Cover Image: Over My Dead Body

Over My Dead Body

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Member Reviews

I received this as an eGalley from NetGalley.

Growing up with a Dad who was an amateur genealogist means I weirdly spent a lot of time in cemeteries as a child helping my Dad find tombstones to confirm birth and date dates. So it means I have both a reverence and comfortable feeling in cemeteries. 

I loved reading about various cemeteries.
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I really enjoyed this one, it’s right up my alley. I thought it was well researched and interesting. I loved the cemeteries he talked about- I’m curious to see what the author tackles next. I love a book when I feel like I’ve learned something and it makes me more curious. A fascinating look at the culture if death.
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This review was originally published on I was given an ebook freely by NetGalley and the book’s publisher in return for a voluntary and honest review. 

Over My Dead Body:Unearthing the Hidden History of America’s Cemeteries
By Greg Melville

Who better to teach us about cemeteries and what they have to say about America, but a gravedigger. Greg Melville used to spend the summers during college digging graves and mowing the grass in the cemetery. He said that’s where his fascination began. 

Melville starts from the beginning of America’s history with the Jamestown settlements cemetery and moves through history. Funny enough I just visited Jamestown this last summer and in fact several of the other cemeteries he mentions in the book. Each one gives Melville the opportunity to not only tell some great historical facts but also gives insight into our past. The way we treated the indigenous people, slaves and other faiths. He shows us how the Civil War turned cemeteries into big business and how there’s more cremation than burials. My personal favorite was the chapter on green burials. 

It might be morbid to spend time reading about the business of burying the dead but we all have to do it. I personally plan to go green in death. A page turning delight. Maybe not a beach book but definitely worth picking up.
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Greg Melville worked in a cemetery the summer before college, and that sparked a life-long fascination with cemeteries, how we bury our dead, and what they can tell us about our history.

Through explorations of these cities, Melville goes on an interesting tour through history.

Shawsheen Cemetery – Bedford, Massachusetts
The 1607 Burial Ground – Historic Jamestowne, Virginia
Burial Hill – Plymouth, Massachusetts
Colonial Jewish Burial Ground – Newport, Rhode Island
Monticello’s African American Graveyard – Charlottesville, Virginia
Mount Auburn Cemetery – Cambridge, Massachusetts
Green-Wood Cemetery – Brooklyn, New York
Laurel Grove Cemetery – Savannah, Georgia
Sleepy Hollow Cemetery – Concord, Massachusetts
Central Park – New York, New York
Gettysburg National Cemetery – Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Arlington National Cemetery – Arlington, Virginia
Woodlawn Cemetery – Bronx, New York
Boothill Graveyard – Tombhill, Arizona
Forest Lawn Memorial-Park – Glenwood, California
The Chapel of the Chimes – Oakland, California
Hollywood Forever Cemetery – Los Angeles, California
Nature’s Sanctuary – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

I’m a huge fan of a micro history, and this was an interesting take on history, through it’s graveyards. I really enjoyed it, I learned some things, and it brought up some apt social issues. Recommend if you like history and or are interested in death and graveyards. You know, light reading. 😉
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This book was so incredibly well researched and detailed! The cemeteries included in the book are  telling the story of our country and how our perspective on death and funerals has changed throughout history.
There's a bit of humor sprinkled in as well as some commentary on the commercialism of the funeral industry. The entire book is done with incredible reverence to the dead and their resting places. 
The only thing j would have added is more photos. I found myself flipping to the interwebs to look up various things as they were mentioned. Then I was down the rabbit hole of images!
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Every bit as morbidly fun and informative as I'd hoped! I appreciated learning not only about the cemeteries themselves, but also the history of the burial practices that each one represents. Unexpected bonus: I've been to one of the featured burial grounds — Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, MA!
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Over My Dead Body: Unearthing the Hidden History of America’s Cemeteries by Greg Melville is an absolutely fascinating tour of the history of cemeteries in the U.S. Of the 18 cemeteries visited here, I've actually been to one of them in person, Burial Hill in Plymouth, Massachusetts, so that was very cool to see the author discuss one I'm already somewhat familiar with. I particularly enjoyed the author's conversational tone. I highly recommend this, especially if you're a fan of Caitlin Doughty.
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I got an ARC from NetGalley. Clearly, in order to request it, I was already predisposed to like the topic, why else would I request it? But this was more than I expected.

I normally hate books where the author inserts too much of themselves, which the author did here. But oddly, it really works well. You got to know Greg, or the Greg he presents, in this book and he really became a buddy I was going around looking at cemeteries with. Except for his abnormal love of running, I felt like he was me, only a much better writer. Although he did refer to Jessica Mitford as a journalist, which of course she was, but if I were writing you know there would have been more celebrity worship going on! Because of this, there is really a fun embrace of what could be morbid. The book became more a vacation with a friend looking at cool cemeteries and learning along the way. 

I did read it slower than expected, mostly because each chapter is so self-contained, it's easy to stop. Each chapter focuses on a specific cemetery and then uses that to illustrate a larger story in the Death Industry--I really liked how he addressed that and its control of death in America. There are errors in the book. I know ARCs are not the final version and there were that sort of errors as well but there were some interpretation/ fact errors that I know will stay. But that is ok. Nothing is perfect and in its imperfection, I think he makes cemeteries accessible to everyone, not just us eccentric fanatics. 

What would be cool is if he turned the book into a guided road trip, I would 100% join him!

Because it was a Netgalley ARC, I got a kindle version of the book but I am planning to buy a hard copy to keep on my bookshelf. This seems a book that would be useful to have around as reference and vacation inspiration. And end of life planning. He has me so wanting a natural burial now!
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Very interesting.  Because of my husband's interest in family history, we have spent lots of time in cemetaries, but I still had lots to learn about their history and what the future might hold.  
For example:  I never knew the difference between a coffin and casket, I didn't know how bad embalming is for the environment, and I didn't know how huge cremation has become in the USA.  Melville is an entertaining writer with amusing little comments like the fact that one cemetary displays a "Goliath-size version of Michalangelo's David statue."
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An incredible look into the history of our cemeteries and other aspects of the death industry in America. If you’re a fan of Caitlin Doughty’s work, this is a must read! It covers everything from our first cemeteries, to the effects embalming has on the environment. He discusses different burial trends and how the way we think about death has changed.  Interwoven with his own experiences as a grave digger and mourner. I was especially moved by how he takes time to show historically the racial disparity in how we bury and then care for the graves of minorities. 
  At times I felt like he glossed over topics I could have written, or read, a chapter on. Such as the concept of “the good death” changing during the civil war and the effect it had on burials in the country. I can tell he carefully chose what to merely reference as opposed to what he wanted to explain more in depth. It carries the book along and gives a nice sense of rhythm to the reader. I can’t recommend this highly enough to those with an interest in genealogy, death, the death industry, American history, and so much more! I'm grateful to Netgalley for the chance to review this book.
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It's spooky season and so it definitely felt like the right time to give this a read. Cemeteries, humor, and history, what's not to love? 

This is probably one of the few times where I wish a book was longer. I want more cemetery stories! (Bonaventure, GA; Salem, MA; Lafayette 1/St Louis 1, LA are on my request list for sure)

I received this ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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I read this book in two sitting! So incredibly interesting! I love cemeteries and have always been interested in the death industry so this book was an incredible look at some of that stuff!
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As a life long admirer and appreciator of cemeteries I really enjoyed this book giving me a glimpse into cemeteries I may never be able to visit. It's also a fantastic travel guide if I AM ever able to go out and about and see all these wonderful places in person.

Well done Greg Melville, this book was incredibly interesting, the history and background of the cemeteries and different funeral rites and customs, is great to learn and something not easily found usually when visiting a location.
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Like the author, I've had a quiet adoration of cemeteries since I was a child. I used to ride my bike to the small cemetery less than a mile from my house and sit with a book under a tree in the oldest part of the cemetery. I would explore the stones and wonder about the people long buried there. The environment was peaceful and oddly comforting. Not so long ago, we buried my father in this same cemetery and I'm happy he's in a peaceful place. 

The ways in which humanity has dealt with the dead, developed different rituals, beliefs in the afterlife, and things they have done to ensure their memories have long fascinated many. This book is an honest, respectful, sharp witted exploration of historical cemeteries and various funeral rituals across humanity. Entertaining, enlightening, and intriguing, you would never expect the ways that cemeteries and burials have influenced history, people, and the impact it has on society. 

Thank you to NetGalley and Abrams Press for providing me with a digital copy for review. The opinions expressed here are my own and do not reflect those of the author or publisher.
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My thanks to both NetGalley and the publisher Abrams for an advanced copy of this book that is both a history of cemeteries in America, and a meditation on how even death, something that happens to us all, is still used to marginalize or out right ignore certain people in society. 

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Death and dying seems to be on a lot of peoples minds. Blame a pandemic that no amount of wishing away, still continues to thin our population. Or the fact that people can't go to school, malls, or religious halls, because it seems that no where is safe. So reading a book about cemeteries seemed perfect after an hour on Twitter. Over My Dead Body: Unearthing the Hidden History of America’s Cemeteries by Greg Melville a writer, editor, educator and veteran is not the book that I expected. Yes, readers learn about cemeteries and their history, but the book is much more than that. The book looks at society, how we treat people even in death, the money and the business in dying, the beauty, the ugliness and the science. I book that exceeded my expectations on every level.

The book starts with a brief introduction to the writer and a summer job he took for the town he lived in that gave him a life long interest. Not digging graves, but evening them out, not at the six feet that I always thought was regulated. From there we travel the country looking at famous cemeteries from military, to the first Jewish cemetery, to rich and sometimes poor. As we travel Melville tells us about the time in which the cemeteries were created, times of war, or peace, or to make money. However it is the dead that are given a chance to be seen and discussed. Stories of Native American graves defiled for their food offerings, or just bulldozed by people looking to make more wealth. Graveyards in the South that Goggle Maps ignored, while the white cemetery is easily found. A lonely grave in Tombstone allows Melville a chance to share about those Chinese immigrants who built the railroads, and about their erasing from history. A look at history of this country from a very unique view.

The book is very well written, funny when needed, Melville's stories about his love and graveyards and his family are very humourous, and balance well the story Melville is telling. The research is very complete, and well sourced. The book covers many things, the greed in the industry of funerals, and what a future of rising cremations and natural burials might mean. The science of embalming, and how that became a business, along with cemeteries as tax shelters is something I knew a little about, but was happy to learn more. However it is the dead, those lost, those in the case of the descendents of Thomas Jefferson and others ignored, as they try to rewrite history is what I enjoyed the most. Melville's writing is both informative and sympathetic to the dead this country continues to mistreat. Also his own thoughts and feelings on what he wants as he thinks of his own mortality show not only courage, and left me with a lot of thoughts of what might happen when I finally breath my last. 

A book with a few messages. Take care of people in life, and in death. Know the history of your area, don't hide it or whitewash it, or burn the books as some people in this country are so apt to do. There is a lot to think about and learn from this book, not just about where we place bodies, but how we treat their memories when they are gone. Highly recommended. For fans of All the Living and the Dead, by Hayley Campbell, a fine companion piece to this book and also for readers of Lies my Teacher told Me by James Loewen. I really can't wait to read more by Greg Melville.
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I have loved going to cemeteries since I was a child so this book sounded just like a nonfiction I would love. I went up to gravestones and imagined the lives of those of the past. I was so enthralled with every chapter and I struggled to stop reading. The history of cemeteries, the reflection on society and how they continue to work was fascinating. I really enjoyed the depth of each subject as it taught me new things and helped me learn the different elements of cemeteries. I don’t live in the US but I feel like it would be extremely similar to Canada. The discussion of racism and injustice throughout history that is revealed in the cemeteries of the past and present were awful to learn but it is important to be exposed. This is the book for anyone who loves learning about history through unique ways!

I received an arc via Netgalley in exchange for a honest review.
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I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when reading going into this book, but I was pleasantly surprised by it. I loved how Greg Melville walks through history in the context of cemeteries. As someone whose idea of a good time is wandering an old graveyard, I was happy to see Melville speak of them with the utmost respect. Something was comforting about how he wrote about them and honest about how he wrote about the history. I appreciate that Melville didn’t sugarcoat or whitewash history to make America or other colonialist nations look better. This is a book I will want on my shelves to refer back to for exciting conversation starters.
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This is such an interesting book. Perfect for the lover of history and of odd knowledge, it would make a great gift and would also be a great non traditional way to study American history in the classroom or homeschool.
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I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

"Over My Dead Body" covers a lot of topics, from the history of cemeteries in America, through the rise of the horrifyingly named Death Industrial Complex, to how said industry interacts with sustainability/environmental concerns.

For a nonfiction novel about a fairly grim subject, the writing in OMDB is accessible and quick, and I think many readers will be able to enjoy it. The chapters almost function more as a collection of essays that all revolve around the main topic, more than a linear progression of a narrative. While this is a fairly common approach to nonfiction, it felt a bit disjointed to me (hence the 3-star).
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As someone who works in a history / genealogy department of a library, this book caught my eye right away. I've always been fascinated by cemeteries and how we are required to boil entire lives down to what fits on a gravestone. 

I learned a lot from this book. I had no idea there were so many different schools of thought on death and burial as time progressed. The book is also part history lesson, as when we learn about the Chinese immigrants laid to rest in "boot hill" graveyards and the racial segregation of many graveyards. Science and conservation are also learned when "natural" burials are discussed. 

Overall, an interesting read and I learned much more about burial considerations and processes than I had expected!
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