Assenting to life even in death is a challenge to death, in emotional eroticism as well as physical, a challenge to death through indifference to death. Life is a door into existence: life may be doomed but the continuity of existence is not. The nearness of this continuity and its heady quality are more powerful than the thought of death. To begin with, the first turbulent surge of erotic feeling overwhelms all else, so that gloomy considerations of the fate in store for our discontinuous selves are forgotten.

And then, beyond the intoxication of youth, we achieve the power to look death in the face and to perceive in death the pathway into unknowable and incomprehensible continuity — that path is the secret of eroticism and eroticism alone can reveal it. If this train of thought has been closely followed the significance of the sentence already quoted will be abundantly clear in the light of the oneness of the various modes of eroticism: “There is no better way to know death than to link it with some licentious image.”

What I have been saying enables us to grasp in those words the unity of the domain of eroticism open to us through a conscious refusal to limit ourselves within our individual personalities. Eroticism opens the way to death. Death opens the way to the denial of our individual lives. Without doing violence to our inner selves, are we able to bear a negation that carries us to the farthest bounds of possibility?

From Erotism: Death & Sensuality, Georges Bataille, 1957


Beautiful Death: Art of the Cemetery

David Robinson and Dean Koontz

“While based in Paris, Robinson roamed the cemeteries of Europe. Over a period of two years he took more than 10,000 photographs of cemeteries, including Père-Lachaise, Montparnasse and Montmartre in Paris, the cemeteries of London and village church yards in England, the Jewish Cemetery in Prague, and cemeteries across France, Spain, Portugal and Italy. He sought out the strange, affecting beauty of tombs, the poignant signs of loss, mourning and separation, and the aspirations to afterlife and reunion in the beyond. In his images we see the fleeting gestures of defiance against oblivion—the claims of the living on behalf of the dead—in the clasping of hands, proffered kisses, fading flowers, beaded wreaths, even where a passerby has rouged the lips of a pining figure carved in stone.” Accompanying text is a meditation on death by best-selling writer Dean Koontz.

Publisher: Penguin
Hardback: 192 pages

Beyond Death: The Chinchorro Mummies of Ancient Chile

Bernardo T. Ariaza

More than 2,000 years before the Egyptians perfected their methods for mummifying their departed royalty, the Chinchorro, prehistoric fishing-peoples living in villages on the Peruvian coast, were mummifying their own dead. In contrast to the Egyptians, every member and class of Chinchorro society received complex mummification rites. This unprecedented hoard of almost 200 bodies was discovered in 1917 but is still pretty much unknown. Since no written record of the Chinchorros exists, all we can surmise about them must come from the mummies themselves. That’s what makes this book fascinating. The author proceeds to tell us an astonishing amount about both the social and physical qualities of life among these shadowy people. This straightforward anthropological study reads like a pre-Columbian episode of Quincy. Only here we learn about the corpse’s life—and problems. By dissecting an 800-year-old corpse one can learn many things. These folks suffered from intestinal parasites, arthritis, frequent ear problems, etc., their ocean diet produced notable rises in their fertility rate. Serious students of ancient South America as well as hard-core mummy fans should be delighted—all others should rent the series of Karloff films. CS

Publisher: Smithsonian Institution
Hardback: 176 pages

Body Snatching: The Robbing of Graves for the Education of Physicians in Early 19th-Century America

Suzanne M. Schultz

“Explains why the practice existed and how it was accomplished.”

Publisher: McFarland
Hardback: 144 pages

Caring for Your Own Dead

Lisa Carlson

Death is a lost art in America. “Caring for your own dead can be the most meaningful way to say good-bye to someone you love. It may save you money. “ In every state, it’s legal for family members to make all the arrangements for interring a loved one. No need to call the undertaker and his pals. Plus, varying state by state, you can even bury your unembalmed loved one in your own backyard, if you choose (but don’t forget the paperwork!). Full of facts, tips and practical procedures. GR

Publisher: Upper Access
Paperback: 343 pages

The Dance of Death

Hans Holbein the Younger

Facsimile edition of the original 1538 French edition, featuring 41 woodcuts of Death popping in on merchants, kings, court ladies, countesses, nuns, sailors and so on, with his grim little warnings.
“The Merchant’s wealth’s a worthless thing,
Of others, won by lies, the spoils;
But Death will sure repentance bring,
Snaring the snarer in his toils.”
Not a lot of plot, but the limber skeleton of Death carries the show admirably. GR

Publisher: Dover
Paperback: 146 pages

Death Dictionary: Over 5,500 Clinical, Legal, Literary and Vernacular Terms

Edited by Christine Quigley

“Marvelous compilation… skillfully captures the ‘last roundup’… “—Choice

Publisher: McFarland
Hardback: 207 pages

Death to Dust: What Happens to Dead Bodies?

Kenneth V. Iverson, M.D.

“Written for both laymen and professionals, this book gives answers to the questions that everyone wants to ask: What really happens to a dead body? What does our culture do with corpses and what have other cultures done? How does a body turn to dust? What happens in embalming, cremation, cryogenic preservation, autopsies, anatomical dissection, organ donation, burials and funerals? How do we transport bodies and what does a medical examiner really do? How about the more bizarre uses for corpses, such as cannibalism, body snatching, use in secret rites, research and religious ceremonies? This book describes individual and societal experiences, drawing not only from the medical sciences, but also from the arcane and secretive world of the funeral industry. We rarely speak about death—because it is the pornography of our culture and we know so little about it. This book sheds light into dark corners of our society and proves that, once again, truth is stranger than fiction.”

Publisher: Galen
Hardback: 709 pages

Deathing: An Intelligent Alternative for the Final Moments in Life

Anya Foos-Graber

Imagine your body is a rented apartment and your true home is the mansion of the soul of the universe. Inevitably you must quit your physical tenancy and return to your spiritual home. The success of this relocation is dependent on the quality of your awareness. If death should take you unexpectedly then perhaps you will navigate this transition very ineptly and experience excruciating pain and confusion as you are lost—potentially interminably—in limbo, purgatory, or some other twilit hinterland of being.
Based on Yogic principles, out-of-body-experience research, and the author’s work counseling the terminally ill, Deathing endeavors to equip the living with a science of conscious and correct dying that allows this transition to be made with grace and success. If you can survive the overly precious and cloyingly sentimental, faux case studies that are presented as didactic novels, then perhaps you can progress through the lucid presentation of technical data pertaining to the structure of the human spirit and its orientation in the astral plane, master the series of exercises for developing skill in dying, and then when your time comes perhaps you will execute a flawless three-point landing in the promised land. DN

Publisher: Nicolas-Hays
Paperback: 399 pages

Embalming: History, Theory and Practice

Robert G. Mayer

Chapters include: “The Origin and History of Embalming,” “Death-Agonal and Preembalming Changes,” “Preparation of the Body Prior to Arterial Fluid Injection,” “Preparation of Autopsied Bodies,” “Discolorations” and more.

Publisher: Appleton & Lange
Hardback: 475 pages

Epitaphs To Remember: Remarkable Inscriptions from New England Gravestones

Janet Greene

This volume collects 215 gravestone epitaphs from the six New England states, frequently conveying elegiac verse of a sardonic bent. Examples include: The Reverend Nathan Noyes, 1808, Windham, Vermont:
“Look here and view affliction’s favorite son
For Misfortune through all my life has run
Hard perfection’s iron yoke I bore
Till I have seen of gloomy years, three score.
Now shout in vain, ye persecuting throng
I’m far beyond the poison of your song
Live and live happy while my grave you view
This tongue, now cold, has often prayed for you.”
While not necessarily a page turner, Epitaphs To Remember’s greatest success lies in the anthropological sense, offering a glimpse into what 300 years of New Englanders wanted to perpetuate as their final commentary on this mortal coil. JAT

Publisher: Hood
Paperback: 103 pages