From Publishers Weekly
To rescue the dead from oblivion, examine America's ethnic diversity and highlight shifts in cemetery mores over time, cultural historian Yalom (A History of the Breast
) and her photographer son (Colonial Noir
) traveled to more than 250 American cemeteries across the country. From the ancient Native American Etowah mounds in northern Georgia (abandoned around 1550, when the tribes were presumably destroyed by European diseases) to Rhode Island's Touro Jewish Cemetery, established in 1677 (it inspired a moving poem by Longfellow), Yalom examines the ways gender, class and culture affected how people were buried. New Orleans's cemeteries, for instance, show discrepancies between white and black residents: whites were buried in aboveground tombs, blacks in soggy earth that sometimes forced remains back up to the surface. Chicago's Waldheim holds Gypsies and anarchist Emma Goldman, while the moneyed aristocrats Marshall Field and Cyrus McCormick ended up in Graceland Cemetery. While rich, interesting nuggets abound, the mount of time and territory covered results in some shallow analysis. 80 b&w photos. (May 15)
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Yalom is a cultural historian; her son, Reid, is an author and photographer. Together they have produced a curious, interesting, and surprisingly moving examination of the American practices of death ceremonies and burial ranging from pre-Jamestown Native American burial mounds to our contemporary, industrialized methods. The well-written text covers a variety of topics, including class and racial distinctions in cemeteries, religious tensions engendered by the building of a Muslim cemetery after 9/11, and an examination of how municipalities are coping with overcrowded burial sites. But it is the remarkable collection of more than 60 photographs that is likely to stir emotions. These include haunting images of lonely crosses at a Spanish mission, rows of well-manicured gravesites in California, and ancient tombstones with barely legible epitaphs at a Jewish cemetery in South Carolina. Both general readers and those with a specific interest in this unusual subject should find value in this work. --Jay Freeman