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

A compelling and compassionate exploration of the death industry and the people—embalmers, detectives, crime scene cleaners, executioners—who work in it and what led them there. Embarking on a three-year trip across the US and the UK, journalist Hayley Campbell—inspired by her longtime fascination with death, thanks to a childhood surrounded by her father’s Jack the Ripper cartoons—met with a variety of professionals in the death industry to see how they work. Along the way, Campbell encountered funeral directors, embalmers, a man who dissects cadavers for anatomy students, and a former executioner who is responsible for ending 62 lives. She sat in a van with old gravediggers who have already dug their own graves. She raked out bones and ash with a man who works in a crematorium. She dressed a dead man for his coffin, held a brain at an autopsy, visited a cryonics facility in Michigan, and went for late-night Chinese with a homicide detective. Through Campbell’s prodding, reverent interviews with these people who see death every day, Campbell pieces together the psychic jigsaw to ask: Why would someone choose a life of working with the dead? Does being so near to lifeless bodies alter your perspective? Does an antidote to the fear of death exist? A dazzling work of cultural criticism, All the Living and the Dead weaves together reportage with memoir, history, and philosophy, to offer readers a fascinating look into the psychology of Western death. And in the vein of Caitlin Doughty and Mary Roach, Campbell sharply investigates her—and our—own fascinations and fears through her encounters with this series of extraordinary people.
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