BOOK REVIEW: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematorium by Caitlin Doughty


Title: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematorium
Author: Caitlin Doughty
Publication: September 28, 2015
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
Genre: Memoirs
Pages: 272

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SYNOPSIS: (From Goodreads)

Most people want to avoid thinking about death, but Caitlin Doughty—a twenty-something with a degree in medieval history and a flair for the macabre—took a job at a crematory, turning morbid curiosity into her life’s work. Thrown into a profession of gallows humor and vivid characters (both living and very dead), Caitlin learned to navigate the secretive culture of those who care for the deceased.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes tells an unusual coming-of-age story full of bizarre encounters and unforgettable scenes. Caring for dead bodies of every color, shape, and affliction, Caitlin soon becomes an intrepid explorer in the world of the dead. She describes how she swept ashes from the machines (and sometimes onto her clothes) and reveals the strange history of cremation and undertaking, marveling at bizarre and wonderful funeral practices from different cultures.

Her eye-opening, candid, and often hilarious story is like going on a journey with your bravest friend to the cemetery at midnight. She demystifies death, leading us behind the black curtain of her unique profession. And she answers questions you didn’t know you had: Can you catch a disease from a corpse? How many dead bodies can you fit in a Dodge van? What exactly does a flaming skull look like?

Honest and heartfelt, self-deprecating and ironic, Caitlin’s engaging style makes this otherwise taboo topic both approachable and engrossing. Now a licensed mortician with an alternative funeral practice, Caitlin argues that our fear of dying warps our culture and society, and she calls for better ways of dealing with death (and our dead).


I am not sure how I came across this book. But it had sat on my Want to Read list for a bit before I actually purchased the book to read.  Then being the person that I am I went ahead and bought an audiobook version of it so that I could get to it sooner, which true to form I did. 

Caitlin has a degree in Medieval History.  Yet she ended up a Mortician and started the Order of the Good Death.  I bet you are wondering how she got there.  Look no further than the pages of this book.  Caitlin went from a young girl terrified of death after watching a young girl fall from a height at a shopping mall in Hawaii to where she is today.  It was not all sunshine and roses.  She questioned her life at one point and had even gone as far as having what she was going to use to end her life and had written a goodbye/instructions email to her family and friends. Now she works hard to make sure people have “a good death”.  I will admit, it took me a long time to work up to reading this book.  I don’t like talking about death. I admit I am scared to die.  I have been so incredibly anxious at times that all I want to do is curl up and die to escape it and that scares me more. I used to lay on my side as a child and curled up because I figured I couldn’t die that way and they couldn’t fit me in the coffin. 

Caitlin talks to us about her experiences with dealing with the dead.  How she started as a crematory operator and all she did was push the button to burn someone.  The book is incredibly open and in some places, I think raw.  She shares things with you that I would typically think someone would not share with however many people are reading this.  I applaud her for that.   I found all of her stories fascinating.  Sometimes people do not actually accept so to speak the embalming and their bodies turning colors.  To the fact that some people, educated people still think a dead body is contagious somehow and that the family cannot say their goodbyes if they die at home.  To some families hiring wailers to be at the witnessed cremation. Yes, people actually pay people to come to the witnessed cremation to make it more dramatic with the wailing.  I will say that the author did read this book and I think that adds so much to her book.  I saw that she has written more books like this and I have already added them to my audible wish list for a later date. 

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