The History of Death

The History of Death

3.83 (99 ratings by Goodreads)
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3.83 (99 ratings by Goodreads)

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Death is universal, but each culture has found a different way to deal with it. This wide-ranging book examines the compelling subject of death, funeral rites and burial in different cultures and societies, from the drama of medieval French royal funerals to the burial alive of the Dinka 'masters of the spear' in the Sudan, from the Egyptian pyramids to the Chinese terra-cotta army to elaborate Victorian mausolea, and from the Grim Reaper to Hades and the Underworld.

The History of Death illuminates the combination between the earthly and spiritual in funeral rites, the practices of human sacrifice and ritual killing, as well as the processes of grieving, burial, cremation, remembrance and the differing concepts of life after death. Funerals need not always be solemn, but can be celebratory, drunken and even lascivious.

An intriguing yet sensitive treatment, the book includes more than 100 remarkable photographs and artworks of representations of death and funerary rituals. Far from being a morbid study, The History of Death balances grim facts with intriguing details drawn from many cultures and epochs, revealing how through our passing we, in fact, define our lives.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 192 pages
  • 189 x 240 x 15.24mm | 500g
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 120 black and white photos; 120 Illustrations, unspecified
  • 1782744916
  • 9781782744917
  • 820,142

Table of contents


Chapter One: The Beginning or the End: Ideas of Afterlife
The significance of death in religion, the community and in psychology (e.g. dealing with grief). The symbolism of funeral rites.

Chapter Two: Ancient Funerary Rites
From the ancient customs of Greece and Rome to the traditional Japanese ceremonies. The origins of customs such as burial and funeral pyres.

Chapter Three: Death and Judgment
The lingering presence of the dead; souls who come back or stay beside their loved ones. Native American and African beliefs of ever-present spirits.

Chapter Four: The Ancestors at Hand
Development of funeral rites through the ages; links with attitudes towards death. Religious implications of festivals such as Halloween, All Saints and All Souls.

Chapter Five: The Demanding Dead
Paying tribute to the dead, customs around the world. Examining mourning, human sacrifice and ritual killings

Chapter Six: Towards Modernity, The Western Tradition
Funeral ceremonies for royalty in various countries; the pomp and circumstances associated with state funerals. For instance, elaborate portraits carried on royal coffins in medieval England and France.

Chapter Seven: A World of Rituals
Funerary rituals. From India's Hindu tradition of Antyeshti or cremation to Salah the Islam ritual of cleansing of the dead

Chapter Eight: Death, Present and Future
Beliefs and practices today; changing attitudes to death in the 21st century in social and religious terms.

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About Michael Kerrigan

Michael Kerrigan was educated at St. Edward's College and University College, Oxford, England. He is the author of The History of Death, A Dark History: The Roman Emperors, Ancients In Their Own Words, World War II Plans That Never Happened, and American Presidents: A Dark History. He is a columnist, book reviewer, and feature writer for publications including the Scotsman and the Times Literary Supplement. Michael Kerrigan lives with his family in Edinburgh.
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Rating details

3.83 out of 5 stars
- 99 ratings
5 25% (25)
4 42% (42)
3 23% (23)
2 8% (8)
1 1% (1)
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