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Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial Paperback – December 9, 2008


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Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial + Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death + The American Way of Death Revisited
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; Reprint edition (December 9, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416564047
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416564041
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.4 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #173,913 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Harris's case for an eco-friendly burial is also an argument for a graceful and productive afterlife. Avoiding embalming keeps funeral waste out of our sewers, while burial in a shroud or cardboard coffin saves trees; these approaches can also bring the living back in touch with the cycle of life, he argues. Following in the footsteps of Jessica Mitford (author of The American Way of Death), Harris discusses the ways in which Americans have shifted care of the dead out of the hands and homes of friends and family as he tours various burial options, from the most environmentally intrusive to the least. His graphic description of an embalming offers a sharp contrast to a burial in a biodegradable coffin in a nature reserve, where the decaying body will help restore the environment. Embalming is also expensive ($12,376) compared to burial in an artificial reef (between $995 and $4,995 after the $1,800 cremation). Acknowledging that burial requires a series of difficult decisions in the midst of devastating emotions, this practical, powerful and affirming book succeeds as a survey of burial methods, a collection of true stories and a resource guide. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* In the face of the billion-dollar-a-year funeral industry, former environmental columnist Harris advocates green (i.e., chemical-free) burial, a concept that is gaining momentum among aging baby boomers. His slender tome is chockablock with information on a variety of burial options, the majority of them environmentally friendly. For many, the only options they thought were available involved choosing between a mahogany casket and a brass casket. Through his detailed if grisly explanation of the currently popular embalming and interment process, Harris just may open up entirely new discussions among family members whenever the topic of burial is broached. Indeed, after reading this book, many may find it impossible to make such decisions casually, whether they are planning their own mortal destinies or are engaged in the emotion-wrought decisions incumbent upon the passings of loved ones. They may consider it worse to leave everything in the hands of a funeral-home owner. Including specifics about probable cost, availability, and location regarding a number of green burial options (names and addresses of some sources and providers are given), Harris has created a well-organized, valuable resource for anyone considering the disposition of their own or a loved one's earthly remains. Donna Chavez
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Mark Harris is a former environmental columnist with the Los Angeles Times Syndicate and the author of the signature book on green burial, Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial (Scribner, 2008). The book follows a dozen families who conduct natural burials for their dead, including burials in backyard grave sites and "natural cemeteries," as well as sea burials and funerals at home, among other strategies.

He lives with his family in eastern Pennsylvania, where he recently worked with the board of the Fountain Hill Cemetery, in Bethlehem, to create the Lehigh Valley's only natural burial ground, Green Meadow.

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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In this case, however, I feel it appropriate to say that everyone should read this book.
Robert M. Stumpf II
The book is very well written and contains extremely useful information for anyone wishing to find out about the subject before actually needing to know!
Grace L. Schoedel
This book is the best at discussing traditional funeral practices of embalming and burial but also breaks down green alternatives.
Jonathan V Packer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

46 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Grace L. Schoedel on January 21, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent exploration of several forms of disposition of a body leading chapter by chapter to a very logical concluding chapter on "green burial". Each chapter has been carefully researched and is given sympathetic coverage. The book is very well written and contains extremely useful information for anyone wishing to find out about the subject before actually needing to know! I highly recommend it.

Grace Schoedel

president, Champaign County (Illinois) Funeral Consumers Alliance
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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By mcHaiku on March 20, 2007
Format: Hardcover
. . . would you want to be as ignorant about childbirth as most people are about 'procedures' at the time of death? The author's premise is that preparation for death, and burials, should be "GREEN" - - I happen to agree, and will donate my remains to a teaching hospital, me & my Pacemaker and all four replacment joints (if they'll have me).

The thinking of humans advances in pitifully tiny increments. In recent years the number of cremations has increased dramatically, and Green Cemeteries are no longer considered for space aliens only. Mark Harris shapes his book around ten persons who carried out decisions not relying primarily on undertakers and embalmers. Details about funerals held in the home, burial on one's own property, burial at sea, working with state laws, even the purchase of cardboard caskets for cremation . . . these are discussed quite fully in this book with sources given, costs, even the author's web site.

The book stresses the benefits of treating the death of loved ones in a totally personal way while honoring convictions about a green, less toxic world. Reviewer mcHaiku believes that the greatest hurdle in working one's beliefs seamlessly into discussions, and making satisfactory decisions about "bodies, the disposal of" . . . is squeamishness and the emotional reactions of the moment.

Knowledge can be 'freeing' and contribute towards amicable acceptance. Author Mark Harris has provided details, details (ad nauseam, for some). The book (Be sure to read the full title) is generous with information that will help all readers reach more 'environmentally correct' decisions because we owe this to our planet.
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By A. Shortridge on January 22, 2007
Format: Hardcover
With a completely objective approach, Mr. Harris has researched thoroughly many various aspects of burial/funeral procedures and options, giving the reader detailed information about specific processes and choices available to the consumer. Each chapter ends with a concise wrap-up of things you need to know - a great feature of this book. No detail is unexplored. What some may consider untouchable subject, Mark Harris has developed into a very professional and dignified outcome.

Every family should consider this book a MUST for the shelf. Though no one wants to think of the inevitable, all should want to be prepared early on, and this book gives you the information you NEED to know.

A Shortridge

San Diego, CA
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Rainier on February 12, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Finally, someone has punched a big, wide hole in the distasteful practice of the American funeral. This book might surprise you on how it will change your perspective on death; either of a loved one or your own eventual one. Who in their right mind has wanted to consider a funeral in the framework of the century-long trend of embalming, gawking and metal boxing. But to consider it in the eco-friendly, natural ways that Harris discusses here is strangely much more acceptable. I feel amazingly better about the whole business now that I know no one in my immediate family or myself will have to be pumped with posion, laid out like a plastic dummy and placed in a $10,000 container that will never be seen again, or made to enhance the earth in any way. Weird as it may seem to those who may not have read this book, I will take much pleasure when I soon begin building my own coffin. Not that I plan to use it for the next couple of decades, but it surely will give me a platform to talk about the hideous practice of the traditional but obscene American funeral. I plan to make my own coffin, but have yet decided to be buried or creamated in it. Mr. Harris, thank you. And to those kind souls who participated in a very important book.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Robert M. Stumpf II on March 8, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I seldom use the word "should" because of its moral connotations. In this case, however, I feel it appropriate to say that everyone should read this book. Every week I take out the trash. It's not a job I like but one I know has to be done. We all will face the time when we have to do the same for a loved one or ourselves when we check out. This book provides specifics as to the process of embalming, costs of burial and even the process of rotting in traditional cemetaries. I love how the author refers to them as landfills. Sooner or later we all will have to deal with these issues and its best we take the responsiblity because ignoring the problem won't make it go away.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By R.Brian Burkhardt on December 20, 2007
Format: Hardcover
These pages do the human race a great service. Every Funeral Director needs to read this book. Death is not a pleasant subject. This book is more than worth the price. Everyone has trouble thinking about grave matters. Just as cremation came to America, so comes the green funeral. This book is the future in Funerals, it is well thought out, researched and well written. Practical How to tips are in the back of each chapter. Everyone needs to read these tips. Everyone! Great work, Mark Harris.

Funeral Directors please read this book with an open mind. Personally, I have found this book helpful in my work with families in the Funeral Profession.
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