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Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory

4.5 32
by Caitlin Doughty

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“Morbid and illuminating” (Entertainment Weekly)—a young mortician goes behind the scenes of her curious profession.
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


“Morbid and illuminating” (Entertainment Weekly)—a young mortician goes behind the scenes of her curious profession.
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).

Editorial Reviews

Katharine Fronk - Booklist
“[Doughty’s] sincere, hilarious, and perhaps life-altering memoir is a must-read for anyone who plans on dying.”
Julia Jenkins - Shelf Awareness
“Entertaining and thought-provoking.”
O Magazine
“Demonically funny dispatches.”
Entertainment Weekly
“Morbid and illuminating.”
Rachel Lubitz - Washington Post
“A book as graphic and morbid as this one could easily suck its readers into a bout of sorrow, but Doughty—a trustworthy tour guide through the repulsive and wondrous world of death—keeps us laughing.”
The New York Times Book Review - Natalie Kusz
One can well imagine a publicity director swooning over this book concept…But the book is more consequential than its spin potential, and though it contains frank descriptions of decay, body fluids and human ashes, it is ultimately more philosophical than lurid, more cultural critique than exposé.
Publishers Weekly
In this valiant effort Doughty, a Hawaii-born LA mortician and creator of the web series "Ask a Mortician," uses her work as a crematorium operator at the family-owned Westwind Cremation and Burial in Oakland, Calif., to challenge the way we view death. Having studied medieval history in college, Doughty found an early job with the real deal: feeding the two huge "retorts," the cremation machines in the Westwind warehouse, with corpses—some not so fresh—retrieved by order from private homes or, more often, from hospitals, nursing homes, and the coroner's office. Doughty was eager to prove her mettle, and offered to do any number of odious tasks, such as shaving corpses, or otherwise helping Bruce the embalmer prepare them for the bereaved family's viewing: pumping them with the "salmon pink cocktail" of formaldehyde and alcohol, wielding the trusty trocar, and sewing closed mouths and eyelids. Her descriptions about picking dead babies up from the hospital prove particularly difficult to read. Nonetheless, Doughty does stare death in the face, by tracking down numerous ancient rituals (she observes approvingly how some Eastern cultures still participate in the preparing of the body), pursuing fascinating new words such as "desquamation" and "bubblating" (both refer to excess fluids), and celebrating the natural function of decomposition. (Sept.)
Kevin Nguyen - Grantland
“Caitlin Doughty is best known for her YouTube series Ask a Mortician, and she brings the same charisma and drollery to her essay collection Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. Think Sloane Crosley meets Six Feet Under.”
Bess Lovejoy
“Caitlin Doughty takes you to places you didn’t know you wanted to go. Fascinating, funny, and so very necessary, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes reveals exactly what's wrong with modern death denial.”
Dodai Stewart
“Alternately heartbreaking and hilarious, fascinating and freaky, vivid and morbid, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is witty, sharply drawn, and deeply moving. Like a poisonous cocktail, Caitlin Doughty's memoir intoxicates and enchants even as it encourages you to embrace oblivion; she breathes life into death.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Doughty reels you in with wonderful anecdotes about her work. Intermixed with the humor is a love of life that will make you reconsider how our culture treats the dead.”
Kirkus Reviews
A 20-something's account of her life as a professional mortician.Doughty's fascination with death began in childhood, but it wasn't until she got to college that she dropped all pretenses of "normality and began to explore "all aspects of mortality" through her work in medieval history. Intellectual exposure to death and the human rituals associated with it eventually led to a decision to pursue a career as an undertaker. With an honesty that at times borders on unnerving, Doughty describes her experiences tending to dead people that, through her colorful characterizations, come to life on the page to become more than just anonymous stiffs. The author offers an intimate view of not just the mechanics of how corpses are treated and disposed, but also of the way Americans have come to treat both death and the dead. Throughout the last century, the rise of hospitals and displacement of homes as centers of life and death sanitized mortality while taking it out of public consciousness. "[T]he dying," writes Doughty, "could undergo the indignities of death without offending the sensibilities of the living." In the vein of Jessica Mitford, Doughty also casts a critical eye on the funeral industry and how it has attempted to "prettify" death for the public through cosmetic excesses like embalming. Yet unlike Mitford before her, Doughty reveals that what the public is ultimately getting cheated out of is not money, but a real and wholesome experience with death. For the author, the way forward to a healthier relationship with the end-of-life experience is to reclaim "the process of dying" by ending the ignorance and fear attached to it. Death is not the enemy of life but rather its much-maligned and misunderstood ally.A witty, wise and mordantly wise-cracking memoir and examination of the American way of death.

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.80(d)

Meet the Author

Caitlin Doughty is a licensed mortician and the host and creator of the "Ask a Mortician" web series. She founded the death acceptance collective The Order of the Good Death and cofounded Death Salon. She lives in Los Angeles.

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Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 32 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Rarely have I read something that is as consistently entertaining, insightful, and well written as this book. The author seamlessly weaves her knowledge of death history and theory into the narrative of her personal experiences, leaving the reader confronting mortality in an informed but emotionally poignant manner. This book is genuine, thought provoking, and important. I will definitely be re-reading this one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A great book. Dark humor, sadness, eye opening, educational. Reading Caitlin's younger years reminded me of my own to a point. Attending my first funeral at around the age of 9, sitting a few rows back from the casket that contained my Grandmother I watched and waited to see if her chest would rise and take in a breath of air. I knew she was dead. My mother told me the day before that Grandma had died but I'd seen plenty of Mummy and Frankenstein movies to know that the dead didn't always remain so. Two years ago my girlfriend died of cancer and I was with her til the end though I didn't push the button. I'm of an age that I fear brake failure more than I do death. Caitlin's writings took me back to a place I had been before. Was a good story.
Old_Dog More than 1 year ago
I'm a recent admittee to the ranks of septuagenarians. This book caught me at the "right time" of my life when issues such as "pre-planning" are no longer avoidable. The author provides a useful perspective on America's death industry and options for making a deal with it. I found the book to be informative and thought provoking. Ms. Doughty remains light and good humored in her approach to a serious topic which could otherwise be scary, heavy and dark. I will be recommending this book to my book club; the discussion should be fascinating!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put this book down. I found it entertaining and thought provoking. As another revier remarked, "This book is genuine, thought provoking, and important," I couldn't agree more. This book challenged my misconceptions about the death industry and forced me to think about my death and how to make it a good death. It's inevitable folks, so do it right.
JDwax More than 1 year ago
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is a crazy look inside the world of a young mortician. I’ve read inside stories about a lot of careers, but this was my first time reading about a mortician. The story is well told and has its fair share of humor and memorable characters. Five Stars.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very engaging read. I liked the spirit of this book and author. It is refreshing to read about new and thoughtful ideas from a young career and business minded person. This book is funny, but also informative and well researched. It really impressed me on her reflections of communist Jessica Mitford. After reading a lot about the Mitford sisters, this part fascinated me. Again, this book is well worth your time and money. This is a hats off to young unique business owners. This book deserves A+++++++
alexapproach More than 1 year ago
Awesome book! Ms. Doughty offers great insight in a manner that is both well-written and well thought out.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've been a fan of the "Ask a Mortician" web series on Youtube since it began. Caitlin delivers an insider's perspective to the business side of death and how it conflicts with the more spiritual side. The "death denial" culture is something that really struck me. I wish it had been longer!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is a very different kind of book. It’s a look inside the life of a young mortician. Sometimes gruesome and almost always fascinating, this is a great book about a world many of us would otherwise not know. Author Caitlin Douhty even manages to find the humor in her story.
efm More than 1 year ago
Well written, easy read, factual, humorous, makes you think about were we came from and how we need to leave this world, is the funeral industry offering enough natural options as to how we are buried.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had a hard time putting this book down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. I was afraid to read it as I have recent deaths in my family, but she is interesting and truthful, and learns a lot about life and herself. This was a very cool book, and worth the read.
jacobsgranny More than 1 year ago
This book was very intelligently written, and it kept me very engrossed the entire length of it. Was a very interesting look at the Funeral Industry and it's employees, and pro's and con's. Something to give us thought to when planning a memorial service for a loved one, and pre planning for ourselves if you do that. I was very interested in the different cultures greiving process and burial, and body disposal culture. A very interesting, read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very good read. Her wit and writing style made for an enjoyable quick read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have been watching her videos for quite a while. I love the dark humor along with learning what awaits in death. At least on a physical level.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I always questioned the 'death industry' and their rules. Thank for your openiness and honesty. Very enlightening, thank you so much.
KimHeniadis More than 1 year ago
I think this is a book that everyone should read, especially if you’re in your 20’s or 30’s, to help you deal with the deaths of relatives. And for people who are older, you should also read it, to not only help with your fear of death, but so you know how important it is to let your loved ones know what you want done after you die. Whether you do end up reading this book though, you should still talk to whomever will be taking care of funeral preparations, so they know what to do. There will be very graphic details of what happens to a body after death, so you are forewarned. Although there are some gory details, I think Doughty wrote about them in a way that makes it interesting, and not just as something to gross people out. She also puts humor into her writing to help lighten up some of the details that people might find disturbing. Doughty also does an excellent job incorporating history into her book. I actually learned a lot in regards to various funeral rites. The part where she discusses Saints and the Church is still boggling my mind. She also has a YouTube channel and Blog where she answers questions and discusses various topics I highly recommend this book, and hope you recommend it to all your loved ones.
Kaite1189 More than 1 year ago
Such an amazing book, I found it through the writer's youtube channel ("Ask a Mortician"). It has truly changed the way I view death. Before reading this book I thought that I was comfortable with the idea of death, and that if I died tomorrow I'd be okay with that. However, this has really ripped away the unconscious feeling that I'll always be here. I'll die one day, and be forgotten just like everyone else, which is oddly comforting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have always known a casket wasn't how I wanted to finish my time on earth (whenever that may be) and had always thought cremation the best option for my corpse. I'm happy that more options are becoming available for people who feel as I do and that this book was written to further the relationship between death and life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Caroles_Random_Life More than 1 year ago
This was the best little book that I didn't even know that I wanted to read. I have to say that I would have probably never picked this book up for myself. I didn't even know that this book existed until it showed up at my house a couple of weeks ago. My initial impression of the book when I received was lackluster at best. I thought it was an advance copy of a book at first because the cover looks just so unfinished. Nothing about this book screamed "Read Me" at first glance. But then I decided to pick it up and my thoughts changed very quickly. Whatever stars lined up on the day this book found its way to my home, I can't say but I am very grateful. This really is the perfect book for me. I have a slight fascination with death. My favorite class in college was Death Education. When the local coroner came to class to give a presentation complete with slides, I was completely impressed. I have never worked in the death industry but my husband actually has delivered caskets part-time for the past couple of years. This book deals with a difficult subject in a way that really pulls the reader in. I think everyone could find something in this book that they would relate to in these pages. I liked that this book made me think and it also made me laugh. I didn't think that this was a sad or depressing book at all which is kind of surprising when you think of the subject matter. I learned a lot from reading this book. There are so many misconceptions regarding death and the funeral industry. I do think that most people really would appreciate this honest look at the subject. Each of the people that are in this book really add to the overall story. Everyone from Caitlin's co-workers to the families who have lost someone they loved really had a story to tell. I liked the parts that featured Caitlin's co-workers because I feel like it takes a special kind of person to want to do this kind of work. People who work in the funeral industry really see people when they are at their worst but they must stay at their best. It has to be incredibly hard to do that day after day. I really appreciated the parts of the book that really let us see how much this kind of work affected the author. I liked the way that this book was written. I was completely engaged in the book from the very beginning. I think it reads almost like one of your friends are telling you a story. Even the more educational sections that gave some history were completely mesmerizing. There was enough lighthearted and funny moments to balance out the sections that were really anything but funny. I would highly recommend to others. I think that this is a topic that we need to know more about and this is an entertaining way to get a peek. This is the first book by Caitlin Doughty that I have read but I would definitely read more of her work in the future. I received a copy of this book from W.W. Norton & Company for the purpose of providing an honest review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
We are all going to die. So enjoy this book before you go! ~*~LEB~*~
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I finished this in a few hours. It approached death in a thoughtful, fun, interesting, and real way while still being entertaining. Good read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just read three death books in a row, and this by far was the most uplifting... great note to end on!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Enjoyable read.