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The BNH Book Review: All the Living and the Dead

Published Wednesday Nov 16, 2022

Author Terri Schlichenmeyer of The Bookworm Sez

The BNH Book Review: All the Living and the Dead

“All the Living and the Dead: From Embalmers to Executioners, an Exploration of the People Who Have Made Death Their Life’s Work”
 by Hayley Campbell
2022/St. Martin’s Press
$29.99/269 pages

“We are surrounded by death,” Hayley Campbell says, in our games, the news, the songs we sing, everywhere. More than 55 million people around the world die each year, but most of us don’t know much about those who do the necessary work of dealing “with the things we cannot bear to look at.”

Which prompts a question: Are we cheating ourselves out of some fundamental human knowledge?

Campbell began her search for an answer with a funeral director. She visited the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota to talk with a man who prepares the “gift” of body donorship. An artist showed her how he memorializes the faces of those who’ve departed, and a disaster mitigator explained how he deals with catastrophe. Campbell met with a crime scene cleaner, an embalmer, had lunch with someone who executed Death Row inmates, helped an anatomical pathology technologist, visited with gravediggers and learned about cryonics.

Campbell gives readers plenty of room to be inquisitive, offering facts that they perhaps haven’t even had a chance to conceive yet, without shame and without making anyone feel like a ghoul. This is, in fact, a book that is respectful, humble and filled with honor.

Campbell is forthright on things that left her unsettled and that which sent her reeling. She honestly tells readers how she dealt with that, too. You won’t be sorry knowing.

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