Book review: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematorium by Caitlyn Doughty


From her first day at Westwind Cremation & Burial, twenty-three-year-old Caitlin Doughty threw herself into her curious new profession. Coming face-to-face with the very thing we go to great lengths to avoid thinking about she started to wonder about the lives of those she cremated and the mourning families they left behind, and found herself confounded by people’s erratic reactions to death. Exploring our death rituals – and those of other cultures – she pleads the case for healthier attitudes around death and dying. Full of bizarre encounters, gallows humour and vivid characters (both living and very dead), this illuminating account makes this otherwise terrifying subject inviting and fascinating.


This was an insightful book that really opened my eyes to our current Western societal views of death, our traditions and our fear of the inevitable.

Death is a taboo subject, so many of us don’t want to think about it – for obvious reasons – but I loved the way Doughty encourages us to face death head-on, to be prepared for it, to be ‘death positive’. I loved how she delved into the historical changing attitudes of death (mostly specific to America), the different death practices across different countries and cultures, and how death became an industry.

What I enjoyed so much about this one is that whilst it was insightful and I felt I learnt a lot, Doughty is very playful, she talks of her life becoming a young mortician, the people she worked with and met along the way and the personal battles she dealt with trying to work out who she was and where she was meant to be. Considering this is a book about death and the treatment of dead people, it’s very lighthearted and I think this works with that ‘death positive’ attitude Doughty discusses as we go along with her story.

The initial idea of being ‘death positive’ seemed very alien to me at the start but by the end of the book I was a convert. I found this book both fun and deeply interesting and I’m now eager to read Doughty’s other books!

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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