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

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


“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).

From Publishers Weekly

Aug 11, 2014 – 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.

Customer Reviews


I'm so glad to learn more about the death industry from Caitlin. A longtime fan of her "Ask a Mortician" YouTube series, I find the book maintains her idiosyncrasies and voice. I quickly finished the book, wishing there were more stories in it . I love the juxtaposition of history with personal anecdotes. Fantastic, and a worthy read.

Amazing and thought provoking read.

Very interesting book and very well written. Keeps you interested, and also really makes you think about life in general. 5 stars.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

This was a terrific book Caitlin. Well written, witty, and serious all at the same time. My own grandparents spent their adult lives as Funeral Home operators in the Midwest, starting in the early part of the century. I was always struck at how they were willing to accept tools, chickens, and other personal treasures in lieu of money to pay for funerals. Perhaps even they saw the wrong in the way of the new age funeral industry. You have captured this humanity both in this book and in your professional life today. This was a wonderful read. Thank you.

Dan Fox-Gliessman

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory
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  • $11.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Biographies & Memoirs
  • Published: Sep 15, 2014
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
  • Seller: W. W. Norton
  • Print Length: 256 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.

Customer Ratings