Over My Dead Body: Unearthing the Hidden History of America's Cemeteries
January 24, 2023 6:57 AM - Subscribe

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 that have mirrored the passing eras in history but have also shaped it. Cemeteries have given birth to landscape architecture and famous parks, as well as influenced architectural styles. They’ve inspired and motivated some of our greatest poets and authors—Emerson, Whitman, Dickinson. They’ve been used as political tools to shift the country’s discourse and as important symbols of the United States' ambition and reach.

But they are changing and fading. Embalming and burial is incredibly toxic, and while cremations have just recently surpassed burials in popularity, they’re not great for the environment either. Over My Dead Body explores everything—history, sustainability, land use, and more—and what it really means to memorialize.

(description from publisher's site)
posted by quatsch (2 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think this was a reasonable survey of American cemetery history, but I wish there had been more depth. I did appreciate the author's take on military burials, but if you're at all conversant with American dead people history (which one might expect for the audience of a book on the topic), you might come away feeling like this book is a retread. The author's voice didn't jibe with me, which is definitely coloring my take!
posted by quatsch at 7:03 AM on January 24, 2023 [1 favorite]

I read this recently too. The author's tone is definitely light, which is probably the right tone to take in a popular book relating to death, but I can imagine it grating.

The author's approach is to focus on one cemetery per chapter (or in one case, two cemeteries), and use it as a lens through which to look some aspect of U.S. history. He unavoidably mentions some cemeteries outside the U.S., but doesn't spend much time on them (Père Lachaise unsurprisingly gets the most time). A more international focus would have been interesting, but would have made for a much bigger book. As it is, there wasn't anything I'd have cut.
posted by adamrice at 12:21 PM on January 24, 2023

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