In One Word

In One Word, From Here to Eternity: Travelling the World to Find The Good Death by Caitlin Doughty is…

from here to eternity

  • First published in 2018 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
  • Format: Physical Book
  • Reading Time: 14 fascinating days


  • I got this book over a year ago for Christmas and haven’t been able to find a space in it for my reading challenges until now. Now, I have found space in Bookforager’s Picture Prompt Book Bingo as this fits the skeleton prompt nicely. Creator of Ask A Mortician takes a trip around the world to discover how other cultures care for their dead from sky burials to mummified skulls. Though it is a trip through the morbid unknown, it is also a trip of discovering our own attitudes towards death and towards taking a very unflattering look at the American funeral industry.
  • Never describes anything just for shock value but clearly explains why each culture does what it does and how it shows respect for the dead. It doesn’t just say ‘these people have different beliefs/do things differently’ and leave it at that. The author actually bothers to explain why things are different in other countries e.g. why deaths by suicide are so prevalent in Japan. The comparison to Bill Bryson in some reviews is a fair one as it’s clear the author’s done her research. 
  • Sprinkled with playful humour throughout that never comes off as mocking or patronising but adds the right amount of levity to keep you reading.
  • It touches on a few of the things mentioned in the Ask A Mortician videos, including the Gram Parsons corpse heist caper. It only mentions them briefly, though, and there’s plenty of original material in here so it doesn’t feel like repetition of what fans already know.
  • Goes into great depth on the rituals and also on the biology of decomposition, mummification and the various ways a body can be disposed of. It never gets too technical, thankfully, but it might not be for people with sensitive stomachs. Then again, I don’t think people with sensitive stomachs would pick up this book anyway and those that do probably want to have their sensitivity pushed a bit as these are important matters.
  • Has great illustrations throughout that are pretty realistic. I think I liked the pictures from Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? better but these are still good. I particularly liked the two-page spread in the Japanese chapter of the Ruriden columbarium.
  • The other people on the author’s trip get a good turn in the spotlight too. In particular, her admiration for Paul, whose singular appearance gets attention and whose charm gets her into a lot of places, is infectious. This book is full of big personalities but it’s also full of poignant personal stories. The best example of that is Mexico chapter which includes a deeply personal story from Doughty’s friend and travel companion, Sarah. That one is easily the most heart-breaking section of the book as it includes facing up to internalised self-hatred, the loss of a child and dealing with awful abortion clinic protestors so consider this a trigger warning.
  • Fantastic commentary on how female bodies are viewed, particularly in Christianity, in the Bolivia chapter. I must admit, I never thought to consider that but this book is full of such things that, once pointed out to you, do seem like things worth exploring.
  • Undertaking a bit of myth-busting when it comes to the American chapters, especially around the so-called ‘green’ things to do with a person’s ashes touted on social media (that turn out to be anything but). In true Doughty fashion, the book also exposes some of the shady practices practiced by the funeral industry that is even getting to natural burials. The book even goes so far as to challenge what Westerners mean by ‘dignity’ and ‘respect’. I must admit, I agree with the point that it usually just means shutting up, not making a scene and not betraying the depths of the grief you’re feeling for the sake of not making everyone around you uncomfortable.
  • Like all her other books, this lifts the lid not only on Western funerals but on Western attitudes to death. This book encourages us to push back against the first thoughts we may have of dismay and disgust at what to some readers might seem like an appalling lack of respect. It makes us realise that these cultures are actually showing more respect to the dead and the bereaved than so-called ‘first world cultures’ show. This book gives us a selection of alternatives to Western norms and will certainly make you think about what ‘dignity’ and ‘respect’ really mean when it comes to the dead.

Goodreads Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Did you agree with my rating? Can you think of a better word to describe it? Please let me know with a like, share or comment.

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