Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes PBK mech.indd

source: free copy via Amazon Prime membership
title: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory
author: Caitlin Doughty / Twitter
genre: memoir
pages: 242
published: September 15, 2014
first line: A girl always remembers the first corpse she shaves.
rated: 4 out of 5

Most people want to avoid thinking about death, but Caitlin Doughty—a twenty-something with a degree in medieval history and a flair for the macabre—took a job at a crematory, turning morbid curiosity into her life’s work. Thrown into a profession of gallows humor and vivid characters (both living and very dead), Caitlin learned to navigate the secretive culture of those who care for the deceased.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes tells an unusual coming-of-age story full of bizarre encounters and unforgettable scenes. Caring for dead bodies of every color, shape, and affliction, Caitlin soon becomes an intrepid explorer in the world of the dead. She describes how she swept ashes from the machines (and sometimes onto her clothes) and reveals the strange history of cremation and undertaking, marveling at bizarre and wonderful funeral practices from different cultures.

Her eye-opening, candid, and often hilarious story is like going on a journey with your bravest friend to the cemetery at midnight…..


*trigger warning for delicate subject matter for some readers*


my thoughts:

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by  Caitlin Doughty was equal parts interesting and uncomfortable. This is a delicate subject but I found the author infuses humor making her memoir an engaging read overall. Having said that, while I found myself captivated at times by Caitlin Doughty’s memoir I did have to skim some parts of it, specifically the entire chapter titled Demon Babies. Some things you can’t unsee, some things you can’t unread.

“My relationship with death had always been complicated.” -p.5, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty

As a young child, Doughty witnessed an accidental death at a mall and she shares the impact this had on her. She eventually came to work at a crematory as a trainee and learned as she went along, just like with any other on site job training. I actually found it fascinating reading about her job at the crematory and what she did on a day to day basis. I don’t think cremation and what undertakers do is something most people think about. Most of us, myself included, happily turn a blind eye to certain details or to what’s behind the curtain so to speak when it comes to topics like postmortem care and practices. That, and we are wrought with grief by the time we need to make these kinds of arrangements for our loved ones.

I found Doughty’s take on postmortem care and her views on death to be insightful. She wonders who she would want to care for her own loved ones remains and how she’d feel about certain practices like embalming being performed on them. The author aims to cast a light on the fear of death and on the options available postmortem. She also takes us to her days at mortuary school and what she learned and witnessed while there. I found it eye-opening that most mortuary schools seem to favor embalming and burial over cremation.

“Embalmers may claim their trade descended from the ancient Egyptians, but that neglects the quantum gap between the era of Tutankhamen and the time Americans began to perform embalmings in the early 1860’s. The embalming practiced by the ancient Egyptians was a very different animal from what is practiced down the street in your local funeral home.” -p.72

She discusses the history of cremation and funeral practices in the U.S. and of different countries and cultures as well. The author’s fun personality shines through and as I read she made me laugh out loud while cringing at times.

This was a well written and well researched memoir about death, postmortem care and practices and about what it is like working in the industry. I caught a few of the author’s videos on YouTube and they were entertaining also.

“It is safe to say that 1963 was cremation’s year. The American Way of Death came out in 1963, as did Pope Paul VI’s overturning of the Catholic Church’s ban on cremation. These two factors turned the death trends of the entire country towards cremation.”- p.107

If you are so inclined, this one was free to borrow with Amazon Prime membership. I am curious to read other’s thoughts on it. Now I know in detail what happens to a human body during cremation. I don’t know if that is a good or a bad thing.


“Medieval death was my first true (academic) love. I was captivated by the dancing skeletons, the maggot tomb decor, the charnel houses, the putrefying bodies in the church walls. The brazen acceptance of human decomposition in the late Middle Ages was so different from what I grew up with.”- p.161

About the author:

Mortician Caitlin Doughty―host and creator of Ask a Mortician and the New York Times best-selling author of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes―founded The Order of the Good Death. She lives in Los Angeles, where she runs her nonprofit funeral home, Undertaking LA.-quoted from Amazon

Disclaimer: This review is my honest opinion. I did not receive any kind of compensation for reading and reviewing this book. I am under no obligation to write a positive review. I borrowed my copy of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty via Amazon Prime.
Some of the links in the post are affiliate links. If you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a small affiliate commission.

16 thoughts on “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty

  1. Great review.

    I had heard a lot about this book. Obviously its subject is not typical. I like originality and things that are different so I think that I would like it.

    These subjects never bothered me before but an entire book that dwelled on them might induce a little squeamish.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This sounds like a fascinating memoir, Naida. Excellent review! On a related note, I recently saw an outstanding Japanese movie, Departures, which is also about caring for the deceased.

    Have a wonderful weekend, Naida.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ohmygosh!!!!! First of all, I completely forgot that I can read books for free with my Prime Membership!!!!! I had to get rid of the ones I had read several years ago and never returned so that I could borrow my max of 10.

    Second of all, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes has been on my TBR forever and I had no clue I could’ve been reading it for free.

    So, thank you, thank you, thank you on both points!

    I’ll report back after I read it. Might not be soon as I’m in the middle of a book right now, so stay tuned!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • lol yes, I’ve found some gems through Prime Reading. This one and The Exorcist I really enjoyed. I recommend this one, I look forward to your thoughts on it.
      Happy weekend 🙂


  4. Hi Naida,

    This probably isn’t one I would read, although I am not squeamish about death or funerals in any way.

    We did actually watch a made for television documentary a couple of years ago, which highlighted just how many females were now becoming Funeral Directors and Crematorium Assistants, in what has traditionally been a male dominated environment.

    I’m all for making total arrangements for my own demise now and I almost have hubbie convinced of the sense of the exercise, so I just need to keep working on him a little more.

    I trained as a florist many many years ago and as we delivered floral tributes direct to the Funeral Directors, I did get a glimpse as to what is involved in the embalming process, alongside a very brief outing into the backstage world of the crematorium – all very interesting, if a little impersonal.

    Over here, with the limitations of land available, most of us are encouraged to opt for cremation over burial for our loved ones, but I have to admit that it is rather like queueing for an appointment, when you see just how close together the services are held. One in – one out, just about sums it up nicely!

    I do have very strong views about the whole subject of death and dying, but they are not really suitable for full public reading, so I’ll leave it there and just add that your review was most thoughtfully and tastefully put together.

    Thanks for sharing and enjoy your weekend 🙂


    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Yvonne, this one was interesting. That’s funny, I also have brought the topic up in the past to my husband and he prefers not to speak about it but I think making the arrangements beforehand is a good idea also. The author briefly mentions this in her book.
      That’s crazy that there’s limited land, but it makes sense since we are overpopulated.

      Enjoy your Sunday and the week ahead 🙂


  5. Great review, Naida!
    I think this isn’t a book for everyone but it’s one that would definitely make a good discussion and have one’s mind thinking/wondering about the subject. I’ll see if the library has a copy.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I really want to read this one, and was glad to read your thoughts on it. I loved Mary Roach’s Stiff, which also deals with the subject of dead bodies, although I am sure is much different than this in many regards.

    Liked by 1 person

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