Cover image for When we die : the science, culture, and rituals of death
When we die : the science, culture, and rituals of death
Mims, Cedric A.
Personal Author:
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, 1999.

Physical Description:
xiii, 370 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
General Note:
"First published in the United Kingdom as When we die: what becomes of the body after death, by Robinson Publishing Ltd."--T.p. verso.
Part I. Death and its causes -- What is death? -- The main causes of death -- Suicide, euthanasia, homicide -- Ageing and death -- Part II. What happens to corpses? -- The body after death -- Burial -- Exposure and cremation -- Unusual methods of disposal -- Embalming and mummification -- Freezing and other methods of preservation -- Part III. The use and abuse of corpses -- The body and the laboratory : dissection -- Using parts of the body : transplantation -- The abuse of corpses -- Identifying bodies and parts of bodies -- Part IV. Death and afterlife -- Death and the corpse : the emotional impact -- The afterlife and the future of corpse disposal.
Subject Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
R726.8 .M56 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
R726.8 .M56 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
R726.8 .M56 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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An unusually comprehensive study of death as both a social and scientific phenomenon, When We Die is as frank as it is informed. This far-reaching discussion considers mortality from the personal and the universal perspective, generously citing past and present poets and physicians from a diverse and telling range of traditions. Mims, who for two decades served as Professor of Microbiology at London's Guys Hospital, brings a humane, inquisitive, and learned sensibility to his topic. "This book is a light-hearted but wide-ranging survey of death, the causes of death, and the disposal ofcorpses," writes Mims. "It tells why we die and how we die, and what happens to the dead body and its bits and pieces. It describes the ways corpses are dealt with in different religions and in different parts of the world; the methods for preserving bodies; and the ways-fascinating in their diversity-in which corpses or parts of corpses are used and abused."The volume also explores such crucial death-based notions as the afterlife, the soul, and the prospect of immortality. By way of the book's main focus, Mims continues: "We should take a more matter-of-fact view of death [and] accept it and talk about it more than we do-as we have done with the once taboo subject of sex." This is a work that any student of social anthropology will find equally enlightening and essential.

Author Notes

Professor Cedric Mims spent 20 years in Africa, Australia, and the USA. For the next 20 years he was Professor of Microbiology at Guys Hospital in London. He lives in England.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Nearly encyclopedic in scope, this superb investigation of death in its medical, social, cultural and spiritual aspects will serve as a consciousness-raising tool for anyone who wants to come to terms with the inevitability of his or her eventual demise. Mims, a microbiologist and former professor at Guys Hospital in London, crams an enormous wealth of information into his concise yet meaningful coverage of a multitude of topics: cemeteries, ghosts, murder, capital punishment, crucifixion, religious relics, infanticide, abortion, mass extinctions of species and so forth. He digs up mind-boggling facts and figures: Every hour, 80-100 people commit suicide; auto safety researchers in Germany use corpses in car-crash tests; 43% of all deaths in the developing world result from largely curable infectious or parasitic diseases. Yet this is no mere compendium of data, thanks to Mims's lively writing style, impressive scholarship and unusually matter-of-fact approach. His survey of funeral rituals‘from the austere, cheap nocturnal rites of the Puritans to the Dyaks of Borneo, who regaled a dead chief with food and drink‘treats burial practices as a mirror of religious, social and economic history. He gives a blow-by-blow account of the aging process, explains death as nature's strategy to ensure evolutionary change and unravels the ethical, legal and medical issues surrounding euthanasia and organ transplants. Chapters on the exposure and cremation of corpses, cannibalism, medical cadavers and mummification (in Egypt, Peru, the Canary Islands) may prove unsettling for some, yet they are written with consummate tact and a broad historical perspective. Although Mims accepts death as permanent personal extinction, he surveys beliefs in an afterlife as well as near-death experiences. This remarkable tome is one of the best introductions available to a difficult topic. Eight pages of b&w photos. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Many works about death emphasize the practical and ethical dilemmas dying causes. Mims takes a different approach. Surveying a wide range of topics related to the subject, he aims to intrigue and satisfy our curiosity concerning why and how we die, what happens to corpses both biologically and in the rituals of a variety of cultures, and how these cultures view death and the possibility of an afterlife. Much of the book covers such issues as the many ways corpses have been disposed of or preserved, dissection of corpses by doctors in training, transplantation of body parts, and corpse abuse. He even covers identifying bodies, causes of death, and ethical issues related to our DNA. Mims, a British microbiologist, writes from a scientific rather than philosophical or religious perspective but is willing to discuss others' beliefs. While he does not cover all these topics in great detail, a bibliography encourages further reading. Recommended for most libraries.ÄMarit MacArthur, Auraria Lib., Denver (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.