Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory is an examination of death and the so-called death industry from Caitlin Doughty. By death industry she means how funeral homes, mortuaries, crematories, medical facilities and government agencies like coroners handle death.

It’s also a memoir, because she sought out a career in the industry. In the process, she also became a compassionate advocate for a death experience that’s quite different from what we Americans consider to be typical. She’s a bit of a rebel!

So, you need to be okay with some gritty truths if you pick up this book. Doughty discusses what it’s like—in detail—to be a crematory technician. After a mostly typical childhood and an undergrad degree in medieval history, she sought out this job. She wanted to understand more about death and how it’s both treated emotionally and handled practically.

And learn she did. How is a body prepared for cremation? What kind of options are available to families making this choice? Doughty exposes the false legends, such as timing of decomposition. And also discusses what she calls “the good death,” which is more a conversation about the emotional aspects of death. In the process, she explains the evolution and history of the death industry in the United States and, to some extent, in Western Europe.

My conclusions

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is alternately fascinating, funny, and thought provoking. I’m planning to read her second book without much delay. Doughty has an engaging writing style and isn’t afraid to tell hard truths. I listened to her narration of the audiobook. I’m not typically a fan of author narration, but she does a bang up job.

If your life hasn’t been touched by death recently, this might be good preparation for the time when it will. For me, it was the opposite. I’m wishing I’d read this earlier. Because in the last five years, twelve people in our extended family have died. We were closer to some than others. Out of all of those, I could only have implemented Doughty’s advice for the one death. But I think I would have. And I’ll remember her words for the future.

Grab up this book if you want a frank discussion of the decisions family members must make when a loved one dies. Or if you’d like some history about how funeral and mortuary services evolved in America. It’s a plus if you’ve been told you have a morbid sense of humor.

Pair with her second book, From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death.