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Grave Matters

A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial

About The Book

By the time Nate Fisher was laid to rest in a woodland grave sans coffin in the final season of Six Feet Under, Americans all across the country were starting to look outside the box when death came calling.

Grave Matters follows families who found in "green" burial a more natural, more economic, and ultimately more meaningful alternative to the tired and toxic send-off on offer at the local funeral parlor.

Eschewing chemical embalming and fancy caskets, elaborate and costly funerals, they have embraced a range of natural options, new and old, that are redefining a better American way of death. Environmental journalist Mark Harris examines this new green burial underground, leading you into natural cemeteries and domestic graveyards, taking you aboard boats from which ashes and memorial "reef balls" are cast into the sea. He follows a family that conducts a home funeral, one that delivers a loved one to the crematory, and another that hires a carpenter to build a pine coffin.

In the morbidly fascinating tradition of Stiff, Grave Matters details the embalming process and the environmental aftermath of the standard funeral. Harris also traces the history of burial in America, from frontier cemeteries to the billion-dollar business it is today, reporting on real families who opted for more simple, natural returns.

For readers who want to follow the examples of these families and, literally, give back from the grave, appendices detail everything you need to know, from exact costs and laws to natural burial providers and their contact information.

About The Author

Photo Credit:

Mark Harris is a former environmental columnist with the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. His articles and essays have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, E/The Environmental Magazine, Reader's Digest, and Hope. He lives with his family in Pennsylvania. Visit his website at

Product Details

  • Publisher: Scribner (December 9, 2008)
  • Length: 224 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781416564041

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Raves and Reviews

"Educated consumers are taking back control of the funeral experience, saving thousands of dollars with options that are more personal, meaningful, and environmentally-friendly. Mark Harris is a gifted story-teller; Grave Matters will surely provoke much-needed family discussions of these important issues." -- Lisa Carlson, author, Caring for the Dead: Your Final Act of Love

"As the researcher for Jessica Mitford's The American Way of Death Revisited, I have bookcases filled with nearly twenty years of information on this subject. Not one of those books covers so much, so succinctly and with such grace as this one does. Bravo." -- Karen Leonard, director, The Mitford Institute

"Anyone who reads Mark Harris' straight-forward account of Americans who are taking back control of funeral rituals will come away inspired. The families in Grave Matters remind us what funerals are really for. No amount of money, no conspicuous funerary consumption, can buy the satisfaction of honoring our dead in a truly personal way." -- Josh Slocum, executive director, Funeral Consumers Alliance

"Here's a practical, helpful book on a subject you've almost certainly given too little thought to. I'd always told my friends to carry my body out back in the woods in a canvas sack -- but Mark Harris shows us there may be more creative ways than that to avoid the clutches of the funeral industry and help the earth at the same time." -- Bill McKibben, author, Deep Economy

"A well-organized, valuable resource for anyone considering the disposition of their own or their loved one's earthly remains." -- Booklist (starred review)

"Grave Matters contains no-nonsense information that will change everything you thought you knew about funerals and dying in America. Essential and highly recommended." -- Tucson Citizen

"A practical and affirming book." -- Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"The one book you should truly read before you die." --

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