

“This solid, sensitive book answers a wealth of questions young people have but often are too reluctant to ask.” ―Booklist, starred review


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Product Details

  • Age Range: 11 - 14 years
  • Grade Level: 4 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 1190L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Company; 1st edition (December 15, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805050663
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805050660
  • Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 0.8 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #634,421 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Penny Colman writes about illustrious and fascinating women and a wide range of significant and intriguing topics in her award-winning books for all ages. Born in Denver, Colorado, in 1944, she grew up in North Warren, Pennsylvania, on the grounds of a state mental hospital, where her father was a psychiatrist. In 1960, she joined a group and rode her bicycle (plus took a few train rides) across the U.S. In 1964 she dropped out of college, worked in a frozen food factory in Sweden and hitchhiked throughout Europe, including to Turkey and Greece. Between 1965-1970, she graduated from college and graduate school, got married, and had three very close-in-age children. In 1987, as her children were graduating from high school, Penny Colman embarked on a freelance writing career and has been going full steam ever since.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 48 people found the following review helpful By P. Funk on January 16, 2006
Format: Hardcover
There are much, much better titles out there on this subject than Colman's thin survey. Here are a few suggestions:

The hour of our Death, by Philippe Aries is an historical and scholarly account of attitudes towards death from the Middle Ages to the present. This book pretty much initiated interest in the topic.

The Fireside Book of Death, by Robert Wilkins unfortunately looks to be out of print, but is available in many libraries. It follows the same themes as Colman's book, but is much more involved and better written.

Stiff, by Mary Roach is the now hugely popular study on the topic of corpses. Very similar to Wilkins, and I have to wonder if Roach borrowed much of her anecdotes from him. Roach's book lacks footnotes, which drives me crazy.

The Space of Death, by Michael Ragon is excellent and I highly recommend it!

A Brief History of Death, by Douglas Davies is a new book (2005) and very informational.

The philosopher Georges Bataille has some really interesting perspectives on death and its cultural meaning. Take a look at Death and Sensuality, or many other titles from this very influential Surrealist critic.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Kelly Garbato on June 4, 2005
Format: Hardcover
In "Corpses, Coffins and Crypts: A History of Burial," author Penny Colman offers a brief overview of death, dying, and related customs and rituals throughout time and across cultures. Intended for a younger audience (grades 9 through 12), the book is a relatively superficial examination of an incredibly complex topic.

Although the book's title stresses burial customs, "Corpses, Coffins and Crypts" includes discussions of a number of disposal methods, such as burial (in cemeteries, tombs, catacombs, and mausoleums), cremation (with either burial or scattering), exposure, and cryopreservation. More morbid practices, like cannibalism, are largely omitted. The most emphasis is placed on burial in cemeteries, and Colman includes a number of black-and-white photos to supplement the text; most are of famous or historic cemeteries and graves.

Throughout the book, Colman maintains a lighthearted and humorous tone, perhaps to set apprehensive readers at ease with the taboo material. For instance, she incorporates a picture of Archie Arnold's grave into the book. Arnold, a prankster in life, arranged to have his tomb flanked on either side by antique parking meters, with their dials set to "expired." Colman also interweaves a number of personal anecdotes and narratives into the text, giving her discussion a conversational, friendly feel. While some readers might appreciate the tone, I found it a bit informal for my tastes.

"Corpses, Coffins and Crypts" is probably most suitable for teenagers, as well as adult audiences who want a brief, casual read on the subject. For those looking for a more scholarly and in-depth look at death and dying, I highly recommend Kenneth Iserson's encyclopedic Death to Dust: What Happens to Dead Bodies? (from which Colman quoted heavily). At over 800 pages, Iserson truly does cover all the bases!
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Daniel A. Carr on August 3, 2000
Format: Hardcover
A seemingly morbid topic to many is rendered fascinating and informative in this finely written and beautifully designed volume. The author expertly incorporates both historical and multicultural facts and anecdotes to clearly and sensitively present various topics surrounding burial. The topics follow a logical progression from a discussion of death, to what happens after death, to rituals surrounding burial and, finally, burial sites of famous people and various interesting epitaphs. The book includes numerous black-and-white photos with notes, informative sidebars, and an excellent glossary, bibliography and index. Reading Level: Middle school and up. Highly recommended.
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42 of 56 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 31, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I was terribly diappointed in Mrs. Coleman's book. I had expected the book to be about unusual or macabre stories involving corpses, coffins and crypts. Instead, it turned out to be a rather disjointed review of the funeral practices of various cultures sprinkled with grave stone architecture. The author mentions that John Paul Jones body was well preserved because it was wrapped in tinfoil and his coffin was made of lead. A little research would show that tinfoil was non existent in the 18th century and that Jones' body was indeed well perserved because is was submerged in alcohol inside of a sealed lead coffin!
Colemen states that mummies she shows in a photo were "probably photgraphed in Mexico". Probably? The fact of the matter is that the photo is of the Capuchins' catacombs of Palermo. Were these glaring errors not bad enough, Coleman mainly focuses on the accomplishments of deceased minority women, and their final resting place, while making only fleeting references to dead white males and their historic contributions. Some items are interesting such as the Amana caskets and so on but, on balance, is is a woefully disappointing work. It isn't worth buying.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Laura on August 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I recently checked this book out of the library to psych myself up for Halloween. However, this book was in the childrens/juvenile section! Which I thought was completely off - the material isn't really suitable for children, especially in its frank, no-bones-about-it discussions of corpses, decay, and photographs. The manner in which the book is written, though, is very basic, without too much heavy jargon, so I can see how you would possibly only need a juvenile reading level to tackle this book.

I would definitely consider it a survey, and not really delving too deeply into any of the topics. I wish that this had been longer, so it could delve further into the topics. I really did enjoy this book, and enjoyed the small amounts (the right amounts) of the author's personal connection to the subject. I think she covered a wide variety of topics, and the book, as all good surveys do, leaves me wanting to learn more. :)
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