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I have dim memories of watching the PBS documentary companion to this book back when it was first released, 1992 or 1993 (sadly, they are not pleasant memories- while the subject matter was interesting to me then as now, with its horror movie clips, even PBS could be too much for me as a kid at times!) and it seems like a promising premise; a man travels the globe exploring cultural attitudes towards death and dying, stopping by nearly every continent. From popular cultural attitudes toward movie death in the cheesy, over-the-top goriness of Troma Films to the somber over-the-top pomp and circumstance of the English Victorian funeral and nearly everywhere in between, Greg Palmer approaches the issues with a bit of humor and much understanding. As a Unitarian, he is very interested in how people respond to the great mystery of death from culture to culture and encounters some very diverse reactions; a theme park cemetery in Taiwan, traditional versus commercialized Days of the Dead in Mexico, even hopes to escape death through cryogenic freezing. Palmer maintains a deep compassion throughout much of his interviews with grieving people he interviews, which allows him to ruminate about how different religions and cultures react to death and what may or may not come after (both for the living and the dead). Especially interesting was the story of the Ghanaian coroner struggling to reconcile his scientific duties of determining cause of death with religious and funeral practices of his home nation. It all occasionally became a bit dry, unfortunately, in spite of the global travel and macabre themes. It may be that the topic Palmer chose to write about, “death in world culture,” is a bit too broad and all encompassing and he can bog down in the details. Especially during the chapters that discuss the importance of funerals in the expression of grief across cultures, Palmer’s writing slows down quite a bit and can almost be a bit boring. Perhaps some of these sections might come across better in the television documentary, allowing the viewer to hear and see the interviewees and their emotions personally rather than second hand. In addition, the work is now nearly twenty years old and cannot account for many of the changing attitudes towards funeral customs in particular over the last few decades. To conclude, Death: The Trip of a Lifetime is an interesting and introspective study of world death attitudes, if almost too broad and lacking the images of its documentary half, that is worth a read for people interested in the differences and similarities of the world’s reaction to the existence of human death.

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