Skip to content
Hardcover Buried Alive: The Terrifying History of Our Most Primal Fear Book

ISBN: 039304906X

ISBN13: 9780393049060

Buried Alive: The Terrifying History of Our Most Primal Fear

Select Format

Select Condition ThriftBooks Help Icon


Format: Hardcover

Condition: Good

Save $18.66!
List Price $24.95

1 Available

Book Overview

Readers of Edgar Allan Poe's tales--just think of The Premature Burial--may comfort themselves with the notion that Poe must have exaggerated: surely people of the 1800s could not have been at risk of... This description may be from another edition of this product.

Customer Reviews

4 ratings

entertaining and informative

A fascinating account of the spread of hysterical fears of being buried alive at multiple times and places in human history, with a common origin in both fact and legend. What I found most interesting was the clash between the purveyors of irrational fears and the attempted refutations by incredibly poor skeptical critics (e.g., proponent Bruhier was more scientific than critic Louis), but the movement died out seemingly of its own accord. Bondeson does an excellent job of bringing together the relevant data from history, legend, medicine, art, and literature, into an entertaining and informative book, in some ways similar to Mary Roach's Stiff but without quite that level of irreverence.


This book presents a fairly gruesome subject in a manner that makes it difficult to put the book down. This history of one of humanity's greatest fears makes for a very informative and interesting ("lively"?) read.

Ghoulish Fun

The causes, history, and results of the fear of premature burial are detailed in _Buried Alive: The Terrifying History of Our Most Primal Fear_ (W. W. Norton & Co.) by Jan Bondeson. There may have been just a touch of truth in the old fear, but Bondeson's fascinating, cheerful, but ghoulish book shows that like most worries, the one about being buried alive was generally not worth getting upset about. This book is full of legends: the woman who awoke when a grave robber tried to cut her finger off to get her ring, the anatomist scared to death when he is about to do an exam of a body that wakes at the touch of the knife, the exhumed skeleton that is found to have clawed at the inside of its coffin and vainly burst the lid, and so on. These legends have been revived now and then in the current tabloids, but they blossomed in seventeenth century Europe. Physicians at the time were aware that in the plague or cholera epidemics, the mayhem might mean that victims of the carnage might not be individually diagnosed, and death might only be apparent. When a medical book on premature burial became stocked with legends and addressed to the public, a trend to worry about premature burial began. The Germans even introduced the practice of communities proudly building houses for the dead. Bodies would, by law, come to the institutions, stick around until putrefaction was documented, and then be released for burial. The facilities permitted families to visit, and even charged for sightseers, although the smell was awful. The houses, even with the support of law, got few takers, and it was never documented that even one occupant woke up. Security coffins were designed for those who were buried in the usual way, so that people could receive light and air if they happened to wake up underground, and could even get food and drink by a special tube once they sounded the alert. The alert, a tolling bell or a raised flag, would go off if the entombed tripped a special lever or pulled a rope, but many of the gadgets had the problem of false alarms. As the body decomposed it might swell or shift, triggering the alarm. Americans responded to the increased fear of premature burial by patenting a coffin that had rotating lights as an alarm, and even had a light, heater, and telephone within.It seems that there was a spell of cataleptic-type episodes which (like the syndrome of fainting after emotional shocks) for a while was a way people showed emotional distress physically; it may be that they were at some risk for being thought dead prematurely, and Bondeson shows that the fear of being buried alive was not completely without foundation. There are cases of people, even recently, medically certified as dead, who lived on; at special risk are those who have been chilled to a low temperature or who have taken overdoses of different medicines. The centuries of fear of burying people alive, however, simply faded, undoubtedly because of increasing trust in m

Blowing Smoke Up Your...

After reading a gut-wrenchingly funny review of this book... I had to have it. I'm glad I went with my instincts. Buried Alive chronicles sometimes well-intentioned, sometimes exploitative response to 18th and 19th century fears of waking to find yourself trapped in a coffin buried beneath the ground. Occasional incidents of such mistaken burials became intermingled with folk tales, misrepresentations, and outright fiction to frighten rich and poor alike, leading to some truly bizarre methods of ascertaining once and for all whether a candidate for burial was truly dead. Methods ranged from installing slowly putrefying bodies in "waiting mortuaries," to subjecting suspected corpses to such unnatural treatments as tobacco enemas and a mouthful of warm urine. And those were the milder procedures. Bondeson has done plenty of research, and presents it in a clear, logical manner. While chuckling at times over the excesses of it all, he doesn't slip into easy sarcasm or cheap shots. His knowledge of the cultural and social environment of the times helps him bring a sense of sympathy to telling the tales of those who really were trying to do the right thing.
Copyright © 2023 Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Do Not Sell My Personal Information | Cookie Preferences | Accessibility Statement
ThriftBooks® and the ThriftBooks® logo are registered trademarks of Thrift Books Global, LLC
GoDaddy Verified and Secured