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The American Way Of Death Revisited


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* Review coverage in national press

About the Author

Jessica Mitford (1917-1996), sister of Nancy Mitford, was born in England and emigrated to America in 1939. She wrote six books and enjoyed a splendid reputation as a muckraking journalist. She died in 1996 in Oakland, California.


For today's baby boomers, this updated classic will be an eye-opener about the exploitation and corruption of America's funeral industry. The total average cost of an adult's funeral today is $7800, compared with $750 in 1961. Mitford, who died in 1996, exposes the continuing scams of prepaid funeral and cemetery plans and funeral insurance policies and the loopholes of the Federal Trade Commission's "trade rule." Worst of all is the unscrupulous practice of monopoly ownership of independent funeral homes and cemeteries by multinational corporations, particularly Service Corporation International (SCI), with its strategies of "clustering" and anonymity. The current spirit of social activism evidenced by nonprofit funeral and memorial societies, particularly the Funeral and Memorial Societies (FAMSA), and the growing acknowledgment of consumers' legal rights to care for their own dead are serving as a check to the funeral industry's high costs and practices. Very interesting, informative, and easy to read, this book is written with wit, solid information, and refreshing bluntness. Everyone will benefit from it. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/1/98.]‘Edward G. McCormack, Univ. of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Lib., Long Beach

'Macabre, disturbing, amusing' - Time Out 'Subversive, aristocrat, mother, political activist, investigative journalist, writer ... sister and friend' - Jon Snow

At the time of her death in 1996, Mitford had nearly completed this revision of her 1963 bestseller, a scathing critique of the U.S. funeral industry. Extensively revised, with subsequent additions by her husband, lawyer Robert Treuhaft, Lisa Carlson, an activist in the funeral-reform movement, and research assistant Karen Leonard, Mitford's mordant look at the excesses of the high-pressure salesmanship and lapses of taste of the "death-care industry" still rings true, and the book will evoke readers' ire. Mitford identifies disturbing new trends: cremation, once a low-cost option, has become increasingly expensive as mortuaries pressure the bereaved to buy a "traditional" funeral with all the accoutrements. Monopolistic companies have moved into the field and now account for 20% of the nation's funerals. Furthermore, she charges, the Federal Trade Commission's lax enforcement of its 1984 rule banning morticians' deceptive practices has contributed to an upward spiral of prices and profits. Other developments of the 1990s perceptively analyzed here include the refusal of many funeral directors to embalm AIDS victims and the growing popularity of low-cost funeral and memorial service organizations, which are listed in an appendix. (Aug.)

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