The American Resting Place

By MARILYN YALOM

You might expect a book about cemeteries to be morbid, dry or depressing, but The American Resting Place: Four Hundred Years of History Through Our Cemeteries and Burial Grounds is an enlivened narrative of the country?s expansion and development, as seen through its gravestones, graveyards, and burial practices. Marilyn Yalom, a cultural historian who?s previously written A History of the Wife and A History of the Breast, says visits to her mother?s grave in Alta Mesa, California, inspired her to write this 320-page book. “At first it was to be the study of only one site — a year in the life of ?our? cemetery. I would note seasonal changes, various offerings left at different seasons, occasional gatherings in front of ethnically diverse plots, open graves for the newly deceased — everything that brings life to a landscape devoted to the dead. In time, with a cultural historian?s curiosity, I began to ask questions about the broader picture.” Over the course of three years, she and her son Reid, a photographer, visited more than 250 cemeteries — from Boston to New Orleans, Montana to Hawaii. With her words and his photographs, the Yaloms covered a lot of ground, including military cemeteries, long-lost African-American burial grounds, and the recent trend towards “green burials.” Nowadays, “even Arlington National Cemetery offers a green option for any qualifying veteran ‘through burial of his cremated remains in a biodegradable box in a section of the cemetery without grave markers.’ “