Book Review: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty

Title: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Author: Caitlin Doughty

Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography, Death, Science

Format: Paperback

‘So masterfully do we hide death, you would almost believe we are the first generation of immortals.’

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Accepting death doesn’t mean you won’t be devastated when someone you love dies. It means you will be able to focus on your grief, unburdened by bigger existential questions like, “Why do people die?” and “Why is this happening to me?” Death isn’t happening to you. Death is happening to us all.

I can safely say that this was the most enjoyable non-fiction book I have ever read. The witty and intelligent Caitlin Doughty talks us through the death industry in easy, layman’s terms, revealing how closed-minded and frightened society has become about the subject of death.  The fact I picked up this book with excitement hints at the morbid curiosity in so many of us, yet why do so few people comfortably discuss death?  It’ll happen to all of us, so why are we in denial about it?  I’ll be the first to admit that the thought of dying, of ceasing to exist, causes knots in my stomach.  After reading Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, I feel a lot more relaxed about my inevitable demise.

Bodies cremated in full, head’s donated to science, babies, and some woman’s amputated leg all come out looking the same in the end. Sifting through an urn of cremated remains you cannot tell if a person had successes, failures, grandchildren, felonies. “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

The book is filled with interesting facts about what goes on behind the scenes in many areas of the death industry.  For instance, I had not realised how much effort goes into making a body look un-dead, including heavy application of make-up, and the use of wire to stop the mouth from gaping open.  People want their dead to look ‘natural’ and as pleasing to the eye as death can be, but is this all just an extension of our denial?

As well as answering many questions, Caitlin’s book also creates many new ones.  This is her aim – people should be asking questions, not cowering away for the topic.  She wants to create a world where the dead are not locked out of sight, as things of terror, but instead inspire people to relish death as people relish birth, celebrating it and acknowledging it as a very natural life stage.  I feel quite exhilarated after hearing her story, and I highly recommend the book.

Star Rating: ★★★★★(5/5)

For those wishing to explore Caitlin’s experiences as a mortician further:

  • Caitlin’s website, trying to educate and liberate a death-phobic culture:
  • Caitlin’s online series ‘Ask A Mortician’ (episode one below):


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  1. 25th July 2015 / 9:41 am

    What an interesting topic for a book! I definitely think it’s a topic a lot of people are scared of, but might as well educate ourselves, because it’s going to happen either way!

    • 25th July 2015 / 1:26 pm

      I completely agree with you, Libby 🙂 Some cultures really embrace death, but I’ve grown up in a culture that refuses to acknowledge it.

      • 25th July 2015 / 11:06 pm

        Definitely, same here. I think it makes us more scared of it by ignoring it.

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