Monday, April 30, 2012

Book Review: The American Resting Place by Marilyn Yalom

Yalom, Marilyn. The American Resting Place: Four Hundred Years of History Through Our Cemeteries and Burial Grounds. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008.

Yalom has given us an interesting look at many different cemeteries across the United States. She begins her tour in Boston and makes her way along selected locations on the east coast such as Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Georgia. She then makes her way to St. Louis, Chicago, New Orleans, Texas and eventually to California and Hawaii. Although it fails to be comprehensive, it is representative. She discusses differences based on religion and ethnicity in burial practices as she visits each cemetery and notes the various types of markers. While her focus is on the locations mentioned, she does occasionally mention cemeteries that are similar in other parts of the country. For example, she notes that Cincinnati's Spring Grove Cemetery was based on the garden approach used at Cambridge, Massachusetts' Mount Auburn Cemetery. The author included Hawaii in her treatment, but she failed to include Alaska, which I'm sure would have been another interesting location for treatment. She notes that most slaves were buried in forests and fields without markers or with simple markers such as stones and have been lost over time. She also points out that many of California's early Chinese persons were only temporarily buried in the United States, having been sent back to China for burial after a few years. It's an interesting look at cemeteries and burial practices. Her emphasis on the differences in burial practices based on religion and ethnicity is quite useful.  She includes notes for each chapter in the back of the book although they are definitely not comprehensive and are not keyed to specific passages. Her bibliography is probably more useful in the long run than the chapter notes. While there is an index with cemeteries and persons included, it fails to be comprehensive. (Spring Grove Cemetery is omitted.) The book is prefaced with a section of black and white photographs. While there are omissions, the book is still deserving of reading.

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