The best books about burial

Who picked these books? Meet our 17 experts.

17 authors created a book list connected to burial, and here are their favorite burial books.
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As I Lay Dying

By William Faulkner,

Book cover of As I Lay Dying

Susan Scarf Merrell Author Of Shirley

From the list on that only get better with time.

Who am I?

I’m a writer, a teacher of writers in the MFA program at Stony Brook Southampton, and one of the founding directors of the novel incubation program, BookEnds. In the course of a year, I read as many as 125 novels. It can be tiring on the eyes, but I really love what I do. And each year, I make sure to return to some of my old favorites, the books that keep giving back to me more and more with each reading. Some of these books were tough to love at first, but over time, they’ve become the most important, loved novels in my library. Not everything or everyone needs to be easy to love!

Susan's book list on that only get better with time

Discover why each book is one of Susan's favorite books.

Why did Susan love this book?

I always try to find reasons to read William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, the painfully sad story of a family hauling their mother’s body to her hometown in order to bury her. Addie Bundren’s life has been sad and dreary, but the path to her resting place is even more so, replete with flood and fire, as well as a post-death monologue that contains one of the most psychologically complete rationalizations in literary history. Every time I read this book, I understand each of the Bundren family members more deeply, and have greater sympathy for the yoke their circumstance has harnessed them to.

As I Lay Dying

By William Faulkner,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked As I Lay Dying as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The death and burial of Addie Bundren is told by members of her family, as they cart the coffin to Jefferson, Mississippi, to bury her among her people. And as the intense desires, fears and rivalries of the family are revealed in the vernacular of the Deep South, Faulkner presents a portrait of extraordinary power - as epic as the Old Testament, as American as Huckleberry Finn.


Greening Death

By Suzanne Kelly,

Book cover of Greening Death: Reclaiming Burial Practices and Restoring Our Tie to the Earth

Elizabeth Fournier Author Of The Green Burial Guidebook: Everything You Need to Plan an Affordable, Environmentally Friendly Burial

From the list on if you literally want to go green when you die.

Who am I?

Saving the planet one death at a time is truly what the world needs now: to reduce our carbon footprint and go out in eco-friendly style. As the one-woman funeral service in the rural town of Boring, Oregon, I support the philosophy of old-school burial practices that are kinder to both humans, the earth, and our wallets. I have humbly been baptized the Green Reaper for my passionate advocacy of green burial, and as an undertaker and the owner and undertaker of Cornerstone Funeral, the first green funeral home in the Portland area. I love to devour all literature possible on green burial and environmentally friendly death care.

Elizabeth's book list on if you literally want to go green when you die

Discover why each book is one of Elizabeth's favorite books.

Why did Elizabeth love this book?

A great anthropological read about the past 150 years of death care in this country. She discusses the ingrained traditions held so closely by the public over decades of death. There are so many destructive practices we cling to when someone dies. Suzanne unpacks the sack of societal behaviors that have been none-too-friendly on our precious environment. Our customary American demise practices, which include the procedure of embalming, hardwood and metal caskets, and concrete burial vaults and grave liners, only strengthen this saga.

Greening Death

By Suzanne Kelly,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

We once disposed of our dead in earth-friendly ways-no chemicals, biodegradable containers, dust to dust. But over the last 150 years death care has become a toxic, polluting, and alienating industry in the United States.

Today, people are slowly waking up to the possibility of more sustainable and less disaffecting death care, reclaiming old practices in new ways, in a new age. Greening Death traces the philosophical and historical backstory to this awakening, captures the passionate on-the-ground work of the Green Burial Movement, and explores the obstacles and other challenges getting in the way of more robust mobilization. As the…


Book cover of How Much of These Hills Is Gold

Morgan Thomas Author Of Manywhere

From the list on folks seeking genderqueer ancestry.

Who am I?

I came to genderqueer histories searching for a reflection of myself that I couldn’t find in my immediate environment (the rural American South). Early on, I thought I’d found it—historical figures, both real and fictional, who shared my gender identity. But as I’ve continued to research, I’ve realized that the reflections of history are less a mirror image, more a reflection in water—fluid and distorting. Genderqueer people throughout history use different language for their identities, navigate different social and family systems, and express their gender in different ways. In the space created by this difference, I’ve begun to understand my gender as a thing that changes, too, across space and time.

Morgan's book list on folks seeking genderqueer ancestry

Discover why each book is one of Morgan's favorite books.

Why did Morgan love this book?

In this poetic, ranging novel, C. Pam Zhang reimagines an American western through the eyes of two siblings—Lucy and her younger sibling Sam, who packs with a half-carrot. We follow the two of them as they navigate natural disasters and Sinophobia in the American West circa the 1860s. In a time when I was working to steady my own sibling relationship, I found Lucy and Sam’s complicated, distanced, but nonetheless durable and caring connection deeply comforting. The book reminds us that family is complex and that there’s a lot of blurry ground between outright rejection and acceptance.

How Much of These Hills Is Gold

By C. Pam Zhang,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked How Much of These Hills Is Gold as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

LONGLISTED FOR THE BOOKER PRIZE 2020

LONGLISTED FOR THE RATHBONES FOLIO PRIZE 2021

A BARACK OBAMA BOOK OF THE YEAR 2020

'The boldest debut of the year . . . It is refreshing to discover a new author of such grand scale, singular focus and blistering vision' Observer

America. In the twilight of the Gold Rush, two siblings cross a landscape with a gun in their hands and the body of their father on their backs . . .

Ba dies in the night, Ma is already gone. Lucy and Sam, twelve and eleven, are suddenly alone and on the…


Reimagining Death

By Lucinda Herring,

Book cover of Reimagining Death: Stories and Practical Wisdom for Home Funerals and Green Burials

Mallory McDuff Author Of Our Last Best Act: Planning for the End of Our Lives to Protect the People and Places We Love

From the list on change your relationship with death and heal Earth.

Who am I?

I teach environmental education at Warren Wilson College outside Asheville, North Carolina, where I’ve raised my two daughters in a 900-square-foot campus rental with an expansive view of the Appalachian mountains. My students work in jobs ranging from managing the herd of cattle to growing vegetables for the cafeteria. After the sudden deaths of my parents, I decided to take this one-year journey to revise my final wishes with climate change and community in mind as a legacy to my children and my students. I’ve written five books, including the forthcoming Love Your Mother: 50 states, 50 stories, & 50 women united for climate justice (April 2023). 

Mallory's book list on change your relationship with death and heal Earth

Discover why each book is one of Mallory's favorite books.

Why did Mallory love this book?

I was drawn to this book for its focus on stories about death care practices that empower family and friends to connect with the land and each other while honoring the dead. The author is a licensed funeral director who helped me understand what to do when someone dies and you want to care for the body at home, rather than at a funeral home. At first, my teenager wasn’t thrilled about the idea of a home funeral (“I’ll pay for a Motel Six!” she said), but these stories helped me reassure her that I could provide support to people to handle logistics and prepare a plan in advance. 

Reimagining Death

By Lucinda Herring,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Honor your loved ones and the earth by choosing practical, spiritual, and eco-friendly after-death care

Natural, legal, and innovative after-death care options are transforming the paradigm of the existing funeral industry, helping families and communities recover their instinctive capacity to care for a loved one after death and do so in creative and healing ways. Reimagining Death offers stories and guidance for home funeral vigils, advance after-death care directives, green burials, and conscious dying. When we bring art and beauty, meaningful ritual, and joy to ease our loss and sorrow, we are greening the gateway of death and returning home…


Book cover of The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Death and Burial

Julia Troche Author Of Death, Power, and Apotheosis in Ancient Egypt: The Old and Middle Kingdoms

From the list on the enduring power of the dead in our lives.

Who am I?

I love zombie movies. I am also an Egyptologist. The dead affect us in profound ways every day, even without being semi-animated corpses searching for brains. I have always been keenly interested in the relationships we have with our dead, be it Halloween, Día de los Muertos, or an urn on a mantle. The dead are with us and inform our lives. The same was true in ancient Egypt. And to me, this made the ancient Egyptians feel very familiar and accessible. They, too, were anxious about death. They, too, grieved when loved ones were gone and developed practices and beliefs that kept the dead ‘alive’. 

Julia's book list on the enduring power of the dead in our lives

Discover why each book is one of Julia's favorite books.

Why did Julia love this book?

I love teaching from this book because I learn something new every time I pick it up. This robust volume includes chapters that cover how death was understood in a wide range of cultural contexts, from antiquity (e.g. “Ancient Identities: Age, Gender and Ethnicity in Ancient Greek Burials” or “The Place of Veneration in Earl South Asian Buddhism) to the contemporary (e.g. “Contested Burials: The Dead as Witnesses, Victims, and Tools” or “The Archaeology and Material Culture of Modern Military Death”). At over 800 pages, this book may seem overwhelming, but each chapter can be excerpted on its own. My favorite is “The Powerful Dead of the Inca” because it parallels the questions and paradigms I tackle in my own work on ancient Egypt dead, some 3000 years and 7,800 miles away. 

The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Death and Burial

By Sarah Tarlow, Liv Nilsson Stutz,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Death and Burial as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Death and Burial reviews the current state of mortuary archaeology and its practice, highlighting its often contentious place in the modern socio-politics of archaeology. It contains forty-four chapters which focus on the history of the discipline and its current scientific techniques and methods.

Written by leading, international scholars in the field, it derives its examples and case studies from a wide range of time periods, such as the middle palaeolithic to the twentieth century, and geographical areas which include Europe, North and South America, Africa, and Asia. Combining up-to-date knowledge of relevant archaeological…


Grave Matters

By Mark Harris,

Book cover of Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial

Elizabeth Fournier Author Of The Green Burial Guidebook: Everything You Need to Plan an Affordable, Environmentally Friendly Burial

From the list on if you literally want to go green when you die.

Who am I?

Saving the planet one death at a time is truly what the world needs now: to reduce our carbon footprint and go out in eco-friendly style. As the one-woman funeral service in the rural town of Boring, Oregon, I support the philosophy of old-school burial practices that are kinder to both humans, the earth, and our wallets. I have humbly been baptized the Green Reaper for my passionate advocacy of green burial, and as an undertaker and the owner and undertaker of Cornerstone Funeral, the first green funeral home in the Portland area. I love to devour all literature possible on green burial and environmentally friendly death care.

Elizabeth's book list on if you literally want to go green when you die

Discover why each book is one of Elizabeth's favorite books.

Why did Elizabeth love this book?

This is the book where it all began. Mark Harris opened up eyes and hearts to the beauty of burying our loved ones naturally and on our own terms. I had never read such a clear reality of the embalming process and how Americans morphed from simple home burial to the industrial Googleplex of the funeral business. Want to be buried in your backyard or with a sheet off your bed? Read this book! The author is a former environmental columnist with the Los Angeles Times Syndicate and his work has been featured in many fabulous places.

Grave Matters

By Mark Harris,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Synopsis coming soon.......


This Republic of Suffering

By Drew Gilpin Faust,

Book cover of This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War

Evie Yoder Miller Author Of Shadows

From the list on the intertwinings of war, conscience, and religion.

Who am I?

The main reason I care about the relationship of war, conscience, and religion is because I believe strongly in the separation of church and state. A country’s methods of pursuing its best interests, include the use of power and warfare. Religions, however, make central: love your neighbor as much as you love yourself. People need to develop a conscience about what principle matters most. In the Civil War, the old tenet, an “eye for an eye,” was used to justify killing others for reasons of advantage or revenge. But I want to be involved instead in creating peace and justice for all.

Evie's book list on the intertwinings of war, conscience, and religion

Discover why each book is one of Evie's favorite books.

Why did Evie love this book?

Death is everywhere in war: on the battlefield, in a disease-ridden hospital, or in childbirth on the home front. Drew Gilpin Faust’s non-fiction book, This Republic of Suffering, brings eye-popping numeric data to the prevalence of death in war. But she never stops at the surface level of how many deaths, or how many unidentified soldiers or improper burials occur during the Civil War. I was caught up entirely as Faust’s words, riveting and respectful of all the pain and loss, showed how death became an ennobling transformation for many people, either in the cause of racial standing or of Union/secessionist preservation.

This Republic of Suffering

By Drew Gilpin Faust,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked This Republic of Suffering as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST • An "extraordinary ... profoundly moving" history (The New York Times Book Review) of the American Civil War that reveals the ways that death on such a scale changed not only individual lives but the life of the nation.

More than 600,000 soldiers lost their lives in the American Civil War. An equivalent proportion of today's population would be six million. In This Republic of Suffering, Drew Gilpin Faust describes how the survivors managed on a practical level and how a deeply religious culture struggled to reconcile the unprecedented carnage with its belief…


Over My Dead Body

By Greg Melville,

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

Seth Mallios Author Of Cemeteries of San Diego

From the list on the reality 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.”

Seth's book list on the reality of cemeteries across America

Discover why each book is one of Seth's favorite books.

Why did Seth love 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

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…