My favorite books about cemeteries

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up down the road from the little graveyard where my grandfather was buried. By accident, I discovered the glorious Victorian-era Highgate Cemetery in 1991. A friend sent me to explore Paris’s Pere Lachaise Cemetery – and I was hooked. I’ve gone from stopping by cemeteries when I travel to building vacations around cemeteries I want to see. I’ve gone out of my way to visit cemeteries in the Czech Republic, Greece, Italy, Japan, Spain, Singapore, and across the United States. At the moment, I’m editing Death’s Garden Revisited, in which 40 contributors answer the question: “Why is it important to visit cemeteries?”

I wrote...

Book cover of 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die

What is my book about?

Over 3 million tourists flock to Paris's Pere Lachaise Cemetery each year. They are lured there, and to many cemeteries around the world, by a combination of natural beauty, ornate tombstones, notable residents, vivid history, and even wildlife. Many also visit Mount Koya cemetery in Japan, where 10,000 lanterns illuminate the forest setting, or Oaxaca, Mexico to witness the Day of the Dead. 

199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die features these unforgettable cemeteries, along with 196 more, in more than 300 photographs. In this bucket list of travel musts, author Loren Rhoads, who hosts the popular Cemetery Travel blog, details the history and features that make each destination unique.

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The books I picked & why

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

Loren Rhoads Why did I love 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.

By Marilyn Yalom,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The American Resting Place as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An illustrated cultural history of America through the lens of its gravestones and burial practices—featuring eighty black-and-white photographs.

In The American Resting Place, cultural historian Marilyn Yalom and her son, photographer Reid Yalom, visit more than 250 cemeteries across the United States. Following a coast-to-coast trajectory that mirrors the historical pattern of American migration, their destinations highlight America’s cultural and ethnic diversity as well as the evolution of burials rites over the centuries.

Yalom’s incisive reading of gravestone inscriptions reveals changing ideas about death and personal identity, as well as how class and gender play out in stone. Rich particulars…

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

Loren Rhoads Why did I love 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.

By Douglas Keister,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Stories in Stone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Certain symbols abound in modern Western culture that are instantly recognizable: the cross signifies Christianity, the six-pointed Star of David is revered by Jews, the golden arches frequently means it's time for lunch. Other symbols, however, require a bit of decoding-particularly those found in cemeteries. Cemeteries are virtual encyclopedias of symbolism. Engravings on tombstones, mausoleums and memorials tell us just about everything there is to know about a person: date of birth and death as well as religion, ethnicity, occupation, community interests, and much more. In the fascinating new book Stories in Stone: The Complete Guide to Cemetery Symbolism by…

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

Loren Rhoads Why did I love 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.

By Tod Benoit,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Where Are They Buried? How Did They Die? as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Where Are They Buried? has directed legions of fervent fans and multitudes of the morbidly curious to the graves, monuments, memorials, and tombstones of the nearly 500 celebrities and antiheroes included in the book.

The most complete and well-organized guide on the subject by far, every entry features an entertaining capsule biography full of little-known facts, a detailed description of the death, and step-by-step directions to the grave, including not only the name of the cemetery but the exact location of the gravesite and how to reach it. The book also provides a handy index of grave locations organized by…

Book cover of Necropolis: London and Its Dead

Loren Rhoads Why did I love 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.

By Catharine Arnold,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Necropolis as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From Roman burial rites to the horrors of the plague, from the founding of the great Victorian cemeteries to the development of cremation and the current approach of metropolitan society towards death and bereavement -- including more recent trends to displays of collective grief and the cult of mourning, such as that surrounding the death of Diana, Princess of Wales -- NECROPOLIS: LONDON AND ITS DEAD offers a vivid historical narrative of this great city's attitude to going the way of all flesh. As layer upon layer of London soil reveals burials from pre-historic and medieval times, the city is…

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

Loren Rhoads Why did I love 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.

By Peter Ross,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Tomb With a View as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?



'In his absorbing book about the lost and the gone, Peter Ross takes us from Flanders Fields to Milltown to Kensal Green, to melancholy islands and surprisingly lively ossuaries . . . a considered and moving book on the timely subject of how the dead are remembered, and how they go on working below the surface of our lives.' - Hilary Mantel

'Ross is a wonderfully evocative writer, deftly capturing a sense of place and history, while bringing…

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