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The Sacred Remains: American Attitudes Toward Death, 1799-1883 Hardcover – November 27, 1996


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; First Edition edition (November 27, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300064322
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300064322
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,089,559 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Gary Laderman is a professor of American religious history and cultures at Emory University. He is the author of two books on death in America: The Sacred Remains and Rest in Peace. Laderman is also the director and co-editor of the new online religion magazine, ReligionDispatches.org. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Joseph Johnstun on October 7, 2008
Format: Paperback
So ran an advertisement in a Washington, DC directory in 1863.

Gary Laderman here provides readers a survey of one of the most interesting aspects of the first century of United States history: how they cared for their dead. Using many contemporary newspapers, journals, letters and books, Laderman also draws on some never before used sources, such as the terrific collections of Old Sturbridge Village and the American Antiquarian Society.

While this text is not for either the casual reader or the faint of heart, it is a thoroughly researched introduction to the development of the American funerary system. Focusing mainly on the developments surrounding the American Civil War, Laderman does an excellent job of putting much of the most essential information together in one place.

Where the author falls short is in his focus of Northern and middle class customs, leaving out the South both before and during the Civil War, with the notable exception of George Washington's funeral. As such, it could be more appropriately subtitled. The other area where Laderman would have been well served to have expanded upon is the preparations of the deceased for burial in the antebellum years. Two pages seems hardly enough.

The work will serve the historian, anthropologist, and Civil War enthusiast very well.

While I agree with another reviewer that the text is scholarly rather than "popular," if one wishes to read a book about death and embalming that is full of action and adventure, the reader should stick to Ann Rice.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Linda Pagliuco VINE VOICE on October 29, 2013
Format: Paperback
Each October, I'm asked to give tours at several historic cemeteries here in CT. The Sacred Remains is the book I use most for fact checking and for answers to questions that visitors sometimes ask that I can't answer. Meticulously researched and documented, the book opens with an account of the many funerals of George Washington (GW's "invisible corpse"), with emphasis on how the extravagant, nationwide expressions of mourning affected Protestant American burial traditions and attitudes toward death itself, especially with respect to the physical remains. Adopting a cultural, sociological perspective, Dr. Laderman examines the spiritual, emotional, and psychological factors that influenced how families dealt with the preparation of the body of the deceased in the decades preceding the Civil War, when the vast majority of Americans died at home and were "laid out" by relatives and friends, and buried, necessarily, within a day or two. When the war began to produce an avalanche of disfigured corpses that died far from home, it became necessary to develop procedures for embalming those that would be transported from battlefield to their northern homes, introducing professional undertakers into what had been an intensely private process. Ending with the " birth of the "business of death" that occurred toward the end of the nineteenth century, with "corpse as commodity", the author illustrates how the mortuary industry ensured that the body would be "ushered out in a comforting manner for the living."

"The dead do not simply vanish when life is extinguished....The dead must also be accounted for in the imagination." The Sacred Remains is a compelling and important study of the ways in which Americans accomplish this task.
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By Paul V. Beyerl on December 23, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It's an excellent resource. This is one of my interests as a clergyman. I only wish I'd found this book when I was doing research for my own book!
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5 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Charles H. Levenson on February 27, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I suspect that somewhere out there a college-level course is given to all would-be college professors,a course in the fine art of lecturing with the aim of putting all but the most strong-willed student to sleep..Likewise,I suspect that there is a further course,for these same would-be college professors on how to write the most sleep-inducing texts possible..Surely if there are such courses given,Professor Gary Laderman MUST have excelled at the latter one,inasmuchas as his book"The Sacred Remains"stands as one of the most dry,boring,waste-of-time reads that I have ever encountered...

The subject matter,"American attitudes toward death-1799-1883",while not exactly everyone's cup of tea,has nonetheless been dealt with better by a whole raft of earlier authors,writers who,unlike Laderman,have the reader in mind.."Popular"histories,on almost any subject,are usually frowned upon by the college-professor type of author..I don't know why this is,especially as it seems hard enough these days to get anyone to read anything beyond trashy novels,self-help books and get-rich-quick tomes..Making the material of one's book "live",making it interesting and easy to follow are the keys to succeeding at this task..One would think that a"teacher"might reasonably be expected to be able to do so,but,somehow,most such works fail...They are about as interesting to read as the telephone directory,and about as well written..

Laderman takes the subject of death and dying and submerges it in dry,boring text passages,often accentuated by unnecessary,three-dollar words..
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