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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Rest in Peace: A Cultural History of Death and the Funeral Home in Twentieth-Century America

Rest in Peace: A Cultural History of Death and the Funeral Home in Twentieth-Century America

1 rating: 4.0
A book by Gary Laderman

Rest in Peace A Cultural History of Death and the Funeral Home in Twentieth-Century America Gary Laderman      DescriptionThough it has often been passionately criticized--as fraudulent, exploitative, even pagan--the American funeral … see full wiki

Author: Gary Laderman
Genre: Natural Resources, Service, Social Services & Welfare, Customs & Traditions, Folklore & Mythology, Death, see all
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
Date Published: February 24, 2005
1 review about Rest in Peace: A Cultural History of Death...

Not a very pleasant topic but one that all of us are going to have to deal with at some point.

  • Jan 28, 2010
  • by
Rating:
+4
Several years ago I read Jessica Mitford's "American Way of Death Revisited" a 1998 update of her classic book about the funeral industry.  I came away with an extremely unfavorable opinion of the funeral industry as a whole.  So when I came across "Rest In Peace: A Cultural History of Death and the Funeral Home in Twentieth-CenturyAmerica" I thought that it might be a good idea to give consideration to the opposing viewpoint.  Gary Laderman's sympathetic portrait of the funeral business makes some very valid points.  He traces the origins of the industry from Civil War times and the gradual transition from funerals conducted at the home to the modern concept of the funeral home.  Today's funeral director has assumed a myriad of responsibilities formerly left to the family.  Laderman points out that conscientious funeral directors are on call 24 hours a day/7 days a week and make great sacrifices in their personal lives to take care of grief stricken families in their time of need.  And the influx of immigrants from Spanish speaking countries, Asia and the Middle East has certainly complicated the task as funeral directors scramble to meet the particular needs of those indivduals. 

In "Rest In Peace" Gary Laderman does devote several pages to what most people consider to be the real problem in the funeral business today.  Two or three major corporations are beginning to dominate the industry.  Led by Houston based SCI Corp. these companies have been buying up local funeral homes at an alarming rate.  What is most deceptive about this practice is that they usually keep the same name, giving customers the impression that the business is still locally owned and operated.  Furthermore, these giant corporations are vertically integrating, meaning that they now also own all or a piece of casket manufacturers, florists etc.  Inevitably, this kind of control results in price fixing and higher costs for consumers.  These giant corporations have read the demographics and have determined that as the "baby boom" generation ages death will be a most profitable business in the coming decades.  These corporations now control nearly a quarter of all of the funeral homes in this country.  The author quotes a funeral director who makes the point: "There's a big difference between corporations and family run funeral homes.  Corporations are an assembly line.  When you've got them in your office sell them everything you can.  The interest of the sole proprietor is providing good service, helping a family through trying times."  The author also discusses cremation and some of the alternative funeral services that are now emerging.  All in all, I found "Rest in Peace: A Cultural History of Death and the Funeral Home in Twentieth-Century America" to be a very worthwhile read, though a bit long winded at times.  I think it is very important that people become conversant in these issues before they are in the position of having to plan a funeral themselves.  I would strongly recommend reading both Laderman's work as well as Jessica Mitford's offering to get a balanced view of the issues involved.    Highly recommended!
Not a very pleasant topic but one that we are all going to have to deal with at some point. Not a very pleasant topic but one that we are all going to have to deal with at some point. Not a very pleasant topic but one that we are all going to have to deal with at some point. Not a very pleasant topic but one that we are all going to have to deal with at some point.

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