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Corpses, Coffins, and Crypts

A History of Burial

This book can be downloaded and read in iBooks on your Mac or iOS device.


Drawing on extensive historical and anthropological research, personal accounts, and interviews with people who work in the funeral industry, Penny Colman examines the compelling subjects of death and burial across cultures and societies. The text, enriched with stories both humorous and poignant, includes details about the decomposition and embalming processes (an adult corpse buried six feet deep without a coffin will usually take five to ten years to turn into a skeleton) and describes the various customs associated with containing remains (the Igala people in Nigeria have a custom of burying people in as many as twenty-seven layers of clothing). Intriguing facts are revealed at every turn; for example, in Madagascar winter was considered the corpse-turning season.

This comprehensive book also includes a list of burial sites of famous people, images in the arts associated with death, fascinating epitaphs and gravestone carvings, a chronology and a glossary, and over a hundred black-and-white photographs, most of which were taken by the author.

Penny Colman writes with compassion and intelligence and humanizes the difficult subjects of death and burial. The result is a powerful look at an inevitable part of life--death.

From Publishers Weekly

Dec 15, 1997 – Few readers will be able to put down Colman's (Rosie the Riveter) impeccably researched history of how cultures from ancient times to modern times honor (or dishonor) their dead. Using as a touchstone an example from her own life (the death of her great-aunt's husband, Willi Matousek), she traces the aftermath of death, from the survivors' initial reaction ("how do you know ?"), to the funeral or burial rite to the burial (or disposal) of the body itself. Colman manages to intertwine artlessly personal anecdotes alongside captivating facts from ancient history (e.g., in 212 B.C.E., the first emperor of China demanded the construction of a funeral vault that required thousands of workers who were then entombed alive to ensure they would not reveal the secret passageways to grave robbers) to today's information highway (e.g., on an Internet memorial park, plots cost $7-$15 and include e-mail tributes, photographs and recordings of the dead person's voice). Major historical events demonstrate her points, too: the high casualty rate during the Civil War drove the need to embalm soldiers so they could be shipped home. Well chosen black-and-white photographs range from the contemporary (a memorial mural in the South Bronx) to a print commemorating the victims of the Plague of 1665. By no means constructed of melancholy alone, the volume also includes moments of humor and inspiration. This is a book readers will pore over, not only for the wealth of absorbing information, but because Colman, in considering death on a global scale, allows readers to view it as a universal experience that connects them to others. Ages 9-up.
Corpses, Coffins, and Crypts
View in iTunes
  • $9.99
  • Level: Grades 6-9
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Coming of Age
  • Published: Dec 15, 1997
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
  • Seller: Macmillan / Holtzbrinck Publishers, LLC
  • Print Length: 224 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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