The best books about cemeteries

The Books I Picked & Why

The American Resting Place: 400 Years of History Through Our Cemeteries and Burial Grounds

By Marilyn Yalom

Book cover of The American Resting Place: 400 Years of History Through Our Cemeteries and Burial Grounds

Why this book?

Even though it’s 12 years old, this is still the definitive history of burial grounds in America. I honestly cannot rave about it enough. Although the book looks dry and intimidating, I promise you it’s anything but. Yalom provides solid information about the history of burial and burial grounds in the United States, leavened with personal reflections inspired by the graveyards she visited as she researched. If anything can inspire a desire to travel to visit cemeteries, The American Resting Place will set your feet on the path.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography

By Douglas Keister

Book cover of Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography

Why this book?

Although there are several good dictionaries of gravestone symbols, none are as comprehensive and beautifully illustrated as Stories in Stone. It contains an immense number of photographs — often three to a page — so there is much on which to feast your eyes. Douglas Keister is the leading American photographer of gravestones.

There’s food for thought as well. In the opening section I learned about the significance of tumulus graves and their link to ancient warriors. The Victorian language of flowers is reflected on headstones, as is the 20th-century proliferation of fraternal organizations.

The book’s tall, skinny format encourages readers to take it along to the graveyard, the way you’d take a birding book to the park.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Where Are They Buried? How Did They Die?

By Tod Benoit

Book cover of Where Are They Buried? How Did They Die?

Why this book?

Any collection of famous people’s gravesites is going to be idiosyncratic. Ask 10 people whose graves they would like to visit and you will get 100 different answers. That said, this is the most entertaining and reasonably comprehensive encyclopedia of the graves of the famous that you will find outside of Find-a-Grave. I’ve gotten hours of fun from it.

Since it contains very few grave monument photographs, Where Are They Buried? includes a whole lot of people whose ashes have been scattered. I would have loved to leave a rose at the grave of John Lennon, but the Strawberry Fields mosaic in Central Park will have to do.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Necropolis: London and Its Dead

By Catharine Arnold

Book cover of Necropolis: London and Its Dead

Why this book?

London is basically built over layer upon layer of graves. I was thoroughly fascinated by the Bronze Age tumulus on Parliament Hill, which Arnold calls one of the oldest burial grounds in the city, predating Highgate Cemetery by over 4000 years.

The book really grabbed me when it explored the plague pits of the Middle Ages. I could have read much more about those centuries, although so little seems to be left above ground to mark them. The Tudor chapters were equally fascinating.

Once the book moves into the exquisite Victorian-era graveyards, Arnold hits her stride. If you are new to the study of all things dead in London, this is crucial material.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

A Tomb With a View: The Stories and Glories of Graveyards

By Peter Ross

Book cover of A Tomb With a View: The Stories and Glories of Graveyards

Why this book?

Although Ross’s book appears to be a guide to visiting graveyards, its focus often turns toward the people who work there: gravediggers, tour guides, historians, and even memorial artists. One of my favorite essays in the book introduces a modern maker of death masks, whose work appears on three headstones in Highgate Cemetery. The eulogy for “the best-known guide at the most famous cemetery in Ireland” nearly brought me to tears.

A Tomb With A View tells the stories of the graveyards and their dead, true, but most of all Ross conveys how the relationships between the dead and those who remain behind deepen with time. A lovely, life-affirming book.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Closely Related Book Lists

Distantly Related Book Lists