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Down Among the Dead Men: A Year in the Life of a Mortuary Technician Paperback – August 17, 2010

4.0 out of 5 stars 55 customer reviews

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Paperback, August 17, 2010
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

A 30-year-old British woman, bored with her National Health Service job, applies on a whim for a position as a trainee at a hospital mortuary. This entertaining memoir chronicles the author’s first year on the job, which sees her learning how to perform a postmortem, determine cause of death, and deal with grieving relatives and shady undertakers (among a lot of other things). She tells her story in a straightforward manner, not pulling any punches when it comes to describing her working environment (“He tugged at the guts and began to unwind them . . . .”), although this means there are occasional gruesome and shivery moments (“it was infested with maggots that were having a huge feast on human flesh”). Her colleagues are portrayed as ordinary men and women, not as a collection of comic stereotypes: one of the book’s key themes is that it’s an unusual job, but the people who do it are just regular folk. Not your run-of-the-mill occupational memoir, but definitely an interesting one. --David Pitt

About the Author

Michelle Williams is a senior lecturer in the department of sociology at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Soft Skull Press (August 17, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1593762984
  • ISBN-13: 978-1593762988
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #251,011 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By James Denny on November 8, 2010
Format: Paperback
Michelle William's biographical odyssey, "Down Among the Dead Men" is the story of her first year as a mortuary technician.

Does this sound like a job you would like? Could this be a job you aspire to? Read this book and find out!

After ten years of working for the national health service with disabled people, curiosity and the need for change lead her to apply for this job. Williams tells her tale in a straightforward, non-sensational narrative that "brings to life" what a mortuary technician does with the dead.

In reading this book, you'll learn some technical terminology. You will also learn new definitions for such common words as "crab" and "pluck."

After being accepted, her first few months in the hospital mortuary are something like an apprenticeship as she works with two much older and experienced male technicians who mentor her. Within a suprisingly short period of time, they come to accept her as a full-fledged member of the team, an occasion celebrated by a first-time pub crawl involving just the three of them. At this juncture, Williams realizes she has crossed the Rubicon. Her sense of duty and responsibility kick into high gear.

Teamwork proves to be very important in the business of doing post-mortems. Working effectively with hospital staff, funeral home directors, coroners, law enforcement officers and most important, the families of the deceased is essential, since smooth operations in the mortuary depend upon all of these parties.

Perhaps the personal climax of Williams' narrative is her quest to become certified near the end of her first year. As an over-30, she has gone without having to take tests for more than a decade. She has built up a high degree of test phobia.
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Comment 11 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Paperback
I enjoyed this story. I enjoyed learning about this profession and what's involved. However, the author's use of the English language is poor and she rambles a bit (for example, "...and he wasn't smelling too clever either." Her tales of the mortuary were interesting, but I didn't want to know about her pub crawls and drinking binges. More enjoyable would've been better detail about the procedures and the politics involved in working in the NHS system in Britain('bound to be plenty!). She ought to have used a darn good editor and the book probably would've made her mint.
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Format: Paperback
Since I myself am going into the field of Mortuary Science I was rather curious about this book, needlessly to say that this book helped it greatly. I got to look at what it's like to be a Mortuary Technician though it takes place in the U.K (I'm from the states) I'm glad Michelle Williams could shed some light on the subject.
This book is hard to put down at times, but sometimes can be a little dreadful since the author rambles on about trivial things, which probably shouldn't have made it into the story what so ever.
Along with the rambling of the author whoever did the editing was doing a rather poor job all together. I've noticed that some of the sentences in the book don't go together misplaced periods and commas and the reoccurring story of how a guide dog led a man into a field who had a fate with a harvester. Please take note that this did not happen, the dog was a regular farm dog. The story goes that the man (who is deaf by the way) is taking his dog on a walk when he happens to take a nap in the middle of a field and doesn't hear the harvester coming.
A very good read, but I had to take away two stars due to the bad editing and the false statement of the fellow and the harvester.
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Format: Paperback
I found this book delightful, despite (or perhaps due to?) the less than beautiful descriptions of dead bodies in various stages of decay and abuse. The things we see and read today get so sanitized and "prettied up" that it is truly a treat to be exposed to real, real life--not the made up, doctored and produced crap we are fed on "reality" T.V.

Michelle Williams simply relates the story of her new job as a mortuary technician with Britain's National Health Service (NHS), giving us a complete description of her and her coworkers' duties, dedication (or not) to the job, and personalities. She also includes what they do during their off time, just in case we believe that working in a mortuary somehow makes you anything other than just a human.

I enjoyed the humor--yes there is humor--probably because my dad loved death humor so I was exposed early and often! For example, my dad's favorite joke of all time involved the road construction worker who was run over by one of those huge road roller machines that flattens out newly laid asphalt. It was a weekend and the funeral home was closed, so they just slipped him under the door. (I swear, my dad was not weird! He was just really, really funny.)

I also recognized the people because I grew up in a very tiny town where everyone knew everyone else, and all stories were public. I went to school with the children of the local undertaker/funeral home owner. He had a fine collection of classic cars, lent a couple to the makers of the 1967 movie Bonnie and Clyde, and was rewarded by first having to harass them into returning his cars, and then by getting them back with "bullet" holes in them! Believe me when I tell you that this was the event of the decade in that town!

If you are not put off by real life descriptions of things you don't usually see or even want to see personally, and would like some laughs, then I highly recommend this book. It's a fun, quick, and easy read.
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