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Death, American Style: A Cultural History of Dying in America

ISBN-13: 978-1442222236
ISBN-10: 1442222239
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Hardcover, July 5, 2013
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Editorial Reviews


Cultural historian Samuel addresses Americans' attitudes toward death and grief, explicating how attitudes have been shifting over the past 90 years and what this may portend for the future. Like many other analysts of this subject, Samuel maintains that Americans have strong aversions to talking openly about death and to approaching their own deaths, being far less able to talk about this subject than they are about sex. He contends that Americans remain unprepared for the 'tsunami of deaths' that will inevitably occur with the rising mortalities of the baby-boomer population. Yet, he presents little of the systematic sociological or anthropological evidence that is needed to support this claim of a coming massive dislocation around death. The author presents much useful factual information about death and dying, especially regarding the need to better integrate death into the fabric of everyday living, where most readers will benefit from a readier acceptance of the inevitable. Yet Samuel's breezy writing and occasional anecdotal presentation style periodically works against the full appreciation of his important subject and viewpoints. Summing Up: Recommended. All levels/libraries. (CHOICE)

Professional pundit Samuel (The American Dream: A Cultural History) provides an overview of how Americans have struggled with the issue of dying, from the 1920s to the present, when the great wave of Baby Boomers are increasingly confronted with their mortality. In these nine decades, as Samuel informs readers, America has experienced brutal wars and epidemics, as well as major medical advances that extended life spans considerably, allowing people to ignore the deferred but inevitable terminal moment. (Publishers Weekly)

Dr. Samuel comprehends our current, eternal difficulty with our common fate, unimaginable for many of us, always inevitable. ... While today’s 'radical life-extension' promoters peddle another version of miracle cures, the majority less able to afford such nostrums must get over any expectation of special treatment, Dr. Samuel concludes. ... No longer avoided by the 'eternally young,' he sketches (yet frustratingly, he leaves all but blank this last storyboard) a dire fate for American society if it continues to deny death’s arrival. (New York Journal of Books)

The book is easy, nontechnical reading and would be of interest to psychologists, sociologists, historians, philosophers, medical scientists, and the general reader. Samuel traces Americans’ relationship with death and dying from the 1920s to the present day. ... Death, American Style alerts the reader to an unavoidable tsunami of boomer deaths that, as a society, we need to plan ahead to deal with effectively. (PsycCRITIQUES)

Lawrence Samuel’s Death, American Style is a witty, engrossing and indispensable examination of our last remaining—and most potent—taboo. (Jeanne Safer, PhD, author of Death Benefits: How Losing a Parent Can Change an Adult’s Life―for the Better and Cain’s Legacy: Liberating Siblings from a Lifetime of Rage, Shame, Secrecy, and Regret)

Samuel's book is a fascinating and surprisingly upbeat ride through an unlikely corner of American popular culture. Carefully researched, the book draws on sources as varied as medical counselors, popular evangelists, morality scolds, and death entrepreneurs, all with guest appearances by Mitford and Kubler-Ross. This is a well-told, sometimes amusing, tour through how recent Americans have hedged their bets against the inevitable. We are no different, and just as confused about the end of life, as were our ancestors. (James W. Green, senior lecturer emeritus of Anthropology, University of Washington Seattle)

About the Author

Lawrence R. Samuel is the founder of Culture Planning LLC, a Miami- and New York-based resource offering cultural insights to Fortune 500 companies and their ad agencies. He is the author of a number of books, including Sexidemic: A Cultural History of Sex in America (Rowman, 2013), Freud on Madison Avenue: Motivation Research and Subliminal Advertising in America, The American Dream: A Cultural History, and Shrink: A Cultural History of Psychoanalysis in America.

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More About the Author

Lawrence R. Samuel is a leading American cultural historian. He writes the "Psychology Yesterday" blog for Psychology Today, and is often quoted in the media. Recent media appearances include NPR, the New York Times,, Washington Post, Agence France-Presse, and CBC Radio. He regularly delivers talks based on his books, notably at the New York Public Library (broadcast by CSPAN's BookTV) and the Smithsonian Institution. He holds a Ph.D. in American Studies and an MA in English from the University of Minnesota, an MBA in Marketing from the University of Georgia, and was a Smithsonian Institution Fellow.

Larry's books include Pledging Allegiance: American Identity and the Bond Drive of World War II (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1997), The Future Ain't What It Used to Be: The 40 Cultural Trends Transforming Your Job, Your Life, Your World (Riverhead Books, 1998), 563 Stupid Things People Do To Mess Up Their Lives (St. Martin's Griffin, 2000), Brought to You By: Postwar Television Advertising and the American Dream (University of Texas Press, 2002), The End of the Innocence: The 1964-1965 New York World's Fair (Syracuse University Press, 2007), Future: A Recent History (University of Texas Press, 2009), Rich: The Rise and Fall of American Wealth Culture (AMACOM, 2009), Freud on Madison Avenue: Motivation Research and Subliminal Advertising in America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010), Supernatural America: A Cultural History (Praeger, 2011), The American Dream: A Cultural History (Syracuse University Press, 2012), Sexidemic: A Cultural History Of Sex In America (Rowman & Littlefield, 2013), Shrink: A Cultural History Of Psychoanalysis In America (University of Nebraska Press, 2013), The American Middle Class: A Cultural History (Routledge, 2013), Death, American Style: A Cultural History of Dying in America (Rowman & Littlefield, 2013), and New York City 1964: A Cultural History (McFarland, 2014).

Larry lives in Miami, Florida and can be reached at

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