This is a book that seems to fall between many stools. It describes itself in its subtitle as "The Complete Book of Death & Dying" but even in the Introduction the author admits that it is hardly comprehensive. It's ten chapters cover a wide range of issues, including "The Science of Death and Dying," "Moral Statistics," "The Fate of the Body," "The Culture of Death," and "Making Arrangements." There are pages full of lists: different theories of causes of aging, dates of epidemics, serial killers, wars, different kinds of coffins, to name a few. Although there are seven pages of bibliography at the end of the book, there are no footnotes, and so this is not a scholarly book in the sense that one could base any research on it. It has very little about bereavement or discussion of how to deal with grief, and it certainly is not any kind of self-help book, although there is some information about modern funerals and some legal issues. It might possibly be used as a textbook for a college course on death and dying (I used it one semester) but there are far more comprehensive college textbooks available, and they have pictures in them and teachers' guides to accompany them. (I am currently using The Last Dance.)
So really what R.I.P. is best for is browsing. It's a bathroom book for the morbid. As such, it's is quite interesting. Did you know that
- Gracie Allen and Humphrey Bogart are buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California.
- Violets carved on a tombstone represent humility.
- In ancient Rome, someone who sang rude songs could be executed.
- In 1994, Iceland had the lowest infant mortality rate in the world.
- The people most likely to be shown dying violently on TV are elderly women, followed by lower-class men and elderly men.
- Hegel's last words were, "Only one man ever understood me. And he didn't understand me."
- In paying tribute to a person at his or her funeral, guests might be asked to wear the deceased's favorite color.
So R.I.P. is a good starting point for thinking about death and dying. The writing style is good, and it does contain plenty of useful information.
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