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Book and Media Reviews
October 8, 2008

Beyond the Good Death: The Anthropology of Modern Dying

JAMA. 2008;300(14):1702. doi:10.1001/jama.300.14.1702

Recently on National Public Radio, I heard mention of an interesting trend in funeral music. Apparently, in recent years persons planning funerals have been forgoing the traditional classical music, like “Amazing Grace” or Mozart's Requiem, in favor of more modern tunes, including classic rock. Both “Highway to Hell” and “Stairway to Heaven” are popular choices, with the most popular selection being Frank Sinatra's “My Way.” This says a lot about modern attitudes toward life, death, and the afterlife. The trend away from traditional death practices and toward more individualized and personal activities surrounding death and dying is broadly covered in Beyond the Good Death. Its author, James Green, covers a lot of ground in 200 pages and offers useful endnotes and a bibliography to enhance his discussion. The book is best characterized as a review, and as such it sacrifices depth in favor of a broad overview of many modern death practices.