Count the Dead

Coroners, Quants, and the Birth of Death as We Know It

By Stephen Berry

140 pp., 5.5 x 8.5, 9 halftones, 1 graph, notes, index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6752-2
    Published: May 2022
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-6751-5
    Published: May 2022
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-6753-9
    Published: February 2022

Steven and Janice Brose Lectures in the Civil War Era

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The global doubling of human life expectancy between 1850 and 1950 is arguably one of the most consequential developments in human history, undergirding massive improvements in human life and lifestyles. In 1850, Americans died at an average age of 30. Today, the average is almost 80. This story is typically told as a series of medical breakthroughs—Jenner and vaccination, Lister and antisepsis, Snow and germ theory, Fleming and penicillin—but the lion's share of the credit belongs to the men and women who dedicated their lives to collecting good data. Examining the development of death registration systems in the United States—from the first mortality census in 1850 to the development of the death certificate at the turn of the century—Count the Dead argues that mortality data transformed life on Earth, proving critical to the systemization of public health, casualty reporting, and human rights.

Stephen Berry shows how a network of coroners, court officials, and state and federal authorities developed methods to track and reveal patterns of dying. These officials harnessed these records to turn the collective dead into informants and in so doing allowed the dead to shape life and death as we know it today.

About the Author

Stephen Berry is Gregory Professor of the Civil War Era at University of Georgia.
For more information about Stephen Berry, visit the Author Page.


"Count the Dead reverberates . . . [it] begs us to reckon the past...In an era in which counting the dead has emerged with renewed urgency, Berry’s excellent book should sting our consciences."—The Civil War Monitor

"Lyrical, insightful, original, important, compelling. Count the Dead is one of the most refreshing history books that I have read in years."—Jason Phillips, author of Looming Civil War: How Nineteenth-Century Americans Imagined the Future

"In this arresting, timely book, Stephen Berry argues that data is power and naming is accountability. Count the Dead, a call to action, insists that we find meaning in death."—Diane Miller Sommerville, Binghamton University