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Death to Dust

Kenneth V. Iserson, M.D.

Galen Press

US Hardcover First


709 pages ;$38.95

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2002



Non-Fiction, Horror


The old saw about writing is that you should "write what you know". By this, it is meant that writers are well-advised to write about things that have happened to them. But, when you're a horror writer and death is your subject, there's a problem. You only get to be dead once, and unless you're V.C.Andrews or L. Ron Hubbard, you're not going to be doing a lot of writing afterwards. 'Death to Dust' is your guidebook to death, your Cliff notes to what happens after the lights go out. The information ranges from the poetry of death to the price of an autopsy -- and who pays for it.

'Death to Dust' is organized in the fashion suggested by the title. You start out dead, and eventually end up dust. The book is divided into 14 chapters, each covering a different aspect of death. Each chapter begins with a series of questions, and those questions are answered within the chapter. This makes 'Death to Dust' quite easy to use as a reference guide, or as a repository of "short stories" each one focused on some fascinating aspect of death. The book is also indexed and illustrated, and filled with references to back up the author's assertions. In these days when dead bodies are the stars of television shows and movies, when a top-rted TV programs gets a big jazz for viewers by plunging into open wounds, 'Death to Dust' is an essential guide to who bullshitting and who knows their stuff.

Iserson's prose style is straightforward and breezy, even when he is describing things like cannibalism and the use of animals to devour the bodies of the dead. His dissections, as it were, of the subject into small essays, makes it easy to pick up this book and read it in parts. It also makes it an excellent reference book. If there's something you need to know about dead humans, it's easy to find in Iserson's tome. Both horror readers and writers can find much to admire in 'Death to Dust'.