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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History is not Pretty
Anyone who is tempted to romanticize history would be well advised to reasd this well researched history of London and its problems with burials. Our ancestors did not have to worry about garbage removal: in a world of desperate want, almost anything that was cast away could be recycled. One item that could not be recycled was the remains of the thousands of Londoners who...
Published 21 months ago by Robert Connelly

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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed - no pictures
Seriously disappointed that none of the photos/art show up on the Kindle version. Wish I had not spent the money.
Published 6 months ago by J. D. Carroll


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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History is not Pretty, October 6, 2012
By 
Robert Connelly (Harvard, Illinois) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Necropolis: London and Its Dead (Paperback)
Anyone who is tempted to romanticize history would be well advised to reasd this well researched history of London and its problems with burials. Our ancestors did not have to worry about garbage removal: in a world of desperate want, almost anything that was cast away could be recycled. One item that could not be recycled was the remains of the thousands of Londoners who died of natural causes or plague. In a society that did not understand the connections between polluted water and disease, the problem of burial space was serious.

One of the many strengths of this book is the author's research on victorian burial customs. The chapters on mourning, funeral processions and the vast commercial enterprise of victorian funerals are very inteeresting, as is the discussion of changing funeral customs during and after World War I.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Knowing where the bodies are buried, literally, March 4, 2012
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This review is from: Necropolis: London and Its Dead (Paperback)
"I see dead people." - from the film The Sixth Sense

After reading NECROPOLIS by Catharine Arnold, I'm almost led to believe that turning over a shovelful of dirt in any of London's open spaces will yield a skull or two. It gives a whole new dimension to my favorite city.

NECROPOLIS is a popular history of death and interment in England's capital. After a brief first chapter on how the Celts and Romans did it, the topic takes off, and the burial pits begin to overflow, with medieval visitations of the Plague. Indeed, it's the wretched nature of the ultimately overflowing inner-city graveyards that provides the reader with the most fascinating mind's-eye material. And the Yuk Factor is high.

"The effluvia from Portugal Street (burial ground) were so offensive that people living in St. Clement's Lane were compelled to keep their windows closed. The walls of the Green Ground that adjoined the yards of local houses dripped with reeking fluid."

Of course, corpses could always be recycled.

"Medical ethics did not stretch to questioning the source of cadavers, and dead bodies were accepted on a 'don't ask, don't tell' basis. In some cases, medical students were asked to provide their own cadavers. Bodies were snatched from Tyburn Gallows, still warm, triggering riots ..."

The author then focuses on the development of the great cemeteries that, to this day, ring the city like a necklace. Of course, many are no longer outside the city, which was the whole point of their establishment. But one gets the idea.

Arnold also dedicates a significant portion of her book to the Victorian romantic concept of death -

"Tennyson's Elaine hears death 'like a friend's voice from a distant field, approaching through the darkness.'"

- and the elaborate burial rituals and opportunistic mortuary industry that evolved during the period, perhaps best exemplified by the state funerals for Admiral Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington. It was a mindset that only waned with the advent of cremation and was finally overwhelmed by the monumental death toll of the Great War and the influenza pandemic that followed immediately thereafter.

NECROPOLIS is immensely informative in a relatively short space. So much so that, when writing of the development of the suburban cemeteries to relieve the pressure on the inner city graveyards, the book becomes maybe just slightly tedious. It's not so much "grimly entertaining" as just grim. And the total story is told with a bare minimum of humor - dry wit or otherwise - which I would've thought lent itself to the subject matter, or, at least, put more entertainment in the grim.

NECROPOLIS is haphazardly sprinkled with roughly a dozen illustrations. More would've enhanced the text greatly and I'm knocking off a star for the missed opportunity.

One other thing NECROPOLIS did accomplish was instill in me a desire to visit one or two of the great peripheral cemeteries on my next London visit, perhaps Abney Park and/or Highgate. As an avid travel photographer having previously visited Pere Lachaise in Paris, I've learned that such places offer great visual images.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed - no pictures, January 3, 2014
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Seriously disappointed that none of the photos/art show up on the Kindle version. Wish I had not spent the money.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars NECROPOLIS:LONDON AND ITS DEAD, June 12, 2009
This review is from: Necropolis: London and Its Dead (Paperback)
A very interesting detailed book encompassing death in the 1600's to present time. It also gives a history of the cemetery and how it is observed today. I enjoyed the detail and research that went into creating this book plus the bibliography will give you many more selections to chose from. The cemetery represents more than just a burial place for my family but also a place to walk, to reflect on life, and to learn about the history of families.
W. Sorrell
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Could have been more lively, July 19, 2007
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A well researched presentation of burial rites in the city London since earliest known times to the very present, including medieval London facing the same problem that Catholic cities everywhere faced with the desire to preserve the body for Judgment Day and to bury the corpse in a churchyard, coupled with practically no common sense about health and hygiene, struggling to find room for the dead in the land of the living.
An interesting book without being too ghoulish or gory; there are plenty of anecdotes. One wishes that, instead of just giving the bare bones of some stories, the author had spent a little more time fleshing them out, such as she did with the affect of massive deaths in the World Wars and from the plaque. There is a very well done section on Victorian funeral attitudes and the creation of the undertaking business, including how attitudes on grief had changed coming up to the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales.
More drawings, lithos or photos would have been interesting.
Written by a Brit for Brits, there are some references to figures of the past that may be unknown to the American reader, but nothing that bogs the presentation.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely delightful read, May 15, 2014
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T. Saloranta "coder, esq" (People's republic of MI USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Necropolis: London and Its Dead (Paperback)
I don't have much to add to other reviews, but I think this is a really good read in general; and could even serve as a nice additional travel book -- I have visited London, but was not aware of some of the highlights like Highgate cemetery, and those would be nice places to visit. And of course other parts that could complement "London Dungeon"....
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3.0 out of 5 stars We used to live much closer to the dead than we do now, March 31, 2014
By 
Heidi Waterhouse (Minneapolis, MN, United States) - See all my reviews
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It's an interesting problem -- what do you do with the dead bodies of a city, especially when the era favors intact burial rather than cremation or other, er, space-saving methods of disposal?

This is one of those history books that takes an extremely narrow slice of history to give you insight into broader themes. I appreciated how it struck the balance between titillating detail and remembering that these bodies were actual people and deserved respect.

Read if: You would like to understand how cemeteries happen, how cremation ebbs and flows in fashion, and how to deal with plague victims.

Skip if: You are squeamish about death or gore or, well, we can really only call it ichor.

Also read: Mary Roach's Stiff.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Who Knew?, February 18, 2014
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As a cultural historian, I was thoroughly enmeshed in the history of burial and mourning practices in London from pre-Roman times. Wow!
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3.0 out of 5 stars No images!, January 27, 2014
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This review is from: Necropolis: London and Its Dead (Paperback)
Also seriously disappointed that the images were missing in Kindle edition. I will check from now on and return any Kindle book that is delivered this way. Interesting reading, but spoiled by the missing content.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Weird but enlightening, January 5, 2014
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This is one of the stranger books I've read recently. Like most people, I try not to think about death too much and can't imagine anyone immersing themselves in such a subject. Yet, clearly the author has done so and the product is a book that is extremely enlightening about how people have treated death over the centuries, at least in the British Isles. Most illuminating is how the Victorians invented so much of modern funeral customs and practices. Since I like any book that contain a lot of previously unknown information, I highly recommend this one.
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Necropolis: London and Its Dead
Necropolis: London and Its Dead by Catharine Arnold (Paperback - July 1, 2008)
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