Each chapter is like a self-contained magazine piece with an excellent cast of characters. How perfect that there is a master embalmer working in Margate called Dr Gore! Each essay varies in tone and interest, but each provides shocking information, supported by kind, emotional sophistication. Campbell doesn’t have an axe to grind like, say, Jessica Mitford in The American Way of Death the classic exposé of corrupt funeral practices. She just wants us, as it were, to see the axe ... All these details feel exploitative now that I have pulled them from the body of the book, but in the whole they feel morally grounded ... The book’s tour de force is the chapter on the technicians who prepare bodies for autopsy at St Thomas’s Hospital in London. It is a superlative piece of writing, one of the best essays I have read in a long time; provocative, loving and profound ... To the essential jobs working in the death industry should be added: tour guide.
Ms. Campbell’s book is more than a written narrative, it is a map across uneven and untraveled land. Her story lingers the way a mortuary’s perfume sticks to the roof of your mouth. This is a book you will carry with you ... I have never read a book like this one. Ms. Campbell, a London-based journalist and author, answers questions I never thought to ask ... There are moments of grisly, if fascinating, reality...But with such images comes surprising tenderness as well; moments of hope, or longing, of life after the ruins ... despite the episodic nature of the text, there remains an indelible story here, a journey. The author changes along the way, and so do we ... It’s this raw, unguarded honesty that takes her book beyond many others of similar subject ... At times humorous and always informative, this humanity sets All the Living and the Dead apart.
Campbell’s genuine curiosity, careful reporting, and insightful commentary make for an engrossing read. Without sensationalizing or squeamishness, Campbell offers interviews rich in candid insights. One strong thread that emerges is the desire to be of service; another is deep, profound respect ... Readers who share Campbell’s healthy obsession will appreciate both her meticulous reporting and her marked compassion.