When We Die : The Science, Culture, and Rituals of Death

Cedric Mims

Published by St. Martin's Griffin, 2000
ISBN 10: 0312264119 / ISBN 13: 9780312264116
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Synopsis: An unusually comprehensive study of death as both a social and scientific phenomenon, When We Die is as frank as it is informed. This far-reaching discussion considers mortality from the personal and the universal perspective, generously citing past and present poets and physicians from a diverse and telling range of traditions. Mims, who for two decades served as Professor of Microbiology at London's Guys Hospital, brings a humane, inquisitive, and learned sensibility to his topic. "This book is a light-hearted but wide-ranging survey of death, the causes of death, and the disposal of corpses," writes Mims. "It tells why we die and how we die, and what happens to the dead body and its bits and pieces. It describes the ways corpses are dealt with in different religions and in different parts of the world; the methods for preserving bodies; and the ways—fascinating in their diversity—in which corpses or parts of corpses are used and abused."

The volume also explores such crucial death-based notions as the afterlife, the soul, and the prospect of immortality. By way of the book's main focus, Mims continues: "We should take a more matter-of-fact view of death [and] accept it and talk about it more than we do—as we have done with the once taboo subject of sex." This is a work that any student of social anthropology will find equally enlightening and essential.

Review: We'd like to think that only depressed teenage poets and heavy-metal gods are obsessed with death, but let's face it--we're all interested in the great equalizer. Microbiologist and world traveler Cedric Mims writes, "We should accept it and talk about it more than we do--as we have done with the once taboo subject of sex." To that end, he has written When We Die: The Science, Culture, and Rituals of Death and started the conversation with wit and grace. Covering the physical facts and metaphysical beliefs concerning our last exits, Mims shows us that not all is dark and dreary, or even peaceful, on "the other side."

The broad, largely untouched topic offers much fascinating material: cannibalism, organ transplants, mummification, and euthanasia all receive their due. Mims explores questions such as "Are corpses dangerous?" and "Who owns a dead body?" from many perspectives, drawing on his extensive reading and travels to create an intricate mosaic of answers. Though written almanac-style, with facts and stories loosely grouped into chapters, When We Die still possesses a cohesion that makes reading straight through as much fun as browsing. Taking care neither to offend nor to give in to the rigorous solemnity normally weighing on such discussions, Mims takes death out of the goth closet, dusts off the romance, and shows us how it really is. --Rob Lightner

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Title: When We Die : The Science, Culture, and ...
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publication Date: 2000
Binding: Paperback
Book Condition: Used: Good

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