The best books for the death curious

Who am I?

For 10 years, I edited Morbid Curiosity magazine. I believe that curiosity is the most important aspect of being human. More than the simple desire to know things, curiosity is a tool as powerful as a scalpel or a searchlight. Curiosity is a way to effect change, in our own lives and in the world. Morbid Curiosity magazine taught me to believe in the power of story, especially in the form of memoirs. Only by telling our own stories can we overcome our fears and find inspiration in death. Investigating my own relationship with death led me to write This Morbid Life. These books illuminated my search.

I wrote...

This Morbid Life: Essays

By Loren Rhoads,

Book cover of This Morbid Life: Essays

What is my book about?

What others have called an obsession with death is really a desperate romance with life. Guided by curiosity, compassion, and a truly strange sense of humor, This Morbid Life is detailed through a death-positive collection of 45 confessional essays. Along the way, author Loren Rhoads takes prom pictures in a cemetery, spends a couple of days in a cadaver lab, eats bugs, survives the AIDS epidemic, chases ghosts, and publishes a little magazine called Morbid Curiosity. These emotionally charged essays showcase the morbid curiosity and dark humor that transformed Rhoads into a leading voice of the curious and creepy.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death

Why did I love this book?

I liked Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, mortician Caitlin Doughty's first book. It was breezy and fun, with the same sense of humor as her Ask A Mortician videos. In From Here to Eternity, her quest for the one right way to respectfully handle the dead broadens into an exploration of all the ways people around the world commemorate their loved ones and deal with their remains. Caitlin crisscrosses the globe, trying to understand what the dead mean to us and how we can keep their memories alive. There's a lot to think about -- and a lot of comfort -- here.

By Caitlin Doughty,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked From Here to Eternity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Fascinated by our pervasive fear of dead bodies, mortician Caitlin Doughty embarks on a global expedition to discover how other cultures care for the dead. From Zoroastrian sky burials to wish-granting Bolivian skulls, she investigates the world's funerary customs and expands our sense of what it means to treat the dead with dignity. Her account questions the rituals of the American funeral industry-especially chemical embalming-and suggests that the most effective traditions are those that allow mourners to personally attend to the body of the deceased. Exquisitely illustrated by artist Landis Blair, From Here to Eternity is an adventure into the…

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

Why did I love this book?

As much as Ross's book is about visiting graveyards, it's even more about the people who work in graveyards: from gravediggers to tour guides to historians to memorial artists. One of my favorite essays in the book is about the Iranian father who built an exquisite monument to his 11-year-old son in London's poshest cemetery. Another favorite is the discussion with a modern maker of death masks. The eulogy for "the best-known guide at the most famous cemetery in Ireland" nearly brought me to tears. Ross tells the stories of the graveyards and their dead, true, but most of all he conveys that the relationships between the dead and those who remain deepen with time. What 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…

Book cover of Dark Archives: A Librarian's Investigation Into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin

Why did I love this book?

Medical librarian Megan Rosenbloom works as part of a team traveling the world to scientifically test books allegedly bound in human skin. Her curiosity is tempered by compassion as she tells the stories of the librarians who preserve the books, those who collected them, and those who may or may not have provided their hides to the books themselves. This could easily be a gruesome history, but it's not. Rosenbloom's humanity shines through, as she pursues answers to her questions with remarkable sensitivity.

By Megan Rosenbloom,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Dark Archives as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Dark Archives, Megan Rosenbloom, a medical librarian and a cofounder of the Death Salon, seeks out the historic and scientific truths behind this anthropodermic bibliopegy. Dozens of these books still sit on the shelves of the world's most famous libraries and museums. What are their stories? Dark Archives exhumes their origins and brings to life the doctors, murderers, mental patients, beautiful women, and indigents whose lives are bound together in this rare, scattered, and disquieting collection. It also tells the story of the scientists, curators, and librarians like Rosenbloom - interested in the full complicated histories behind these dark…

Book cover of This Party's Dead: Grief, Joy and Spilled Rum at the World's Death Festivals

Why did I love this book?

After Erica Buist's father-in-law died at home, a week passed before she and her husband found the body. Grief -- and the realization that everyone she knew would someday die -- hit Buist so hard that she couldn't leave her apartment. As a way to heal, she decided to travel to seven festivals around the world where death is celebrated, where the dead are still treated as part of the family. Her subsequent adventures in Mexico, Nepal, Sicily, Thailand, Madagascar, Japan, Indonesia, and New Orleans are both poignant and heartening. Her sense of humor shines through her experiences and makes this book laugh-out-loud funny at points.

By Erica Buist,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked This Party's Dead as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What if we responded to death... by throwing a party?

By the time Erica Buist's father-in-law Chris was discovered, upstairs in his bed, his book resting on his chest, he had been dead for over a week. She searched for answers (the artery-clogging cheeses in his fridge?) and tried to reason with herself (does daughter-in-law even feature in the grief hierarchy?) and eventually landed on an inevitable, uncomfortable truth: everybody dies.

With Mexico's Day of the Dead festivities as a starting point, Erica decided to confront death head-on by visiting seven death festivals around the world - one for every…

Book cover of Body of Work: Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab

Why did I love this book?

Before she decided to study medicine, Christine Montross was a poet. She deploys the full beauty of language to explore how it feels to be a first-year medical student dissecting a cadaver in her gross anatomy class. Over the course of the year, Montross conveys much information about how the human body works and how doctors-to-be learn, but her primary focus is on her emotional journey, which spanned from being a student with no understanding beyond her own body to being someone able to heal anyone who comes to her for help. Lovely, powerful, and instructive, I hope this book is required reading for incoming med students. 

By Christine Montross,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A "gleaming, humane" (The New York Times Book Review) memoir of the relationship between a cadaver named Eve and a first-year medical student

Medical student Christine Montross felt nervous standing outside the anatomy lab on her first day of class. Entering a room with stainless-steel tables topped by corpses in body bags was initially unnerving. But once Montross met her cadaver, she found herself intrigued by the person the woman once was and fascinated by the strange, unsettling beauty of the human form. They called her Eve. The story of Montross and Eve is a tender and surprising examination of…

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