For this month’s cemetery book review, I wanted to talk about Corpses, Coffins, and Crypts: A History of Burial by Penny Colman. This was the October selection of the AGS book club last year. I had never read this author before and was excited to dive into this one.
Here is the synopsis from Goodreads:
“Drawing on extensive historical and anthropological research, personal accounts, and interviews with people who work in the funeral industry, Penny Colman examines the compelling subjects of death and burial across cultures and societies. The text, enriched with stories both humorous and poignant, includes details about the decomposition and embalming processes (an adult corpse buried six feet deep without a coffin will usually take five to ten years to turn into a skeleton) and describes the various customs associated with containing remains (the Igala people in Nigeria have a custom of burying people in as many as twenty-seven layers of clothing). Intriguing facts are revealed at every turn; for example, in Madagascar winter was considered the corpse-turning season.
This comprehensive book also includes a list of burial sites of famous people, images in the arts associated with death, fascinating epitaphs and gravestone carvings, a chronology, a glossary, and over a hundred black-and-white photographs, most of which were taken by the author.
Penny Colman writes with compassion and intelligence and humanizes the difficult subjects of death and burial. The result is a powerful look at an inevitable part of life—death.”
This book touches on so many facets of death and burial. I enjoyed the way the author weaved in her own personal stories and experiences with death. It added a very personal touch. This book is also filled with beautiful black-and-white photographs that accentuate the content. I was lucky enough to find a reasonably affordable copy on Thrift Books. My copy is a previously loved hardcover library book, that is beautifully laid out. It has a wonderful flow that makes it a very easy read, and hard to put down.
This would be a great introduction for those who are interested in death and burial but may be bit intimidated by heavy reading. Colman touches on so many different aspects of death and burial, in a way that holds your attention and connects you to the history. I love that a handy chronology and glossary is also included at the back of the book.
I would highly recommend this book for those who are curious about death and burial practices, as well as seasoned taphophiles! It has a little something for everyone.
Have you read this book? Did you enjoy it? I would love to read your thoughts in the comments.
Thanks for reading!
I am always on the hunt for cemetery-related book recommendations. Please feel free to share in the comments. If you are an author and have a cemetery-related book you would like me to review, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear from you.
- Corpses, Coffins, and Crypts: A History of Burial | Goodreads.com