Kristine M. McCusker, "Just Enough to Put Him Away Decent: Death Care, Life Extension, and the Making of a Healthier South, 1900-1955" (U Illinois Press, 2023)


Kristine M. McCusker's book Just Enough to Put Him Away Decent: Death Care, Life Extension, and the Making of a Healthier South, 1900-1955 (U Illinois Press, 2023) takes, as its focus, the combined history of death and health in the American South between 1900 and 1955. The text is ambitious in scope, and weaves together multiple oral histories to create a nuanced and engaging narrative. McCusker charts the ways in which low life expectancy in the South was regarded as problematic by commercial life insurance firms, concerned that their customers were paying insufficient dues before mortality provoked funeral expenditures, and the various Churches seeking to save souls before an untimely demise robbed them of the opportunity. Both agencies were heavily invested in health care. McCusker expertly weaves further threads into this complex narrative: Southern funeral practices, the theological basis for strong belief in family re-union at death, and racial divides that created exclusions and opportunities for the Black Americans to express their own deathways, increasingly supported through commercial enterprise. Two World Wars test and refine common frameworks for organizing the dead, and McCusker underlines the importance, amongst other things, of etiquette guidance on the correct ways to grieve and to express condolence. This is a remarkably rich text that will intrigue a more general readership and prove essential to death scholars in the US and further afield.

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Julie Rugg

Dr Julie Rugg is a Reader in Social Policy at the University of York, UK. She has an abiding interest in the ways in which societies come to an accommodation with mortality. The Cemetery Research website connects scholars with similar interests and in multiple disciplines from around the world.

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