This is, obviously, a non-exhaustive list, and there are many more areas of STEM for which a similar list can be made, but mortuary science is often a taboo field to discuss, and is often associated with men in the profession, so it seemed an interesting theme to start with. What other fields would you like to see a memoir list for?
Official Synopsis: Husband, father, drag queen, sex worker, wife. Sarah Krasnostein’s The Trauma Cleaner is a love letter to an extraordinary ordinary life. In Sandra Pankhurst she discovered a woman capable of taking a lifetime of hostility and transphobic abuse and using it to care for some of society’s most in-need people.
Sandra Pankhurst founded her trauma cleaning business to help people whose emotional scars are written on their houses. From the forgotten flat of a drug addict to the infested home of a hoarder, Sandra enters properties and lives at the same time. But few of the people she looks after know anything of the complexity of Sandra’s own life. Raised in an uncaring home, Sandra’s miraculous gift for warmth and humour in the face of unspeakable personal tragedy mark her out as a one-off.
Hardcover, 291 pages
Published April 10th 2018 by St. Martin’s Press
Official Synopsis: The fearless memoir of a young forensic pathologist’s rookie season as a NYC medical examiner, and the cases, hair-raising and heartbreaking and impossibly complex, that shaped her as both a physician and a mother.
Just two months before the September 11 terrorist attacks, Dr. Judy Melinek began her training as a New York City forensic pathologist. With her husband T.J. and their toddler Daniel holding down the home front, Judy threw herself into the fascinating world of death investigation, performing autopsies, investigating death scenes, counseling grieving relatives. Working Stiff chronicles Judy’s two years of training, taking readers behind the police tape of some of the most harrowing deaths in the Big Apple, including a firsthand account of the events of September 11, the subsequent anthrax bio-terrorism attack, and the disastrous crash of American Airlines flight 587.
Lively, action-packed, and loaded with mordant wit, Working Stiff offers a firsthand account of daily life in one of America’s most arduous professions, and the unexpected challenges of shuttling between the domains of the living and the dead. The body never lies, and through the murders, accidents, and suicides that land on her table, Dr. Melinek lays bare the truth behind the glamorized depictions of autopsy work on shows like CSI and Law and Order to reveal the secret story of the real morgue.
Hardcover, 258 pages
Published August 12th 2014 by Scribner
Official Synopsis: Okay, you’re thinking: “This must be some kind of a joke. A humorous book about cadavers?”
Yup — and it works.
Mary Roach takes the age-old question, “What happens to us after we die?” quite literally. And in Stiff, she explores the “lives” of human cadavers from the time of the ancient Egyptians all the way up to current campaigns for human composting. Along the way, she recounts with morbidly infectious glee how dead bodies are used for research ranging from car safety and plastic surgery (you’ll cancel your next collagen injection after reading this!), to the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin.
Impossible (and irreverent) as it may sound, Roach has written a book about corpses that’s both lively and fresh. She traveled around the globe to conduct her forensic investigations, and her findings are wryly intelligent. While the myriad uses for cadavers recounted are often graphic, Roach imbues her subject with a sense of dignity, choosing to emphasize the oddly noble purposes corpses serve, from organ donation to lifesaving medical research.
Readers will come away convinced of the enormous debt that we, the living, owe to the study of the remains of the dead. And while it may not offer the answer to the ancient mystery we were hoping for, Stiff offers a strange sort of comfort in the knowledge that, in a sense, death isn’t necessarily the end.
Official Synopsis: Most people want to avoid thinking about death, but Caitlin Doughty—a twenty-something with a degree in medieval history and a flair for the macabre—took a job at a crematory, turning morbid curiosity into her life’s work. Thrown into a profession of gallows humor and vivid characters (both living and very dead), Caitlin learned to navigate the secretive culture of those who care for the deceased.
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes tells an unusual coming-of-age story full of bizarre encounters and unforgettable scenes. Caring for dead bodies of every color, shape, and affliction, Caitlin soon becomes an intrepid explorer in the world of the dead. She describes how she swept ashes from the machines (and sometimes onto her clothes) and reveals the strange history of cremation and undertaking, marveling at bizarre and wonderful funeral practices from different cultures.
Her eye-opening, candid, and often hilarious story is like going on a journey with your bravest friend to the cemetery at midnight. She demystifies death, leading us behind the black curtain of her unique profession. And she answers questions you didn’t know you had: Can you catch a disease from a corpse? How many dead bodies can you fit in a Dodge van? What exactly does a flaming skull look like?
Honest and heartfelt, self-deprecating and ironic, Caitlin’s engaging style makes this otherwise taboo topic both approachable and engrossing. Now a licensed mortician with an alternative funeral practice, Caitlin argues that our fear of dying warps our culture and society, and she calls for better ways of dealing with death (and our dead).
Paperback, 254 pages
Published September 28th 2015 by W. W. Norton & Company