The Undead is written by Dick Teresi, a medicine and science journalist turned author. I waffled for a few weeks on whether or not to write this review. I wanted to like the book and ended up not, for a few reasons. I even browsed through reviews on goodreads after reading, which is not something I normally do, to find out what other people thought and it seems like most readers are split. You either really like it or really don’t. Guess which group I fell into?
Teresi implies that readers who dislike his book do so because they are consciously or unconsciously afraid of death. Um, no. How about, the reason I dislike your book is because you somehow took a vibrant and cutting edge topic and made it tedious and boring. Buddy, you don’t have a psychology degree and it shows. Don’t try to psychoanalyze your audience and don’t ever lump all critics or dissenters into one category.
Part of the reason this book rubbed me the wrong way, despite my interest in the topic, is because I didn’t like Teresi’s writing style. He proudly discusses his journalistic beginnings and there is nothing wrong with that, but The Undead felt like a Frankenstein cross between the journal article that just wouldn’t die and the most anti-climatic academic journal article in history. I did listen to this via audiobook rather than reading the book myself and that could have made a difference. Some titles are not written to translate well into audiobook format and I had a difficult time telling where one chapter ended and another began. Teresi uses subheadings throughout his book, and when you hear the narrator pause, say one and then pause again, it sounds like a new chapter. And whether it was a mistake by the narrator or someone else, the introduction became chapter one on my copy so that meant chapter two according to Audible was chapter one according to the narrator and so on. Frustrating to me and unprofessional sounding.
Although the book is only 10 hours long, about 368 pages according to goodreads, it feels much longer. That is actually a pretty decent length for a nonfiction book, but I listened to a 48 hour audiobook much quicker. The Undead starts out slow. As a reader, I was excited to dive right in to all of the controversial and intriguing things listed in the title: organ harvesting, the ice-water test and beating heart cadavers. What I got instead were several chapters debating the definition of “death”, now and through the ages, and how we view death as a society. A short conversation as to how death is viewed now and its relationship to religion and spirituality may have been warranted, but I definitely did not require such a thorough understanding of the Ancient Egyptians’ spiritual beliefs. I covered that in grade 11 Ancient Religions class, thanks.
It almost feels like the author was showing off to his detractors, or writing in a way that he thought he should, instead of just writing to the average person, who is his audience. The average person who is reading for fun is busy and as other things to do and read. I don’t want four chapters of background information. I don’t want real-life examples to read like case-studies. As a fifth year university student, I can honestly tell you that I have had text books that were more interesting and compelling than this book, and I don’t even like my major, I’m just finishing my degree so that I can go to grad school and get a masters in the career field I actually intend to work in.
The last thing I want to say about The Undead is that it sure didn’t do the organ donation community any favours. I’ve always been a huge proponent of organ donation but I sat down and seriously thought about pulling my permission after listening to this book, and even called my Dad to talk it out with him on the phone. I’m still not comfortable with my decision either way, but I’ve left it as is for now. If I am undecided, better to save a life if the unmentionable happens, than to know in the next life I could have saved lives and didn’t.
I want to put it out there that I DNF’d this book at about 80% of the way through. I cut out with roughly two chapters to go because life is too short to waste on a bad book when there are so many good ones you won’t have the opportunity to read. Not going to be one that I recommend unfortunately.