The Unclaimed: Abandonment and Hope in the City of Angels (Hardcover)

The Unclaimed: Abandonment and Hope in the City of Angels By Pamela Prickett, Stefan Timmermans Cover Image
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“A rare and compassionate look into the lives of Americans who go unclaimed when they die and those who dedicate their lives to burying them with dignity.”—Matthew Desmond, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Poverty, by America

“A work of grace . . . Both cleareyed and disturbing, yet pulsing with empathy.”—The New York Times (Editors’ Choice)

For centuries, people who died destitute or alone were buried in potters’ fields—a Dickensian end that even the most hard-pressed families tried to avoid. Today, more and more relatives are abandoning their dead, leaving it to local governments to dispose of the bodies. Up to 150,000 Americans now go unclaimed each year. Who are they? Why are they being forgotten? And what is the meaning of life if your death doesn’t matter to others?

In this extraordinary work of narrative nonfiction, eight years in the making, sociologists Pamela Prickett and Stefan Timmermans uncover a hidden social world. They follow four individuals in Los Angeles, tracing the twisting, poignant paths that put each at risk of going unclaimed, and introducing us to the scene investigators, notification officers, and crematorium workers who care for them when no one else will.

The Unclaimed lays bare the difficult truth that anyone can be abandoned. It forces us to confront a variety of social ills, from the fracturing of families and the loneliness of cities to the toll of rising inequality. But it is also filled with unexpected moments of tenderness. In Boyle Heights, a Mexican American neighborhood not far from the glitter of Hollywood, hundreds of strangers come together each year to mourn the deaths of people they never knew. These ceremonies, springing up across the country, reaffirm our shared humanity and help mend our frayed social fabric.

Beautifully crafted and profoundly empathetic, The Unclaimed urges us to expand our circle of caring—in death and in life.

About the Author

Pamela Prickett is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Amsterdam and an acclaimed writer and former broadcaster.

Stefan Timmermans is a professor of sociology at UCLA. He is the author of an award-winning book on forensic death investigations.

Praise For…

“A work of grace . . . Both cleareyed and disturbing, yet pulsing with empathy.”The New York Times Book Review

“A deeply compelling, utterly original account of all those whose bodies lie unclaimed in a Los Angeles morgue . . . These intimate profiles read like short stories, the writing both deeply empathic and unflinchingly honest. . . . [The Unclaimed] is a book that speaks to the power of narrative. Hearing stories makes us feel less alone. Hearing stories pushes us to ask hard questions of ourselves. This book has landed at just the right moment. . . . I didn’t expect to come away feeling so sanguine about humanity.”The Atlantic

“Here’s hoping you can read one-handed. Left or right, you’ll need the other hand to place over your mouth when you’re touched by the beauty and humanity inside The Unclaimed.”—Wyoming Tribune Eagle

“What The Unclaimed lays bare about our families, our loneliness, our poverty—and our decency and courage, as well—demands that we reexamine our own lives while we still have breath.”—Matthew Desmond, author of Poverty, by America

“Powerful. Haunting. This book is living witness to the millions of forgotten dead, reminding us that we reaffirm our own humanity each time we tell the stories of those already gone.”—Kate Bowler, author of Everything Happens for a Reason

The Unclaimed is a stunning work of narrative journalism that takes on the difficult, even taboo subject of society’s unclaimed dead. . . . Pamela Prickett and Stefan Timmermans . . . explain how our flawed systems threaten to withhold this final dignity for society’s most vulnerable.”—Roxanna Asgarian, author of We Were Once a Family

“With exceptional humanity, The Unclaimed follows the dead who have fallen through the cracks of Los Angeles’ stifling postmortem bureaucracy. A bracing and impressive read.”—Caitlin Doughty, author of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

The Unclaimed reveals just how easy it is for even relatively stable Americans to slide into lives of ghastly isolation, and to die alone. The stories it tells are troubling and compelling, and its exploration of the hidden corners of this reality is unique and important.”—Jill Leovy, author of Ghettoside

“Groundbreaking . . . [and] extremely moving . . . Prickett and Timmermans humanize the dead with aching specificity, granting these few the honor that so many others deserve. . . . A gripping and compassionate account that leaves us with a feeling of social and personal responsibility for our kin, our community, and ourselves.”—BookPage, starred review

“Poignant . . . An unsettling study of how social fracturing and community breakdown underpin lonely deaths . . . researched and written with appropriate sensitivity, care, and dignity.”—Kirkus Reviews
Product Details
ISBN: 9780593239056
ISBN-10: 0593239059
Publisher: Crown
Publication Date: March 12th, 2024
Pages: 336
Language: English