The most recommended books about funerals

Who picked these books? Meet our 33 experts.

33 authors created a book list connected to funerals, and here are their favorite funeral books.
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Book cover of The Darkness Echoing: Exploring Ireland’s Places of Famine, Death and Rebellion

Philip R. Stone Author Of 111 Dark Places in England That You Shouldn't Miss

From my list on 'dark tourism’ and our difficult heritage.

Why am I passionate about this?

I first turned to the ‘dark side’ of travel when a student of mine introduced me to ‘dark tourism’. Sadly the world is littered with places of tragedy where our misfortunes are exposed by dark tourism. As a social scientist, I have been writing about visiting our significant dead for over 20 years. I am fascinated as to why particular deaths are remembered, by whom, and how our dead are (re)presented within visitor economies. I have lectured and published extensively within academia, as well as being a media consultant. I continue to tell tales of our dead and how we attach cultural importance to certain kinds of death. 

Philip's book list on 'dark tourism’ and our difficult heritage

Philip R. Stone Why did Philip love this book?

During a personal pilgrimage visiting Ireland’s dissonant heritage sites, Gillian O’Brien takes us on a dark tourism odyssey. This book should inspire all to embrace dark tourism and shine light on the recesses of troubled histories. What I love about this book is that O’Brien invites us to explore notions of nationhood by visiting sites of war, revolution, famine, death, emigration, and even diasporic ghosts. It is this strange allure of Ireland’s difficult past that creates a unique and unmistakable sense of ‘Irishness’. The book is not a scholarly monologue but an authoritative account of a dark quest. Witty and well-written, the book connected me to Irish landscapes, its places, and people, and most of all, to the strange enhancement I found in the island’s dark past. 

By Gillian O'Brien,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Irish Times Top 10 Bestseller!

From war to revolution, famine to emigration, The Darkness Echoing travels around Ireland bringing its dark past to life

Ireland is a nation obsessed with death. We find a thrill in the moribund, a strange enchantment in the drama of our dark past. It's everywhere we look and in all of our beloved myths, songs and stories that have helped to form our cultural identity. Our wakes and ballads, our plays and famine sites, all of them and more come together to tell ourselves and the world who we are and what we have…


Book cover of Good Mourning

Todd Harra Author Of Mortuary Confidential: Undertakers Spill the Dirt

From my list on aspiring funeral directors or with a morbid streak.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been in the funeral profession my entire professional career, and my family has deep roots in the profession too. My great-great-great grandfather was a cabinet maker, or “tradesman undertaker” in rural Milford, Delaware prior to the Civil War. In addition to being a funeral director and embalmer, I’m a certified post-mortem reconstructionist and cremationist, and the president of the Delaware State Funeral Directors Association. I’ve written five books on the subject of the funeral profession and am an associate editor for Southern Calls, “The Journal of the Funeral Profession.”

Todd's book list on aspiring funeral directors or with a morbid streak

Todd Harra Why did Todd love this book?

During the course of my work week, I get a lot of people telling me they currently are interested in the funeral profession, or if they are of retirement age, they were interested in their younger days. Which begs the question: how do you get started in the profession? Society-girl Meyer simply went in and asked for a job at an East-side funeral home after planning her own father’s funeral. The book details how she helped plan some amazing send-offs for the Big Apple’s rich and famous, and I think is a great how-to for “rolling your sleeves up and giving something a try.” I read somewhere that the experience motivated her to attend mortuary school. Fun read. 

By Elizabeth Meyer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Synopsis coming soon.......


Book cover of Living with the Dead

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

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

Why am I passionate about this?

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

Julia Troche Why did Julia love this book?

Dr. Harrington offers an accessible yet meticulous overview of the role of the dead in ancient Egyptian society, with a general, but not exclusive, focus on the New Kingdom. Her book was published while I was just starting my dissertation and it was inspiring to see a project that dealt with similar themes being published. I admit, I also love this book because it was the first time someone ever made reference to me and my research in a footnote. It made me feel like my work was worthwhile and for that, I am eternally grateful to Dr. Harrington.    

By Nicola Harrington,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Living with the Dead as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Living with the Dead presents a detailed analysis of ancestor worship in Egypt, using a diverse range of material, both archaeological and anthropological, to examine the relationship between the living and the dead. Iconography and terminology associated with the deceased reveal indistinct differences between the blessedness and malevolence and that the potent spirit of the dead required constant propitiation in the form of worship and offerings. A range of evidence is presented for mortuary cults that were in operation throughout Egyptian history and for the various places, such as the house, shrines, chapels and tomb doorways, where the living could…


Book cover of The Greatest People I Never Knew

Alexandra Kathryn Mosca Author Of Grave Undertakings: Mortician by Day, Model by Night

From my list on funeral directors and for funeral directors.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have worked as a funeral director for more than 35 years and write regularly about funeral service. Since I wrote my first book, Grave Undertakings, in 2003, there’s been a proliferation of books about funeral service. Funeral directors have many stories to tell, and some of the best are by those who have worked in the trenches and gleaned profound insight into the work that we do. I’m less enamored about the books that are written for sensationalism and excessively hyped. That said, I’m always on the lookout for a good book by a colleague who writes about the work that we do with sincerity and compassion. 

Alexandra's book list on funeral directors and for funeral directors

Alexandra Kathryn Mosca Why did Alexandra love this book?

Funeral directors often wonder about the lives of those they serve. Obituaries offer clues, but are limited in scope. Funeral director Eric Daniels decided to learn more about some of the lives entrusted to his care. Wanting them to be more than a “body” Daniels delves into the lives of “ordinary people who lived extraordinary lives.” In the book’s prologue, Daniels writes that the people he chose were those “who made a lasting impact on me because of the difference they made in the lives of others.”

Writing the book, Daniels says, enriched his own life. It also left a lasting legacy for the families of those whose lives he chronicled. An added bonus for readers is that the book’s forward was written by Dr. Alan Wolfelt, one of the country’s foremost grief experts.

By Eric M Daniels,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Greatest People I Never Knew as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When you lose someone you love, you learn new things about them-often from strangers who were touched by the one you lost. This book is about how thirteen people touched the man who met them in his Funeral Home. Without ever knowing them personally-hearing their laughter or seeing their tears-Eric Daniels describes how he's come to understand and value the lives of those he tended to in death. In today's busy and uncertain world, the stories presented here are gentle reminders to appreciate the blessings of each day. They are also a source of comfort for those who've lost family…


Book cover of The Political Lives of Dead Bodies: Reburial and Postsocialist Change

Greta Lynn Uehling Author Of Everyday War: The Conflict over Donbas, Ukraine

From my list on the connection between personal relationships.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a cultural anthropologist, I'm like a cultural detective, exploring the intricate and often heart-wrenching world of war, conflict, and population displacement. But before you envision me in a dusty library, let me share that I found my passion for unraveling the everyday, lived experiences of war while living in Ukraine, where I became close to incredible individuals whose lives had been profoundly altered by war. When people shared with me how Russian aggression was tearing apart their cherished friendships and family bonds, I knew I had to delve into the profound effects of war on personal relationships. So, here I am, on a mission to illuminate the hidden stories, and the untold struggles, that are so important. 

Greta's book list on the connection between personal relationships

Greta Lynn Uehling Why did Greta love this book?

Katherine Verdery was on my PhD dissertation committee and her insights have long influenced my work.

This dry and ironically humorous book shows how corpses and statues do indeed have political “lives,” expanding readers’ awareness of who counts and what matters. The book gave me courage and inspiration to write a chapter about volunteer body collectors in Ukraine in my book. I explore how and why they cared about the human remains that the military had left behind.

In both books, care for the dead is life-affirming and helps establish new kinds of political order.

By Katherine Verdery,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Political Lives of Dead Bodies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Since 1989, scores of bodies across Eastern Europe have been exhumed and brought to rest in new gravesites. Katherine Verdery investigates why certain corpses-the bodies of revolutionary leaders, heroes, artists, and other luminaries, as well as more humble folk-have taken on a political life in the turbulent times following the end of Communist Party rule, and what roles they play in revising the past and reorienting the present. Enlivening and invigorating the dialogue on postsocialist politics, this imaginative study helps us understand the dynamic and deeply symbolic nature of politics-and how it can breathe new life into old bones.


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

Loren Rhoads Author Of This Morbid Life: Essays

From my list on death-positive memoirs.

Why am I passionate about this?

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.

Loren's book list on death-positive memoirs

Loren Rhoads Why did Loren 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 From 'Hear' to Forever

Alexandra Kathryn Mosca Author Of Grave Undertakings: Mortician by Day, Model by Night

From my list on funeral directors and for funeral directors.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have worked as a funeral director for more than 35 years and write regularly about funeral service. Since I wrote my first book, Grave Undertakings, in 2003, there’s been a proliferation of books about funeral service. Funeral directors have many stories to tell, and some of the best are by those who have worked in the trenches and gleaned profound insight into the work that we do. I’m less enamored about the books that are written for sensationalism and excessively hyped. That said, I’m always on the lookout for a good book by a colleague who writes about the work that we do with sincerity and compassion. 

Alexandra's book list on funeral directors and for funeral directors

Alexandra Kathryn Mosca Why did Alexandra love this book?

In 2018, Danny Jefferson was selected “Funeral Director of the Year” by his colleagues. That honor was more than just the culmination of many years of hard work. It was especially gratifying for Jefferson, whose success was hard-won. Hearing impaired since birth, he not only became licensed as a funeral director, but also realized his dream of owning a funeral home. In his book, Jefferson writes candidly about the unique challenges he faced, and overcame, along the way in both his personal and professional life. He hopes that by sharing his story, it will inspire others not to let their own challenges, whatever they are, hold them back from achieving their goals. His friend, and co-author Raymond Reid, a noted artist, helped choose the book's title and also created the cover.

By Danny Jefferson, Raymond Reid,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked From 'Hear' to Forever as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Funeral Director's Triumph Over Adversity Danny Jefferson remembers being laughed at and bullied. He remembers talking too loud and too much. That's what deaf people do. His roller coaster journey through life will lead you from heartfelt tears to joyous laughter, as well as admiration for his many accomplishments along the way. Enjoy the ride!


Book cover of For You When I Am Gone: Twelve Essential Questions to Tell a Life Story

Elisabeth Sharp McKetta Author Of Edit Your Life: A Handbook for Living with Intention in a Messy World

From my list on inspiring you to change your life.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an American author and writing teacher for both Harvard and Oxford’s online writing programs. I am also a mother of two who lived three years in a tiny backyard guest house with my family in an effort to focus more on what we love. Editing books is a practice I have honed over decades, and when my family was stuck in a living situation that felt unsustainable, the clearest way forward was for me to ask myself how I might edit our way out of it. It worked! In this book, I share the most valuable eight principles that we learned through the process.

Elisabeth's book list on inspiring you to change your life

Elisabeth Sharp McKetta Why did Elisabeth love this book?

A powerful case for thinking deeply and clearly about what legacies we leave behind for those we love.

Leder suggests that an ethical will—unlike an ordinary will—be a summary of our life’s wisdom. Asking such questions as ‘What do you regret?’ and ‘When did you lead with your heart?’ Leder offers a wise and inspiring way to live a life of value that is a blessing for others to remember.

By Steve Leder,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked For You When I Am Gone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller!

From the bestselling author of The Beauty of What Remains, a guide to writing a meaningful letter about your life.

Writing an ethical will, a document that includes stories and reflections about your past, is an ancient tradition. It can include joy and regrets, and ultimately becomes both a way to remember a loved one who is gone and a primer on how to live a better, happier life. Beloved Rabbi Steve Leder has helped thousands of people to write their own ethical wills, and in this intimate book helps us write…


Book cover of Celebrations of Death: The Anthropology of Mortuary Ritual

Gillian Gillison Author Of Between Culture and Fantasy: A New Guinea Highlands Mythology

From my list on the anthropology of myth and ritual.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in a family of beautiful, accomplished women at a time when most women stayed home. But the spectacular women in my mother's family also suffered spectacularly, and I was determined to understand family life at its very roots. I studied anthropology and, over a 15-year period, lived in a remote part of the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea among a group of Gimi women who spent most of their time apart from men. I shared women's difficult daily lives, participated in their separate rites, learned their myths, and, through my writing, have devoted myself to giving them voices of their own.

Gillian's book list on the anthropology of myth and ritual

Gillian Gillison Why did Gillian love this book?

A fascinating in-depth look at why ideas of Dead White Men of the late 19th and early 20th CenturyÉmile Durkheim, Arnold van Gennep, Robert Hertzstill matter and are, indeed, indispensable for understanding funerals and death rituals in places like Borneo, Bali, Thailand, early Egypt, Africa, and America. 

By examining mortuary rites cross-culturally, the authors expose elements of a 'deep structure' in ritual that may be universal, thus offering the 'thrill of recognition' of ourselves in others.

By Peter Metcalf, Richard Huntington,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This revised edition of a cross-cultural study of rituals surrounding death has become a standard text in anthropology, sociology and religion. Part of its fascination is that in understanding other people's death rituals we are able to gain a better understanding of our own. The authors refer to a wide variety of examples, from different continents and epochs. They compare the great tombs of the Berawan of Borneo and the pyramids of Egypt, as well as the dramas of medieval French royal funerals and the burial alive of the Dinka 'masters of the spear' in the Sudan, and other rituals…


Book cover of Undertakings of an Undertaker: True Stories of Being Laid to Rest

Alexandra Kathryn Mosca Author Of Grave Undertakings: Mortician by Day, Model by Night

From my list on funeral directors and for funeral directors.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have worked as a funeral director for more than 35 years and write regularly about funeral service. Since I wrote my first book, Grave Undertakings, in 2003, there’s been a proliferation of books about funeral service. Funeral directors have many stories to tell, and some of the best are by those who have worked in the trenches and gleaned profound insight into the work that we do. I’m less enamored about the books that are written for sensationalism and excessively hyped. That said, I’m always on the lookout for a good book by a colleague who writes about the work that we do with sincerity and compassion. 

Alexandra's book list on funeral directors and for funeral directors

Alexandra Kathryn Mosca Why did Alexandra love this book?

In his book, funeral director Stanley Swan ponders the question, “Are we destined before birth to be what is planned for us?” In Swan’s case, that just may be so. He shares several childhood experiences that he believes may have foreshadowed his career. In one reminiscence, he recounts how he tenderly cared for the remains of a dead sparrow. In another, Swan describes watching the local undertaker conduct a burial in the small cemetery adjacent to his family’s dairy farm in upstate New York, where Swan often played and explored. Fifteen years later, he enrolled in mortuary school and soon after was serving as a funeral director for his community. In his 40-year career, Swan witnessed the public tragedies that were 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina as well as the deaths of many of the locals he knew as friends. He writes about them all and offers a window into how…

By Stanley Swan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Could these remains, yet to be identified, be one of the victims of Rochester's Genesee River killer? Did the mourner in the chapel with the casket and the deceased actually think there was an apparition present? Is it legal to bury a man with no pants? Would a man really drive his deceased wife to a mortuary instead of calling the authorities? Those ashes seeping from the fractured urn...imagined or real? The black cat visiting the deceased man's wake...a family friend or fiend? These are just some of the intriguing, unusual and funny stories to be found in Undertakings of…