Review of From Here to Eternity—Death Around the World

If you’re a fan of macabre content on Youtube, you’ve probably already come across Caitlin Doughty and her popular web series “Ask a Mortician.” In her videos, Caitlin combines absurd, witty humor with professional insight to answer viewers’ questions about death. Apart from being a Youtube star, Caitlin has also founded an organization called The Order of the Good Death, which aims to dismantle the cultural taboos we’ve built up around talking about the fate that awaits us all. In 2015, she published her first book—a memoir called Smoke Get in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory. You can read my glowing review of that book here. Now her highly anticipated second book has finally arrived, and it’s every bit as good as the first! From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death hits shelves tomorrow, October 3. You can also check Caitlin’s website to see if she’s doing any signings at the bookstores or cemeteries in your area.

From Here to Eternity explores different death rituals and funeral practices around the world, based on Caitlin’s travels and research. The book contains gorgeous illustrations by Landis Blair, which bring to life the mummified corpses, fiery pyres, and elaborate homes for the dead that Caitlin describes in her writing. Each chapter focuses on an unusual death practice from a different city around the world. This includes everything from America’s only open-air pyre in Crestone, Colorado, to a community in South Sulawesi, Indonesia, that live with their mummified family members, and a skull festival in La Paz, Bolivia. By showcasing these different traditions, Caitlin points out the diversity in the concept of the “good death.” There isn’t just one right way to care and show respect for the dead (despite what the corporate funeral industry in America might have you believe). The book aims to broaden the minds of its readers and show what options are out there. How can we each engage with death in ways that feel personally meaningful?

Although many of the practices described in the pages of From Here to Eternity will be unfamiliar and even strange to the average reader, Caitlin’s goal here isn’t to shock, titillate, or disgust. Instead, she presents a nuanced and compassionate view of the death practices of other cultures—and even of her own culture. Chapters on American cities in Colorado, North Carolina, and California are interspersed between the more exotic locales like Mexico, Japan, Bolivia, and Indonesia to place them all on the same level. Caitlin challenges us to let go of our own cultural biases and see the value in such diverse death practices.

While this material may seem kind of heavy, Caitlin’s writing is always approachable. Throughout the book, she inserts witty commentary in parentheses in a way that makes you feel as though she’s there telling the story to you. She works in plenty of humor, and more than once I found myself laughing out loud while reading. Yet, she still conveys the respect that such a topic deserves. Though the book is extremely informative, it never sounds pedantic or overly academic. Whether you’re a death-enthusiast and long-time follower of Caitlin’s work or someone who has never given much thought to the topic of death before, From Here to Eternity has something for everyone.

Find From Here to Eternity in stores tomorrow, or click the link below to buy it online from an independent bookstore, and support The Gothic Library in the process!

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