The best books about cemeteries

1 authors have picked their favorite books about cemeteries and why they recommend each book.

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Arcadian America

By Aaron Sachs,

Book cover of Arcadian America: The Death and Life of an Environmental Tradition

While some of us like to imagine humans as separate from nature, one moment where that boundary dissolves is with death. Inescapably, we will all eventually decompose and become a part of our environment. In Aaron Sach’s book, nineteenth-century Americans reckon with death through the creation of carefully landscaped cemeteries. What I particularly love about Arcadian America is how Sachs weaves his own memoir about his encounters with mortality in with the history he’s telling, making it a gripping page-turner.

Who am I?

Catherine McNeur is an award-winning historian, interested in the ways that issues of power impact how humans understand and transform their environments. She has long found the books, art, and other creative expressions that mischievously push at the edges of what we consider “nature” compelling, whether it’s a celebration of the beauty of weeds in an abandoned lot or nature writing on the flora in our guts. After having written about social and environmental battles in New York City, she is now researching the lives, work, and erasure of two forgotten female scientists from nineteenth-century Philadelphia. She lives in Oregon where she is a professor at Portland State University.

I wrote...

Taming Manhattan: Environmental Battles in the Antebellum City

By Catherine McNeur,

Book cover of Taming Manhattan: Environmental Battles in the Antebellum City

What is my book about?

Nineteenth-century New Yorkers had a lot to deal with—dodging surly, free-roaming hogs on the streets, surviving pandemics like cholera, managing the rank-smelling garbage and manure found around every turn, and much more.

Taming Manhattan is about the ways New Yorkers sought to clean things up, design parks, and make the city a healthier place. In other words, they were trying to take control of their environment and define what a city ought to be. But these changes were not easy, especially as a growing number of New Yorkers, particularly the poor and working-class, relied on urban agriculture and scavenging to survive. This book shows that issues surrounding gentrification and environmental justice are not as new as we might think they are, but instead have deep roots in the nineteenth century.

A Tomb With a View

By Peter Ross,

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

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.


Who am I?

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...

199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die

By Loren Rhoads,

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.

The Graveyard Book

By Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean (illustrator),

Book cover of The Graveyard Book

The clue is in the title, but with Neil Gaiman you always get more. What is great about Neil Gaiman’s stories is the way he balances the ordinary with the unusual, but what I love about his writing is that invariably I connect with the characters and they have an emotional heft. Bod Owens is a perfect example of that. (and what a clever name!) I challenge you to spend time in Bod’s world and not be affected by his story: it’s just not possible. You’ll find yourself desperately hoping Bod succeeds in achieving his dreams.


Who am I?

In case it isn’t obvious, I have a thing about graveyards. Maybe it’s being Irish-Catholic – it must be infused into my blood. It’s a rare family holiday that doesn’t involve a visit to the local cemetery. I think it’s the combination of gothic architecture with the sense of a social history collected. I have my own favourites (of course!) from Rock Cemetery in Nottingham to Pere Lachaise in Paris where the family spent an afternoon dodging the most unusual tour guide I have ever come across.


I wrote...

Twenty Years Dead

By Richard Farren Barber, Crystal Lake Publishing,

Book cover of Twenty Years Dead

What is my book about?

Six feet is not deep enough in this Mystery Thriller…

After twenty years in the ground, the dead briefly rise. At his father’s grave, this is Dave’s last opportunity to discover why a man would abandon his wife and young son. Against the protests of his mother and his girlfriend, Dave is determined to learn what happened all those years ago. Sometimes you have to risk everything, but the dead don’t give up their secrets so easily.

Fresh Water for Flowers

By Valérie Perrin, Hildegarde Serle (translator),

Book cover of Fresh Water for Flowers

I love books where I’m captivated by both the language and the characters, as I am in this startling novel told through the eyes of Violette Toussaint, the caretaker at a cemetery in a small town in Bourgogne. Violette says there are two confessionals in the town, one in the church, the other in her cottage, and I am totally entranced by the stories she hears and what she divulges about her own surprising past. Perrin’s story is magical. 


Who am I?

Since I was a young child, I have always craved tender and fierce stories more than food or drink or normal social life. Eavesdrop is the first word I remember learning. I grew up next door to a convent and the nuns in their black habits, would let me join them on their walks. Taking walks, whether in cities or in the woods, remains an important part of my life, for my sanity and my writing. Whether I’m writing a personal essay, a novel or a non-fiction book, strong and quirky voices are what pull me to the page.

I wrote...

The Wright Sister

By Patty Dann,

Book cover of The Wright Sister

What is my book about?

When Katharine Wright, a spirited and strong-willed suffragette, got married at 52 in 1926, her brother, Orville, refused to speak to her ever again! That is a fact. This short novel is an imagined story from Katharine’s point of view.

The book is a blend of two forms- letters Katharine writes to Orville when she moves 600 miles away to live with her journalist husband in Kansas City, and a marriage diary, where she writes about her passionate yet anguished life, late at night, often in the empty bathtub.

Where Are They Buried? How Did They Die?

By Tod Benoit,

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

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.


Who am I?

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...

199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die

By Loren Rhoads,

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.

Grave Matters

By Mark Harris,

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

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.


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.


I wrote...

The Green Burial Guidebook: Everything You Need to Plan an Affordable, Environmentally Friendly Burial

By Elizabeth Fournier,

Book cover of The Green Burial Guidebook: Everything You Need to Plan an Affordable, Environmentally Friendly Burial

What is my book about?

Funeral expenses in the United States average more than $10,000. And every year conventional funerals bury millions of tons of wood, concrete, and metals, as well as millions of gallons of carcinogenic embalming fluid. There is a better way, and Elizabeth Fournier, affectionately dubbed the “Green Reaper,” walks you through it, step-by-step. She provides comprehensive and compassionate guidance, covering everything from green burial planning and home funeral basics to legal guidelines and outside-the-box options, such as burials at sea. Fournier points the way to green burial practices that consider both the environmental well-being of the planet and the economic well-being of loved ones.

The American Resting Place

By Marilyn Yalom,

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

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.


Who am I?

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...

199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die

By Loren Rhoads,

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.

The Monkey's Paw

By W.W. Jacobs,

Book cover of The Monkey's Paw

The Monkeys Paw is one of those short stories we either read or heard someone tell us about it. And so it goes overlooked. If you havent read it, do yourself a favor and read it. If you have read it, do yourself a favor and revisit it. Its short, its available, its a horror classic, and its very likely what Stephen King had in mind when he wrote Pet Sematary


Who am I?

I grew up reading dark fiction, and the only two books I kept from that period were The Wicked Heart and Whisper of Death, both by Christopher Pike. Though both were categorized as horror, the first is a crime mystery that partly follows the murderer, while the latter feels like an episode out of The Twilight Zone. I never cared for pure horror, and a book doesn’t have to scare me for me to find them enjoyable. What I often wanted was a tangible sense of dread paired with insight into the human psyche, which I believe makes for a more potent reading experience. 


I wrote...

Lesath

By A.M. Kherbash,

Book cover of Lesath

What is my book about?

Amateur journalist Greg travels to a remote mountain area to investigate rumors of a sinister building only to find himself imprisoned there. As he tries to escape, he evinces symptoms of a strange affliction and struggles to remain conscious while maintaining an uncertain hold on reality.

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