Purified by Fire: A History of Cremation in America
By Stephen Prothero
2001 280 Pages | ISBN: 0520208161 | PDF | 3 MB
As Prothero (religion, Boston Univ.) states in the introduction, "what Americans usually do is bury." In this outstanding work, he delves deeply into a subject that is often avoided: death and, most specifically, cremation. He reads ancient texts, showing how the likes of Homer, Virgil, and Ovid discussed cremation. As Christianity rose in the West, cremation disappeared, and from the late fourth century C.E. until the 17th century burial was the accepted way to dispose of the dead. Prothero cites English physician Sir Thomas Brownes 1658 book on cremation as critical to the modern cremation movement. But Prothero focuses mainly on cremation in America. Starting in the late 1800s, when the first modern American cremations took place, Prothero traces the changing views about cremation in America up to the present. Now almost a quarter of the populace chooses cremation, and cultural icons such as John Lennon and President Kennedy have been cremated without a second thought. Some of the more interesting sections of the book consider the interplay of cremation and public health and the centrality of the immortality of the soul to cremationists. This very interesting book is highly recommended for larger public, academic, and theological libraries.