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The American Way of Death Revisited Hardcover – July 21, 1998

70 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0679450375 ISBN-10: 0679450378 Edition: Rev Sub

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Editorial Reviews Review

The American Way of Death Revisited is almost unforgivably funny. Jessica Mitford's exposé of the funeral industry, a number one bestseller upon first publication, is a model of muckraking--an almost incredible description of how undertakers in the U.S. assault people's souls and wallets. Before her death in 1996, Mitford devoted most of her energy to this revised edition of her masterwork, which zeroes in on funeral prepayment (the chapter is titled "Pay Now--Die Poorer"), the new multinational funeral corporations ("A Global Village of the Dead"), and the Federal Trade Commission's failure to enforce the laws the first edition of this book helped bring about. The book's greatest treasure is probably her shocking and hilarious description of exactly what happens in the process of embalming. Equally impressive, however, is her chapter called "The Nosy Clergy," which describes the collusion and competition between America's undertakers and its preachers. --Michael Joseph Gross

From Publishers Weekly

At the time of her death in 1996, Mitford had nearly completed this revision of her 1963 bestseller, a scathing critique of the U.S. funeral industry. Extensively revised, with subsequent additions by her husband, lawyer Robert Treuhaft, Lisa Carlson, an activist in the funeral-reform movement, and research assistant Karen Leonard, Mitford's mordant look at the excesses of the high-pressure salesmanship and lapses of taste of the "death-care industry" still rings true, and the book will evoke readers' ire. Mitford identifies disturbing new trends: cremation, once a low-cost option, has become increasingly expensive as mortuaries pressure the bereaved to buy a "traditional" funeral with all the accoutrements. Monopolistic companies have moved into the field and now account for 20% of the nation's funerals. Furthermore, she charges, the Federal Trade Commission's lax enforcement of its 1984 rule banning morticians' deceptive practices has contributed to an upward spiral of prices and profits. Other developments of the 1990s perceptively analyzed here include the refusal of many funeral directors to embalm AIDS victims and the growing popularity of low-cost funeral and memorial service organizations, which are listed in an appendix.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; Rev Sub edition (July 21, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679450378
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679450375
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #421,785 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

92 of 95 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 20, 2000
Format: Paperback
As a long-time fan of the original "The American Way of Death," it pains me to rate this edition at only three stars. However, this updated edition is really something of a mess. It's not quite "The American Way of Death, 30th Anniversary Edition" and not quite an update, either.

Most of the text in this version of the book comes verbatim from the 1960-ish original. But scattered throughout are occasional paragraphs and sequences that are new. The main problem is that there is usually no indication of which paragraphs are which: at any given time, "now" could be 1960 or 1996. Since the original book included a lot of chronologically comparative material, you can never tell while reading this book if the paragraph you're on is comparing 1996 with 1960 or 1960 with the first half of the century. You often can't tell whether "$1,000" means $1,000 in 1960 or 1996. It's a basic and pervasive error, and one that prevented me from getting what I wanted out of the book (I was curious to know what had changed since the first edition was published).

Leaving all that aside, however, it's still a must-read, for several reasons: its deft, humorous writing, its information about the funeral industry, and its apparently broad influence on American culture. However, I'd suggest reading the original version. Judging from "Revisited", there's nothing much new under the sun: cremations are up, florists are less dependent on funerals, and funeral directors are just as weasily as ever.
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44 of 45 people found the following review helpful By D. J. Fone on April 15, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I was a funeral/cemetery sales professional for several years (my license is still active, should the economy continue so horridly that I must return).

I can attest to the truth of every word Jessica Mitford wrote then, and writes now. If there's one quote I wish she'd have heard direct from the horse's mouth, it's from one sales manager who told me "The most successful people in this business are 100% motivated by money...but are able to make the prospect/client believe money is the LAST thing on their mind."

I've seen shysters using every illegal and immoral trick in the book to persuade people to buy overpriced funeral/cemetery services (thanks to obscenely high commissions), and their employer quietly let them, reaping the tainted revenue, UNTIL someone complains, at which time the company takes the high road and discharges the employee for "violating our high standards".

The largest, oldest funeral/cemetery "combo" in my town employed a convicted financial swindler to sell preneed funeral and cemetery packages. I looked it up on the Web, and saw the County's case against him. At last meeting, he was telling coworkers he had hired a lawyer to get it reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor. I wonder how his victims would feel about that.

At the same place, the Records Room is so impossibly convoluted to find long-ago purchased property and services documents that it just became easier to tell a grieving family member, "I'm sorry about what that salesman told you 50 years ago, but that was never paid for.
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37 of 41 people found the following review helpful By on February 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Having lived half my life in the US and half in the UK, I was aware of fundamental differences in practices surrounding death and funeral rituals. Mitford's book provides a useful historical context with a biting criticism of the funeral industry's emotional and financial exploitation of the American public. It's baffling that such a consumer-wise nation could have such a huge blind spot when it comes to the one service which we will ALL use at some time. Depressingly, the mega funeral corporations are making their moves into the British and other world wide funeral markets -- with seemingly little opposition. In any case, I just hope I don't expire during my next visit to the US!
"The American Way of Death Revisited" provides a wealth of information, presented in a tactful and witty manner, to prepare anyone for "battle" with the funeral industry in the event of a loved one's death. It is clear and thorough without being ghoulish or flippant.
Read it now before you need it!
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38 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Peggy Vincent on November 24, 2003
Format: Paperback
Leave it to Jessica Mitford, who died in 1996, to make the subject of death and the American funeral industry so hilarious. First published to huge acclaim in 1963, The American Way of Death was revised and updated by Mitford, who nearly finished it by the time she died. Her lawyer husband, Robert Treuhaft, completed it with the help of some research assistants. Even a quick and cursory read of this book will make you take out a membership in the Neptune Society as a preemptive strike against high-pressure tactics of funeral home directors to get people (caught as their weakest as they are grieving over someone's death) to spend, spend, spend "to honor the memory of your dearly departed."
Mitford was known as the Original Muckraker for her habit of always speaking the truth, calling a spade a spade, and for probing into the cozy relationship between politicians, morticians, monopolistic ownership policies, the FTC, and federal lobbyists.
Interesting, updated, still drop dead (pun intended) funny, endlessly informative, witty and well-written with refreshing bluntness, The American Way of Death once again deserves to be read by everyone. And there's a terrific and informative appendix at the end.
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