An unusually comprehensive study of death as both a social and scientific phenomenon, When We Die
is as frank as it is informed. This far-reaching discussion considers mortality from the personal and the universal perspective, generously citing past and present poets and physicians from a diverse and telling range of traditions. Mims, who for two decades served as Professor of Microbiology at London’s Guys Hospital, brings a humane, inquisitive, and learned sensibility to his topic. “This book is a light-hearted but wide-ranging survey of death, the causes of death, and the disposal of corpses,” writes Mims. “It tells why we die and how we die, and what happens to the dead body and its bits and pieces. It describes the ways corpses are dealt with in different religions and in different parts of the world; the methods for preserving bodies; and the ways—fascinating in their diversity—in which corpses or parts of corpses are used and abused.”
The volume also explores such crucial death-based notions as the afterlife, the soul, and the prospect of immortality. By way of the book’s main focus, Mims continues: “We should take a more matter-of-fact view of death [and] accept it and talk about it more than we do—as we have done with the once taboo subject of sex.” This is a work that any student of social anthropology will find equally enlightening and essential.