The best books that embrace the reality (and super-spooky creepiness) of cemeteries across America

Who am I?

I have inventoried hundreds of cemeteries and thousands of historic gravestones, my mentor (Jim Deetz) wrote the seminal study that brought the study of gravestones into archaeology, and I truly believe the words of former English Prime Minister William E. Gladstone, who said, “Show me the manner in which a nation or a community cares for its dead and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender sympathies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land and their loyalty to high ideals.”


I wrote...

Cemeteries of San Diego

By Seth Mallios, David M. Caterino,

Book cover of Cemeteries of San Diego

What is my book about?

San Diego has a rich and unique cultural history that can effectively be told through the commemoration of its dead. Local cemeteries throughout the city reflect San Diego’s multiethnic cultural dynamism and pinpoint marked shifts from Native American to Spanish to Mexican to American governance. They also reveal the current struggle for space in a burgeoning metropolis. Graveyards, with their individually detailed and hauntingly beautiful monuments, offer an unrivaled historic yet continuous glimpse at the essence of this diverse community. The story of San Diego’s cemeteries is a telling narrative that offers remarkable insight into the evolution of “America’s Finest City.”

The books I picked & why

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Over My Dead Body: Unearthing the Hidden History of America’s Cemeteries

By Greg Melville,

Book cover of Over My Dead Body: Unearthing the Hidden History of America’s Cemeteries

Why this book?

Greg Melville’s Over My Dead Body: Unearthing the Hidden History of America’s Cemeteries is a highly personal yet richly researched investigation into the history of U.S. cemeteries. Best of all, Melville doesn’t just study gravestones or the final resting place of famous people, he takes a deep dive into nearly every aspect of memorialization, including landscapes, mortuary practices, economics, and social rituals.

Over My Dead Body: Unearthing the Hidden History of America’s Cemeteries

By Greg Melville,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A lively tour through the history of US cemeteries that explores how, where, and why we bury our dead The summer before his senior year in college, Greg Melville worked at the cemetery in his hometown, and thanks to hour upon hour of pushing a mower over the grassy acres, he came to realize what a rich story the place told of his town and its history. Thus was born Melville's lifelong curiosity with how, where, and why we bury and commemorate our dead. Melville's Over My Dead Body is a lively (pun intended) and wide-ranging history of cemeteries, places…


Elysium: A Gathering of Souls: New Orleans Cemeteries

By Sandra Russell Clark,

Book cover of Elysium: A Gathering of Souls: New Orleans Cemeteries

Why this book?

This is one of the few books on cemeteries that captures the unmistakable ethereal beauty of graveyards. Sandra Clark’s spectacular photographic collection of images from some of America’s most breathtaking memorials in New Orleans brings together art and science, soliloquy and stone, and most importantly, life and death.

Elysium: A Gathering of Souls: New Orleans Cemeteries

By Sandra Russell Clark,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This work is a collection of photographs of the various cemeteries in New Orleans, which attempts to capture their atmosphere and spirit.


Death and Rebirth in a Southern City: Richmond's Historic Cemeteries

By Ryan K. Smith,

Book cover of Death and Rebirth in a Southern City: Richmond's Historic Cemeteries

Why this book?

Death and Rebirth in a Southern City: Richmond’s Historic Cemeteries is two books in one. It is a traditional survey of a particular region’s graveyards that is rich in history and lore. But it also exposes historical racial inequities in the care of a city’s dead and sets the stage for current activism that is seeking to reclaim important sites of memorialization for the area’s disenfranchised population and its current descendants.

Death and Rebirth in a Southern City: Richmond's Historic Cemeteries

By Ryan K. Smith,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Death and Rebirth in a Southern City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This exploration of Richmond's burial landscape over the past 300 years reveals in illuminating detail how racism and the color line have consistently shaped death, burial, and remembrance in this storied Southern capital.

Richmond, Virginia, the former capital of the Confederacy, holds one of the most dramatic landscapes of death in the nation. Its burial grounds show the sweep of Southern history on an epic scale, from the earliest English encounters with the Powhatan at the falls of the James River through slavery, the Civil War, and the long reckoning that followed. And while the region's deathways and burial practices…


Cemetery Stories: Haunted Graveyards, Embalming Secrets, and the Life of a Corpse After Death

By Katherine Ramsland,

Book cover of Cemetery Stories: Haunted Graveyards, Embalming Secrets, and the Life of a Corpse After Death

Why this book?

For many of us who study cemeteries, there is a danger of thinking that these landscapes of the dead are just bodies and gravestones. Katherine Ramsland’s Cemetery Stories: Haunted Graveyards, Embalming Secrets, and the Life of a Corpse After Death is one of the few books out there that details every step between death and internment, which are just as revealing about American culture as a fancy gravestone epitaph or a biography of a deceased local celebrity.

Cemetery Stories: Haunted Graveyards, Embalming Secrets, and the Life of a Corpse After Death

By Katherine Ramsland,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Never look at a grave the same way again

Admit it: You're fascinated by cemeteries. We all die, and for most of us, a cemetery is our final resting place. But how many people really know what goes on inside, around, and beyond them?

Enter the world of the dead as Katherine Ramsland talks to mortuary assistants, gravediggers, funeral home owners, and more, and find out about:

Stitching and cosmetic secrets used on mutilated bodies Embalmers who do more than just embalm The rising popularity of cremation art Ghosts that infest graveyards everywhere

If you've ever scoffed at the high…


The Graveyard Book

By Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean (illustrator),

Book cover of The Graveyard Book

Why this book?

Whenever I give a public lecture on American cemeteries, there is always a point in the program in which a young person in the audience asks me if I have read The Graveyard Book. Few works of fiction capture the magic and mystery of a cemetery the way Gaiman’s masterpiece does. This book is a great reminder for all historians and archaeologists that research and scholarship are never entirely independent from imagination.

The Graveyard Book

By Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked The Graveyard Book as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When a baby escapes a murderer intent on killing his entire family, who would have thought it would find safety and security in the local graveyard? Brought up by the resident ghosts, ghouls and spectres, Bod has an eccentric childhood learning about life from the dead. But for Bod there is also the danger of the murderer still looking for him - after all, he is the last remaining member of the family. A stunningly original novel deftly constructed over eight chapters, featuring every second year of Bod's life, from babyhood to adolescence. Will Bod survive to be a man?


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in cemeteries, historic sites, and New Orleans?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about cemeteries, historic sites, and New Orleans.

Cemeteries Explore 18 books about cemeteries
Historic Sites Explore 12 books about historic sites
New Orleans Explore 83 books about New Orleans

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