Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory (Paperback)

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Staff Reviews

Caitlin Doughty does for us what Jessica Mitford did in 1963 with The American Way of Death. Doughty writes a beautiful and thought-provoking memoir, reminding us that, as Americans, we do not acknowledge or respect death as a reality of life. She discusses how we've allowed our grieving and death rituals to become cold and commercialized. An honest look into the modern death industry and how we don't - but really should - understand it. 

— From Chelsea

Did you ever read the first line of a book to see if it grabbed you? Well, this odd memoir grabbed me from the first sentence and wouldn't let go until the end of the source notes. Most of us probably hold at least a little bit of morbid curiosity about what goes on behind the doors at your local crematorium. Your curiosity will be more than satisfied by Ms. Doughty's account of her years as a burgeoning mortician. In addition to details such as how they keep those darn eyelids closed during the funeral, Doughty educates us on death rituals from around the world and obscure funeral laws. There was a day when the families of the dead were responsible for preparing the bodies for burial, but -- with the advent of the funeral business -- our society has become detached from the reality of death, to the point of denial. Doughty seeks to reconnect us with the very last page of the last chapter in our book of life.

— From Mark B.


Most people want to avoid thinking about death, but Caitlin Doughty--a twenty-something with a degree in medieval history and a flair for the macabre--took a job at a crematory, turning morbid curiosity into her life's work. Thrown into a profession of gallows humor and vivid characters (both living and very dead), Caitlin learned to navigate the secretive culture of those who care for the deceased.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes tells an unusual coming-of-age story full of bizarre encounters and unforgettable scenes. Caring for dead bodies of every color, shape, and affliction, Caitlin soon becomes an intrepid explorer in the world of the dead. She describes how she swept ashes from the machines (and sometimes onto her clothes) and reveals the strange history of cremation and undertaking, marveling at bizarre and wonderful funeral practices from different cultures.

Her eye-opening, candid, and often hilarious story is like going on a journey with your bravest friend to the cemetery at midnight. She demystifies death, leading us behind the black curtain of her unique profession. And she answers questions you didn't know you had: Can you catch a disease from a corpse? How many dead bodies can you fit in a Dodge van? What exactly does a flaming skull look like?

Honest and heartfelt, self-deprecating and ironic, Caitlin's engaging style makes this otherwise taboo topic both approachable and engrossing. Now a licensed mortician with an alternative funeral practice, Caitlin argues that our fear of dying warps our culture and society, and she calls for better ways of dealing with death (and our dead).

Product Details
ISBN: 9780393351903
ISBN-10: 0393351904
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: September 28th, 2015
Pages: 272
Language: English