A light-hearted look at the history and practice of “the ultimate human-interest story,” the obituary.
“What a wonderful surprise—a charming, lyrical book about the men and women who write obituaries. The Dead Beat is sly, droll, and completely winning.”— David Halberstam
Where can readers celebrate the life of the pharmacist who moonlighted as a spy, the genius behind Sea Monkeys, the school lunch lady who spent her evenings as a ballroom hostess? The obituary page, of course. Enthralled by these fascinating former lives, Marilyn Johnson tumbled into the little known world of the obituary page to find out what made it so compelling. She sought out the best obits in the English language, and chased the people who spent their lives writing about the dead. Surveying Internet chat rooms, surviving a mass gathering of obituarists, and making the pilgrimage to London to savor the most caustic and literate obits of all, she leads us into the cult and culture behind this fascinating segment of our daily news.
About the Author
Marilyn Johnson is a former editor and writer for Life, Esquire, and Outside magazines, and lives with her husband, Rob Fleder, in New York's Hudson Valley.
“What a wonderful surprise--a charming, lyrical book about the men and women who write obituaries. The Dead Beat is sly, droll, and completely winning.” — David Halberstam
“If Marilyn Johnson had been meaner, I could have said she puts the bitch in obituary. Instead, she’s written a warm, funny, appreciative book that, ironically enough, should live forever. But get it now.” — Roy Blount, Jr., author of Feet On The Street: Rambles Around New Orleans Roy Blount, Jr., author of Feet On The Street: Rambles Around New Orleans
“A joyful book about obituaries? Absolutely! Marilyn Johnson pulls it off with death-defying grace, insight, charm, and wit. In the end, what a celebration of life!” — Lee Eisenberg, author of The Number: A Completely Different Way to Think About the Rest of Your Life
“[Marilyn Johnson]’s written a warm, funny, appreciative book that, ironically enough, should live forever. But get it now.” — Roy Blount, Jr., author of Feet On The Street: Rambles Around New Orleans
“A beautifully written, funny, and fascinating tour through the unexpectedly lively world of obituaries.” — Lisa Grunwald, author of Women’s Letters: America from the Revolutionary War to the Present
"This delightful quirk of a book is … an uplifting, joyous, life-affirming read for people who ordinarily steer clear of uplifting, joyous, life-affirming reads….A musing on history and the everyday lives that comprise it [and] a primer on good writing….Writers interested in honing the craft should inhale this book. Who else might profit or delight from reading about obituaries? Just about anyone who’s not yet in one." — Mary Roach, Los Angeles Times Book Review
[A] fascinating book about the art, history and subculture of obituary writing…[Johnson’s] delight in the subject is unabashed…Johnson’s analysis of the form and its top practitioners is absorbing, [and] her accounts of the culture of obituary lovers is downright amazing." — New York Times Book Review
Persuades us that the obituary column is not only the place to find out who dies, but also a source of information – and wisdom – about the world of the living. — People (four out of four stars)
Fetching…Johnson writes about obituaries with the zeal – and insight – of an avid obit fan … [it] makes for lively reading. — Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
A smart, tart, and often hilarious tiptoe through the tombstones. — Parade
"If you have ever, once, reveled in the obits pages, you’ll be reading aloud from these fan’s notes…[Johnson] shares the choice shockers and tearjerkers, along with an infectious reverence for the form. Only irresistible lives live here." — More magazine
"A sprightly journey around the lively world of obituary writing, which in [Johnson’s] view has never been more vivid or interesting than it is today. Johnson brings a fresh sense of appreciation to the modest but exacting stories that many readers treasure above all others." — Washington Post
"[A] book-lovers’ find. The obits quoted are hilarious, poignant, and insightful. They are examples of journalistic writing at its best, and although the author writes about the dead, they come alive on the page with wit, compassion, respect. … I think it will be the sleeper book of the year. It is a textbook on writing, and I will assign it to a class I am teaching this spring. But it is more than that. It is an instruction on how we should live our different, individual lives." — Boston Globe
"Open this enormously entertaining book and your life will contain three certainties: death, taxes and an overwhelming desire to turn the pages….Like a good life, “The Dead Beat” ends too soon. Like a good obit, though, Marilyn Johnson leaves us with a memorable story." — San Diego Union-Tribune
"[A] whimsical paean to the obituary, a literary form initiated by death, but paradoxically, Johnson finds, brimming over with vibrancy, wit, and irony - in other words, with the stuff of life….The way others marvel over an orchid’s distinctive coloring or the clean bouquet of a wine, Johnson relishes the finely crafted obituary….a gleeful celebration of the form, but with a twinge of elegy." — Baltimore Sun